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Politics

Sri Lankan president to name pro-China brother prime minister

Rajapaksa clan's return to power provides boost for Beijing

Mahinda Rajapaksa, left, and brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa wave to supporters during a party convention earlier this year in Colombo.   © AP

MUMBAI -- Sri Lanka's new president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is preparing to appoint his older brother Mahinda as prime minister after the incumbent leader resigns from the post on Thursday.

The current prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, leads the largest party in parliament, the United National Party. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeated UNP candidate Sajith Premadasa in the presidential election Saturday. The loss prompted several cabinet ministers to announce their resignation, and all eyes were on the prime minister.

"I have decided to resign from the prime minister's post to give space for the new president to form his own government," Wickremesinghe said Wednesday.

The return of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as president of the South Asian country from 2005 to 2015, marks a reversal of fortune for the Rajapaksa clan. The new leadership also offers a boon for China, which had teamed with Mahinda on various infrastructure projects during his tenure.

The new president has expressed his intent to balance Sri Lanka's diplomatic relations with other Asian countries, including neighboring India, but many see the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa as tilting the administration closer to Beijing.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said he would appoint his brother as prime minister after winning the election, but Sri Lankan law does not allow the president to fire a prime minister. The president needs the prime minister's consent to appoint ministers, which made it imperative for Gotabaya to have an ally on board. Had Wickremesinghe not resigned, dissolving the parliament was in the cards.

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