Sri Lankan politician and former army officer, who gained notoriety as a nationalist leader after eliminating the Tamil Tiger Liberation Front rebellion, was elected president in 2019 and was overthrown in July 2022 by a popular revolution.
He has held various positions in the military and state hierarchy for several decades, including government positions and the presidency.
Birth and education
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was born on June 20, 1949 in Palatua, Matara Province, in the west of the country and grew up in Wirakitia, Hambantota Province, in the south of the country.
His family belongs to the caste of landowners and is descended from Sinhalese Buddhists, who make up about 75% of Sri Lanka’s population.
Gotabaya is the fifth son of his nine brothers, and married his cousin Ayuma Rajapaska, in a family that has dominated politics and the state apparatus in Sri Lanka for decades.
His father was a prominent politician opposed to British colonialism and a Member of Parliament between 1947 and 1965, and held government positions.
After a busy career in the Sri Lankan army, Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who is considered a national hero by the Sinhalese majority – immigrated to the United States in 1998 and worked there for several years, gaining US citizenship in 2003.
He returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 to take part in his brother Mahinda’s election campaign in the presidential race, and after Mahinda’s success in winning the presidency, he was appointed Minister of Defense, a post which he held until 2015.
Study and scientific training
Gotabaya Rajapaksa attended primary and secondary school at Ananda School in Colombo, an English Buddhist school founded in the late 19th century and becoming a public school in the 1960s.
This school was founded by Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, an American officer, journalist and lawyer who converted to Buddhism and studied it in Sri Lanka.
After graduating from high school, Rajapaksa received an academic training in the military field in various military colleges and schools in different countries, and was appointed and promoted in the Sri Lankan army until he became a colonel.
He graduated from the Defense Services College in Wellington, India, and studied at the Military College in Rawalpindi, near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and at the Military College in Quetta, in northern Pakistan.
He also graduated from the University of Merdas in southern India, and also holds a diploma in information technology from Colombo University in Sri Lanka, and in 1992 worked in an information company in the capital, Colombo.
He received military training at Fort Benning Base in the US state of Georgia, and in September 2009 received an honorary doctorate from Colombo University.
political and military experience
Gotabaya Rajapaska joined the Sri Lankan army on April 26, 1971 and was appointed as a signal officer in the infantry division after a period of training at the army’s Diatta Lawa center.
At the beginning of his service in the army, he was appointed an officer in the “Gagaba” infantry elite brigade, and participated with him in several military operations, the most famous of which was Operation Vadamrachi in 1987, and Operation Trivida Balaya in August 1990.
After many years in the military, during which he held various positions, he emigrated to the United States, then returned during the presidential campaign in 2005, and after winning his brother Mahinda in these elections, he appointed himself Minister of Defense. .
During this period he played a crucial role in resolving the struggle against the Tamil Tigers (especially between 2005 and 2009) in a war in which hundreds of thousands were killed, making him a national hero in the eyes of his Sinhalese people. has.
But he also faced accusations in the same period that he killed and threatened opponents, human rights defenders and journalists, and formed a secret military team to liquidate them, and accusations of war crimes and human rights violations were brought against him, accusations that Rajapaska denies it.
He was also plagued by allegations of corruption and misuse of state funds, including the squandering of public treasury funds to build a memorial to the ancestors of the Rajapaska family.
He was subjected to an assassination attempt by a Tamil Tigers gunman in December 2006, according to authorities. They also revealed in September 2018 that he was subjected to another assassination attempt due to what they said was the war on drugs.
In 2019, due to the impossibility of his older brother Mahinda’s candidacy for the presidency due to a constitutional obstacle, Gotabaya Rajapaska ran for election, and on November 18, 2019, he was elected as the country’s president, and his brother Mahinda was appointed as prime minister.
He was thus the first former military to be elected president of the country (the eighth president in its modern history), and due to the repercussions of the Corona pandemic and the repercussions of Russia’s war in February 2022 against the Launched by Ukraine, as well as because of what its opponents see as corruption and mismanagement, Sri Lanka has experienced the worst economic crisis since its independence from British colonization in 1948.
The crisis reached its peak in April 2022, and there were protests against Rajapaska and his government, and to the extent that Sri Lanka was unable to pay its $ 51 billion in foreign debt, and had a rescue plan of the International Monetary requested. Fund.
On May 6, 2022, Rajapaska announced the imposition of a state of emergency for the second time in a month following a general strike that included the closure of all stores and companies across the country, but protests against him escalated, and to the beginning of July 2022, tens of thousands of protesters arrived in the capital, Colombo. Supported by Buddhist monks, they demand the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government for their failure to resolve economic problems.
On Saturday, July 9, 2022, the protesters stormed the presidential palace and Rajapaksa fled and hid in a naval military base, from where he announced his resignation from the presidency.
Functions and Responsibilities
Gotabaya Rajapaksa held various military positions during his military service, and rose to the rank of colonel in the army.
He also accepted the post of Minister of Defense in 2005 and led the armed forces and police in 2009, and in 2011 the title of the post was changed to Minister of Defense and Urban Development, and continued until 2015.
He took office in 2019 after winning the election because the constitution prevented his brother Mahinda, the former president, from running for president again.
During his military career he received several honors, various decorations and medals, and played a major role in ending the civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2009.
In 2020, he won a “zero carbon certification” for campaigns that respected environmental standards and was considered a clean and environmentally friendly campaign.
He also took part in the suppression of a rebellion led by Sinhalese Marxists in the 1980s.