B. Muralidhar Reddy
19 UNP defectors inducted
Exercise to convert minority government into a majority oneSamaraweera stripped of Foreign Ministry
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday inducted 19 defectors from the main opposition group, United National Party (UNP), into the Government. It was a major reshuffle which saw some of the dissenters within the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) being shifted out of their old portfolios.
Mangala Samaraweera, who is at loggerheads with the President on a number of issues including accommodation of defectors in the Government, has been stripped of his Foreign Ministry portfolio.
Rohita Bogollagama is the new Foreign Minister. Mr. Samaraweera, however, would continue in his Port Development and Aviation portfolio.
The exercise, the first since Mr. Rajapaksa assumed office in November 2005, aims at converting his minority government into a majority government and effectively ends the October Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the SLFP and the UNP.
The MoU envisaged cooperation between the two parties on all national issues including the ethnic problem. With the vertical split in the Opposition party, the effort for a consensus within the majority polity for consensus on power sharing would receive a setback.
The Leader of the Opposition and UNP supremo, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is currently away in New Delhi for interaction with the Indian leadership, on the current situation in the island nation. The UNP has already indicated that induction of party members into the Government would render the MoU irrelevant.
With Sunday's exercise in a Parliament of 225, the strength of Council of Ministers in the Rajapaksa Government would be 104. With the decision of the 19 UNP defectors and six Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to join the Government and the outside support extended by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), it appears the Rajapaksa Government would have a one-member majority in Parliament.
With the development, the Rajapaksa Government need not depend on support from the 27-strong Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) inside Parliament. The JVP has threatened to pull out of the alliance with the ruling party in the event of UNP defectors joining the Government.
In the 104-strong Council of Ministers, 52 are of Cabinet rank. These include 10 members from the Opposition UNP.
The former Deputy Leader of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya, was sworn in Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs. Another defector, Milinda Moragoda is the new Minister of Tourism and G.L. Peiris is the Minister of Export Promotion and International Trade.