Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister on Sunday at a historic Buddhist temple, days after his party won a landslide general election victory.
The 74-year-old leader of the Sri Lankan People’s Party (SLPP) was sworn in to the ninth parliament by his younger brother and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the holy Rajamaha Viharaya in Kelaniya, a northern suburb of Colombo.
Mahinda Rajapaksa completed 50 years of parliamentary politics in July of this year. He was elected Member of Parliament at the age of 24 in 1970. Since then he has been elected President twice and has been appointed Prime Minister three times.
The SLPP, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, recorded a landslide victory in the August 5 general election, securing a two-thirds majority in parliament needed to amend the constitution to further consolidate the powerful Rajapaksa family’s grip on power.
Mahinda Rajapaksa polled more than 500,000 individual preference votes – the highest ever recorded by a candidate in electoral history.
The SLPP won in 145 constituencies, winning a total of 150 seats with its allies, a two-thirds majority in the 225 members of parliament.
Cabinet ministers, state and deputy ministers are expected to be sworn in on Monday.
The Rajapaksa family – including the founder of the SLPP and its national organizer Basil Rajapaksa, 69, who is the younger brother of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 71, and Mahinda Rajapaksa – have dominated Sri Lankan politics for two decades.
Mahinda Rajapaksa previously served as president for nearly a decade from 2005 to 2015.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November presidential election on the SLPP ticket.
In parliamentary elections, he sought 150 mandatory seats to execute constitutional changes, including repealing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which had limited presidential powers while strengthening the role of parliament.
Activists, already alarmed by the shrinking space for dissent and criticism in the island nation, fear such a move could lead to authoritarianism.
The biggest victim of the election result was the National United Party (UNP) of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which only managed to win one seat. The country’s big old party did not win any seats in any of the 22 districts.
Wickremesinghe, head of the UNP and quadruple prime minister, was removed from his post for the first time since entering parliament in 1977.