Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has sworn in as prime minister his brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, capping a victorious return to power of the siblings credited with a military victory over Tamil rebels – but also implicated in human rights violations.

Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down as prime minister earlier on Thursday to clear the way for the president to form his government.

He 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.

A refusal to resign could have resulted in a stalemate because the president cannot sack the prime minister or appoint ministers without his advice.

Sri Lanka Politics
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, centre, alongside his brother and the country’s new PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, left (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

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 Defence.

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, spokeswoman Nishara Jayaratne said.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been charged with misappropriating almost £150,000 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.

Ms Jayaratne said that according to the constitution, no legal case, civil or criminal, can be filed against the president.