July 28, 2022
BANGALORE – Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is likely to face charges of graft and war crimes, and encounter a new wave of protests should he return to the crisis-hit country.
Opposition political parties Samagi Jana Balawegaya and Marxist parties like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna have said they will file corruption charges against Mr Rajapaksa if he is in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil National Alliance that represents Tamils, the largest minority in Sri Lanka, has demanded that Mr Rajapaksa face trial for alleged war crimes committed in the military crackdown against Tamil insurgents in 2009 when he was the defence secretary.
Observers said that Sri Lankan citizens enduring severe fuel, food and medicine shortages are not likely to welcome Mr Rajapaksa, a leader they ousted with nationwide protests because of his regime’s ill-advised policies and corruption that led to the country’s bankruptcy.
“If Gotabaya Rajapaksa comes back, it would be hard to keep him safe within Sri Lanka,” said a political analyst who did not want to be named.
Mr Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka on July 13 for Maldives and then to Singapore. He arrived in the Republic on a private visit on July 14. The once-popular president’s resignation was officially announced by the Sri Lankan parliament a day later.
After Media Minister Bandula Gunawardana told reporters on Tuesday (July 26) that the former president would return home from Singapore, rumours about his coming back this week have been flying wild in the island nation.
Mr Gunawardana, who is also the Cabinet spokesman, said that Mr Rajapaksa was “not hiding in Singapore” and was expected to return home. He did not offer any timeline.
The minister made the comments when reporters asked about the South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project’s criminal complaint to the Attorney General of Singapore requesting Mr Rajapaksa’s arrest for alleged war crimes.
Sri Lankan media reports claimed that his visa extension request was denied by Singapore authorities, prompting discussions about his imminent return.
However, The Straits Times reported on Wednesday that Singapore authorities have granted a 14-day extension to the short-term visit pass Mr Rajapaksa was issued when he arrived.
Many protesters, including farmers, teachers, students and Buddhist monks, said Mr Rajapaksa and his brothers mishandled the nation’s finances, leading to soaring prices of essential goods. Inflation is now almost 55 per cent and food inflation has crossed 80 per cent.
“Our stance is very clear: Gota must be brought to justice and his family must be compelled to pay back the money they embezzled,” said protester Chameera Dedduwage. He has been agitating since April with thousands at the “Gota Go Village” demonstration site at the Galle Face seaside in Colombo.
Protests have dwindled since Parliament voted in Rajapaksa foe-turned-ally Ranil Wickremesinghe as president on July 20. He has imposed a nationwide state of emergency that empowers security forces to detain citizens without warrant.
Before dawn on July 25, hours before a new Cabinet was sworn in, security forces raided the protest camp at Galle Face, chasing out and beating protesters. Since then, police have arrested at least five key activists, including student union leaders.
Protesters said most ordinary Sri Lankans were tired and afraid at the moment.
“The crackdown seems to be aiming to target prominent figures but what they don’t comprehend is that we never had or needed (protest) leaders . The only thing the crackdown will achieve is to slow down the next wave,” said Mr Dedduwage.