B. Muralidhar Reddy

Rajapaksa inducts ultra-nationalist party

COLOMBO: The jumbo Council of Ministers of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government in Sri Lanka on Thursday swelled to 108 members in a Parliament of 225 with the President inducting another Cabinet Minister and two juniors into the Government.

A member of the ultra-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) or National Heritage Party, Patali Champika Ranawaka, was sworn in as Environment Minister along with two other junior Ministers at the temporary Presidential Palace.

With the new political alignment, the number of parliamentarians on the Government side goes up to 122 after 19 dissidents from the main Opposition United National Party (UNP), six of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and nine of the all-monks' party JHU extending support to the Government.

With a strength of 108, it is the largest Cabinet in the independent history of the island nation.

Agriculture Minister and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) secretary general, Maithripala Sirisena, publicly acknowledged his discomfiture with the size of the Cabinet when he said he was ashamed to be a Minister. However, he blamed the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the original electoral partner of Mr. Rajapaksa, for the current state of affairs.

The JVP said the huge Cabinet for a country of 19.5 million people had made Sri Lanka the laughing stock of the world. Separately, at least one soldier and two cadres of the Tamil Tigers were killed in the north and east.