Sri Lanka’s new Cabinet expanded

Mahinda Rajapaksa with President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo last week.   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT

A fresh group of Ministers was inducted into Sri Lanka’s “new Cabinet” late on Thursday, even as confusion persisted over the likely date for reconvening the Parliament to end the week-long impasse in the country.

A snap move by President Maithripala Sirisena last Friday plunged the nation into a political crisis and left the country in a rare conundrum — with two Prime Ministers and parallel Cabinets. It followed Mr. Sirisena’s abrupt withdrawal of support from the country’s national unity government, and marked his realignment with former rival and ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he appointed as the new Prime Minister. Mr. Sirisena soon prorogued Parliament until November 16, sparking considerable domestic and international concern over what many deemed an “unconstitutional” move.

Announcement, retraction

Though the President’s office indicated on Thursday morning that Parliament will be reconvened on November 5, it retracted from the position in the evening. The legislature would be summoned on “another future date”, officials said, but did not indicate when. Earlier, Mr. Rajapaksa too told local media that the President had informed him about reconvening the Parliament on Monday.

Responding to the announcements, ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tweeted: “The people’s voices have been heard. Parliament will be reconvened on the 5th of November. Democracy will prevail.”

According to the political grapevine, reasons for the retraction ranged from an uncertainty about mustering enough strength in the House to a rally of Mr. Rajapaksa’s supporters to Deepavali, celebrated by Hindu Tamils.

Namal Rajapaksa, Hambantota lawmaker and son of Mr. Rajapaksa, said a massive “government rally” will be organised on Monday. It is expected to be a demonstration by supporters of the Rajapaksa-backed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and other aligned parties.

Competing claims to majority

Recalling Parliament, among other things, would make a floor test possible as both Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Rajapaksa could prove their competing claims to majority in the 225-member House.

Both camps, having about 100 MPs each on their side on Thursday, appeared certain about having the majority. “We are very confident,” senior SLFP member Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Hindu. Mr. de Silva, who was Transport Minister in the national unity government that recently collapsed, was inducted into the “new Cabinet” with the same portfolio.

On the other hand, Malik Samarawickrama, a senior member of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) said: “We have the numbers. We are okay... we have a clear majority at the moment but in the meantime, they will do all kinds of tricks.” He was alluding to horse-trading, not uncommon here given the absence of anti-defection laws.

Possible decisive votes

All eyes are now on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with 16 MPs, and the leftist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which has six MPs. Their votes might prove decisive in a close contest.

Mr. Rajapaksa has already sought the support of TNA leader R. Sampanthan, but the senior Tamil leader said he could consider the option only if Mr. Rajapaksa shared a clear plan of action on measures to address the pending concerns of Tamils.

While Mr. Sirisena’s camp has denied that his recent move violated the Constitution, the Attorney-General on Wednesday refused to endorse the President’s dismissal of Mr. Wickremesinghe, suggesting that the move raised serious questions of constitutional validity. “Attorney-General Jayantha Jayasuriya has cast fresh doubt on the legality of Sirisena’s actions, declining to endorse them,” AFP reported. “Having regard to the role of the Attorney-General under the Constitution, I am of the view that expressing an opinion on the said questions would be deemed inappropriate,” said Mr. Jayasuriya according to the report.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 12:06:13 PM |

Next Story