A family business: On August 11, 2020, Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, himself a former president and a brother of the current president, Gotabaya, signs the official papers to assume duties watched by his family members standing in the right corner of the photograph, Namal Rajapaksa, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Limini Weerasinghe, Yoshitha Rajapaksa. Photo: AFP / Tharaka Basnayaka / NurPhoto

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced Monday he would stand for a second term, reversing a promise to only stay for five years, media reports said.

The 72-year-old nationalist leader told top media executives he needed more time to fix Sri Lanka’s worsening economic crisis, reports said.

During his triumphant 2019 election campaign, Rajapaksa said he would be a one-term president.

He reaffirmed in March last year that one five-year term was sufficient to implement his ambitious manifesto, triggering a succession struggle within the powerful Rajapaksa family that dominates the government.

Elections are not due until 2024, but Rajapaksa now says he needs five more years to implement his “vistas of prosperity and splendor” manifesto after the economy contracted by a record 3.6 percent in his first year. The government has banned many imports because of a foreign currency crunch.

Rajapaksa “today declared that he would contest for a second term”, the pro-government The Morning website quoted him as telling media owners.

Other media outlets also reported on the comments, which set off new speculation about the intentions of the ruling family.

The elevation of the president’s youngest brother Basil, 70, as finance minister earlier this month was widely seen as a move to groom him for the presidency.

Basil was thought to have edged out his nephew, Namal, the minister of sports and eldest son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to be the next family leader. 

“Another U-turn and maybe this squashes Basil’s chances for the next presidency,” Jamila Husain, a deputy editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper, said on Twitter.

Since his election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has tightened the family’s grip on power.

With the entry of Basil, the cabinet now has five members of the ruling family.

Eldest brother Chamal, 78, is the minister of irrigation. Several Rajapaksa family members hold junior ministerial positions and other key posts.

Basil was described as “Mr Ten Percent” in a 2007 US embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks organization, because of commissions he allegedly took from government contracts.

He has denied any wrongdoing and inquiries failed to find any evidence to back charges he siphoned off millions of dollars from state coffers.

Basil is a dual US-Sri Lankan citizen, but Gotabaya removed constitutional provisions that blocked him from standing in a parliamentary election last year.