Sri Lankan president reshuffles cabinet

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on Sunday carried out the first reshuffle of his cabinet to accommodate dissidents of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) despite a request from UNP leader not to do so.

The new cabinet, consisted of 52 members, was sworn in before the president at the presidential secretariat, said a statement of the president's office.

"The new cabinet of ministers will include 10 members from the opposition UNP who have crossed over to the government," said the statement.

The former deputy leader of the UNP Karu Jayasuriya was sworn in as minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs.

The leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Rauff Hakeem also took oath of office as minister of Posts and Telecommunications, leading six MPs from the SLMC who are joining the government.

The incumbent Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was removed from his post, but he continued to hold his cabinet position as minister of Ports and Aviation.

The new foreign minister is Rohitha Bogollagama who himself crossed over from the UNP in 2004.

President Rajapaksa retained his portfolios of Defense, Public Security, Law and Order, Religious Affairs, Finance and Planning, and Nation Building.

And 33 non-cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers were also sworn in before the president on Sunday.

The UNP has vowed to take disciplinary action against the party defectors who had joined the government.

"We will take disciplinary action and expel them from the party," the party chairman and legislator Rukman Senanayake told reporters.

Senanayake said the president's action was against the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Rajapakse and the UNP leader Ranil Wuckremesinghe in October last year.

However, Minister of Media and Information Anura Yapa told reporters that the president's action in accommodating UNP members was not against the spirit of the MoU.

"We have not damaged the MoU. UNP members wanted to join the government so we have taken them," said Yapa, who is also the government spokesman.

He said the UNP members joining the government are expected to bring much needed political stability in the island.

Analysts say Rajapakse wanted opposition legislators to join his government in view of the decision by the main left party the JVP or the People's Liberation Front to stay out of the government.

The JVP has 38 legislators in the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance's current strength of 126 members in the 225- legislator parliament.

The JVP is unhappy with Rajapakse government's policy of trying to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers in the separatist armed conflict.

Rajapakse has enticed the UNP members to join him despite his MoU with the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe signed in October last year.

The MoU bound the two parties over a period of two years for co- operation, foremost among them is the Norwegian backed peace process with the LTTE.

Wickremesinghe pleaded with Rajapakse not to accommodate his party members in the government in the spirit of the MoU, but Rajapakse citing the legislators' freedom to act independently refused to oblige Wickremesinghe.

With the crossovers of UNP and SLMC legislators into the government, the Rajapakse administration finds itself just one short of the 113 seats required for a working majority in parliament.

Source: Xinhua

People's Daily Online ---