Dynasties have to start somewhere. For an aspiring Gandhi in India, or a Bhutto in Pakistan, exploiting the family name to get into politics is relatively simple.
Getting a dynasty going in the first place is more testing.
Sri Lanka’s President since 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is evidently giving the matter some thought. His government is already dominated by several Rajapaksa brothers, including a fierce one, Gotabaya, who oversees defence, and a more nimble-minded one, Basil, who runs economic policy. Now the 65 year-old President, who last month denied a rumour that he was being treated for cancer, is increasingly eager to promote his son, Namal Rajapaksa.
The 24-year-old MP is frequently taken on foreign trips by his father. In January he was dispatched to Libya to deliver a formal invitation for Muammar Gaddafi to visit Sri Lanka, to improve the “strong personal relationship” between the two countries’ leaders.
At home excuses are rustled up to keep him in the limelight. Last month he dispensed the man-of-the-match award at Sri Lanka’s opening game of the Cricket World Cup, which took place in a newly built stadium in — by happy coincidence — his own constituency, Hambantota, in the south of the country. A few days earlier the portly young politician had been shown laying a foundation stone for a new office complex, funded by the Asian Development Bank; just before that he was named chairman of a new fund to protect a forest and an ancient pink quartz mountain range, the National Namal Uyana.
He is on hand to inaugurate new bridges and roads. As the head of a national body, Tharunyata Hetak (“Aspiring Youth”), he is whisked north — a chopper is usually on call — to dish out cash, books and other aid to victims of the civil war. His group has its own television channel, which shows him doing the dishing. He enjoys fawning — sorry, perceptive — coverage from state press and broadcasters.
His year-long political career has been charmed. His constituency, a Rajapaksa family stronghold since the 1930s, has been chosen as the site of a new international airport, a conference centre, hotels and other big projects. In November he officiated with his father at the opening of a large, Chinese-built harbour in Hambantota. Now young Mr. Rajapaksa, charming, London-educated and fond of rugby, is leading a bid for Hambantota to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
A presidential change will not happen overnight. Mr. Rajapaksa père remains popular among the Sinhalese majority for helping to force a decisive, brutal end to a civil war two years ago. He won a thumping re-election last year and has since pushed through constitutional changes that give him more clout and let him seek a third term, probably at an election in 2016. But preparing the son looks to be a form of insurance policy.
The opposition is hoping for a ruling family feud, as the son vies with his uncle to be heir-apparent (Basil had previously been touted as a successor). But Namal’s promotion may suit the whole family. It must fend off accusations that thousands of Tamil Tiger opponents and civilians were massacred at the dreadful climax of the war. Frequent foreign demands for an inquiry, and an attempt by the United Nations to launch one, have soured Western relations with Sri Lanka.
Patching up foreign ties and reconciliation with the aggrieved Tamils are the most important tasks facing Sri Lanka’s rulers. These are much harder while Mahinda remains the face of government. If the Rajapaksas want a dynasty preserved for many years, preparing the way for a young insider, untainted by any role in the war, could be the family’s canniest strategy.
Courtesy The Economist