Despite ongoing concerns over COVID-19, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters celebrated the appointment of Basil Rajapaksa last Thursday, who becomes the fourth Rajapaksa brother and fifth member of the family to enter the Cabinet.
Whilst Rajapaksa supporters lit firecrackers and handed out sweets across the Tamil homeland, locals complained about the lack of policing carried out against the supporters for breaking COVID-19 guidelines to carry out their celebrations.
Basil Rajapaksa was appointed as Finance Minister after SLPP national list MP Jayantha Ketagoda handed over his resignation letter from the MP post to the Secretary-General of Parliament. Rajapaksa, who was investigated in five cases for alleged corruption under the last government, is a dual US- Sri Lankan citizen and was arrested in 2015 following allegations of corruption. He was subsequently released on bail and acquitted in November 2020. A leaked US embassy cable in 2007 noted that when he “worked for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development […] he earned the nickname ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ for demanding a ten percent commission on every project”.
As the Senior Presidential Advisor under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s previous regime, Basil played a significant role in aiding the mass killings of Tamil civilians during the final phases of the armed struggle between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka in May 2009. Journalist Lydia Polgreen described him as "the prime architect of the war strategy against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam".
Rajapaksa supporters gathered in the streets of Puthukkudiyiruppu, Mullaitivu and and celebrated with fireworks across the towns of Mulliyavalai, Oddusuddan and Mallavi. "Many locals are in anguish over the fact they have no land to even live in. We hope Basil Rajapaksa considers our issue with the same enthusiasm we have given him with the celebrations [for his appointment]."
"On behalf of the people of Vanni, I convey my heartfelt greetings to Basil Rohana Rajapakse on his oath as an MP and Finance Minister," said SLPP Vanni District Parliamentarian Cader Mastan. Mullaitivu locals stated that the celebrations caused huge inconveniences with road travel being heavily disrupted. Locals complained that despite the Sri Lankan police banning mass demonstrations and public gatherings in the country due to strict “COVID-19 preventive measures”, they were not seen enforcing the rules against the celebrations of Rajapaksa's appointment.
In Mannar, SLPP supporters across the district and local SLPP members joined the celebrations by displaying banners and handing out sweets. Firecrackers were also lighted up across the areas of Nanattan and Musali.
SLPP supporters in Jaffna set off fireworks and gave out sweets to celebrate the appointment of Basil Rajapaksa. Sweets were handed out by supporters in front of the Jaffna Central Bus stand under the supervision of the SLPP district organiser.
Basil Rajapaksa was also allowed to be appointed following the Sri Lankan government removing a constitutional provision barring dual citizens. Rajapaksa has been credited for his role in the formation of the SLPP and his reputation as an economic and political mastermind has been seen as the main factor that warranted his integration into the cabinet to combat the country's “economic, public health and governance crisis”.
The growing nepotism of the Rajapaksa family, and the selective policing against the supporters' celebrations, as opposed to the other demonstrations by locals across the North-East which has seen stern pushback and sanctions, accentuates the sentiment echoed by many across the Tamil homeland that they are subject to a different law to the those in the South.