Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday by his brother and the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, capping a victorious return to power for the brothers.
Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down as prime minister earlier on Thursday to clear the way for the president to form his government. Wickremesinghe said in a statement that he was quitting despite having a parliamentary majority, respecting the mandate Gotabaya Rajapaksa received in last Saturday’s presidential election.
Soon after the swearing in ceremony, Prime Minister Imran Khan extended his “heartiest congratulations” to the new president, saying: “I am looking forward to working closely with you and your government to further develop our historical friendship and partnership and find avenues for deepening cooperation between the two nations.”
In a telephone call, Prime Minister Imran expressed the desire to work closely with the Sri Lankan premier to further strengthen Pakistan-Sri Lanka bilateral relations in all dimensions.
He also extended an invitation to his Sri Lankan counterpart to visit Pakistan and lauded the progress made by Sri Lanka during Gotabaya’s two terms as president.
The Sri Lankan premier thanked Prime Minister Imran for his felicitations and said that he looks forward to working together to further strengthen Sri Lanka-Pakistan relations.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is widely applauded with ending a 26-year separatist civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels during his presidency from 2005 to 2015. His brother, the current president, then served as a powerful secretary to the Ministry of Defense.
In a boost to his grip on power, a court on Thursday discharged President Rajapaksa in a corruption case, citing constitutional provisions for presidential immunity. The decision was made on the advice of the attorney general, said spokeswoman Nishara Jayaratne.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been charged with misappropriating $191,000 in state funds to build a monument for his parents.
He was also implicated in several investigations including the abduction and killing of critical journalists during the civil war. Jayaratne said that according to the constitution, no legal case, civil or criminal, can be filed against the president.
A UScourt last month dismissed a case filed by the daughter of a leading journalist killed in 2009 that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was behind her father’s death. The court said Gotabaya Rajapaksa was entitled to common law foreign official immunity.
The Rajapaksa brothers are accused of serious human rights violations during the war and Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised during the campaign that he will not honor a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution in which Sri Lanka agreed to investigate allegations against the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.