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Sri Lankan minorities fear poll victory for Rajapaksa brothers

Sri Lankans go to the polls on Wednesday in an election set to hand further power to the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist Rajapaksa family, prompting fears they could rewrite the constitution and further target minorities.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president, will see his grip on the country tighten if, as expected, his brother Mahinda is elected as prime minister and he obtains a two-thirds majority in tomorrow's snap parliamentary election.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, centre, with supporters during an election rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, centre, with supporters during an election rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka.Credit:AP

Gotabaya surged to a win in November's presidential elections after promising to return law and order to Sri Lanka, which had been devastated by the Easter Sunday bombings in April.

The brothers enjoy enormous popularity among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority - the group constitutes 75 per cent of the population - after playing pivotal roles in bringing the country's 26-year civil war, which claimed more than 100,000 lives, to an end.

Mahinda was Sri Lanka's president between 2005 and 2015 and Gotabaya his defence secretary, with the pair credited with finally defeating the largely Hindu, Tamil insurgents.

However, in leading government troops to victory, Gotabaya - nicknamed "Terminator" by his own family - was widely accused of carrying out war crimes.

Sri Lankan polling officers dispatch election material to polling centers ahead of the parliamentary elections in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan polling officers dispatch election material to polling centers ahead of the parliamentary elections in Colombo, Sri Lanka.Credit:AP

While the prospect of the Rajapaksas dominating Sri Lankan politics may stimulate its beleaguered economy - during Mahinda's previous tenure the country accepted billions of dollars of developmental loans from China - it terrifies Sri Lanka's minorities.

Since his election in November, Gotabaya has spearheaded a "campaign of fear", according to Human Rights Watch, targeting opposition lawyers, activists, and journalists, including earmarked arrests, intimidation and threats.

He has withdrawn from a United Nations agreement that would have seen government soldiers tried for human rights abuses carried out against Tamils during the civil war and promised to free Sinhalese Buddhist soldiers already in jail.

Activists fear a two-thirds majority in tomorrow's election will intensify this crackdown.

"Sectarian politics have been the hallmark of the Rajapaksa family and people don't have short memories," said Charu Hogg, an associate fellow in the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House.

"A large number of Tamils lost family members and friends in the war which came to a brutal end in 2009. The gaining in political strength of those who oversaw this violence will leave them scared."

Telegraph, London

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