Mahinda Rajapaksa takes oath as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for fourth time

The 74-year-old Sri Lanka People's Party leader, polled over 500,000 individual preference votes -- the highest ever recorded by a candidate in the country's history of elections.
Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa (Photo | AP)
Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa (Photo | AP)

COLOMBO: Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka's prime minister at a historic Buddhist temple on Sunday, allowing the powerful Rajapaksa clan to consolidate their grip on power in the island nation.

The 74-year-old Sri Lanka People's Party (SLPP) leader, who polled over 500,000 individual preference votes -- the highest ever recorded by a candidate in the country's history of elections -- took oath of office for the ninth Parliament at the sacred Rajamaha Viharaya in Kelaniya, a north Colombo suburb, according to an official statement.

The SLPP, led by Mahinda, registered a landslide victory in the general election, securing two-thirds majority in Parliament needed to amend the Constitution to further consolidate the family's firm grip on power for the next five years.

The party won in 145 constituencies, bagging a total of 150 seats with its allies, a two-thirds majority in the 225-member Parliament.

It polled 6.8 million votes (59.9 per cent). On Saturday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 71, congratulated his elder brother Mahinda for winning the General Election.

"I extend my warmest congratulations to Prime Minister @PresRajapaksa and all the candidates of the @PodujanaParty, who contested the recent General Elections and was elected to Parliament by popular vote and the National List," the president tweeted ahead of the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday morning.

The Cabinet of Ministers will be sworn-in on Monday, followed by the swearing-in of the state and deputy ministers, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

The new government has decided to restrict the size of the Cabinet to 26, though it can be increased up to 30 in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Rajapaksa family -- including SLPP founder and its National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa, who is the younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former president Mahinda -- has dominated Sri Lankan politics for two decades.

Mahinda previously served as the president for nearly a decade from 2005 to 2015.

Mahinda Rajapaksa's son Namal Rajapaksa, 34, has also won the General Election held on August 5 from Hambantota, the family bastion.

President Gotabaya had won the November presidential election on the SLPP ticket.

Mahinda Rajapaksa will serve as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time.

In the parliamentary election, he was seeking 150 seats mandatory to execute constitutional changes, including to repeal the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which had curbed the presidential powers while strengthening the role of Parliament.

Reacting on the prospects of amending the Constitution, SLPP Chairman G L Peiris on Friday said it would only be carried out after much thought and consideration.

"Clearly, some amendments are required. It cannot continue in this manner when it comes to governing the country," he told reporters.

After President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected, the 19A Amendment prevented him from dissolving Parliament to make way for a government which could support his programme of work while former opposition MPs urged that the dissolved Parliament be re-convened, he said.

"From the results of the general election, it is evident that the government, people needed after the new President was elected, was quite different to that of the previous Parliament."

"These things should be changed. If needed, the new government has the power to amend the Constitution," Peiris said.

When asked whether the Independent Commissions would be abolished, he said there was no such need.

"The intention of the Independent Commissions is to maintain apolitical institutions with appointments made by the Constitutional Council which should also be independent. Anyone can see that these purposes had not been served. To achieve these targets, some reforms are necessary," Peiris added.

Activists, already alarmed by the diminishing space for dissent and criticism in the island nation, fear such a move could lead to authoritarianism.

The biggest casualty from the election outcome was the United National Party (UNP) of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which managed to win only one seat.

The country's grand old party failed to win a single seat from any of the 22 districts.

Its leader and four-time prime minister was unseated for the first time since he entered Parliament in 1977.

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