COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena formed a “National Government” on Sunday, when he expanded his Council of Ministers by inducting 26 MPs from the main opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
His Council of Ministers already has the United National Party (UNP) and others representing Sinhalese nationalists, Indian Origin Tamil community and Muslims.
With the induction of 11 from the SLFP, the size of the cabinet goes up from 29 to 40. The number of State Ministers (Ministers of State), goes up from 9 to 14 and the number of Deputy Ministers goes up to 23 with the induction of 10. The overall strength of the Council of Ministers goes up from 51 to 77.
The expansion has been necessitated by the need to get the support of the SLFP to pass the constitutional amendments Sirisena had promised during the Presidential election.
To his discomfiture, the SLFP was the single largest party in the 225 member parliament with 126 MPs of its own. Under the parliamentary system of government, the SLFP would have formed the government and not the UNP. But since Lanka has the Presidential system of government, it is the President’ prerogative to ask any party to form the government. President Sirisena asked his electoral ally, UNP, to form the government and made Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister.
But Siresena and Wickremesinghe needed majority support in parliament to pass bills and constitutional amendments. The induction of the SLFP into the government will facilitate such support.
Though Sirisena defected from the SLFP and fought the Presidential election as a Joint Opposition Candidate, relying heavily on the UNP’s organizational structure, he got back to the SLFP after the election. When SLFP chief and Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated, the party flocked to Sirisena. And Sirisena needed the SLFP to ensure his own political future in the face of challenges from Rajapaksa and the domineering UNP. The induction of the SLFP adds to his clout immensely.
However, the inductions have not dented the power of the UNP. It is still the largest group in the Council of Ministers and holds key portfolios like Finance, Economic Affairs, Investment Promotion, Law and Order, Ports, Highways and Agriculture.