Basil Rajapaksa, the brother of Sri Lanka’s president and the country’s former finance minister, says he has resigned from parliament, the second politician from the influential family to step away from government amid a severe economic crisis.“From today I will not be involved in any government activities but I cannot and will not step away from politics,” Rajapaksa told reporters on Thursday.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister last month after prolonged protests against the economic crisis turned deadly. Mahinda remains a member of parliament.
The three Rajapaksa siblings have been key players in Sri Lankan politics for decades, but are blamed by protesters who have taken to the streets in their thousands in recent months for mishandling the island nation’s economy.
Infighting between the brothers also played a part in Sri Lanka’s slide into turmoil but Basil Rajapaksa is likely to retain influence.
Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are suffering the country’s most serious financial turmoil in 70 years, with severe shortages of fuel, medicines and other essentials amid record inflation and a devaluation of its currency. A severe lack of foreign exchange has stalled imports.
New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is leading efforts to find a way out of the crisis, with negotiations underway with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan programme and support from friendly countries, including India and China.
However, with only one seat is parliament, Wickremesinghe is dependent on the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, which Basil has helped rebuild into a political force.
“BR will continue to remain a force in Sri Lankan politics regardless of not being a MP,” said Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at the Colombo think-tank Centre for Policy Analysis, referring to Basil by his initials.
“The question is how much influence or control he has over the SLPP,” Fonseka said.