Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa Returns Home, Just Weeks After Being Ousted
NEW DELHI — Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former Sri Lankan president who was forced to flee the island nation and relinquish power after months of protest over the economy’s being run into the ground, returned home late on Friday.
Tiran Alles, the minister for public security, confirmed Mr. Rajapaksa’s arrival in the capital, Colombo. Video footage from the local news media showed the former president leaving the airport around midnight in a large motorcade and arriving at his private residence.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s dramatic fall from grace this summer, just three years after a sweeping victory in presidential elections, had seemed to bring down the curtain on a powerful dynasty that had run the country of 22 million for much of the past two decades.
But his return home after less than two months suggested that the family remained deeply entrenched. Its political party, which still holds a majority in Parliament, has been regrouping and continuing to influence the government’s affairs through an ally whom lawmakers elected to the presidency as his successor.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, that successor, has followed a two-pronged approach as president: He has cracked down on protests and their organizers, while trying to put the economy back on track by tightening government purse strings and negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
After months of small protests by farmers and unions, Sri Lanka plunged into a financial crisis this spring that was set off by a shrinking of the country’s foreign reserves for crucial imports. The coronavirus pandemic proved a fatal blow to an already dire economic outlook brought on by problematic tax cuts that drained revenues and reckless government spending. Lines for fuel stretched for miles, and food and medicine began running short. Power cuts extended as long as 12 hours.
A protest movement expanded quickly, creating a tent city outside the presidential offices along the scenic Galle Face in the capital. Mr. Rajapaksa, who was cornered in the seaside presidential mansion in his final months, fled to the safety of a naval ship as hundreds of thousands descended on the capital on July 9 and pushed at the gates of his last haven.
As protesters took over the streets of the capital and lounged in the president’s mansion, he fled to Singapore on a military plane before shifting to Thailand in recent weeks.
Skandha Gunasekara contributed reporting from Colombo, Sri Lanka.