COLOMBO: Sri Lanka got a cabinet of ministers on Friday, sixteen days after the results of the August parliamentary elections were officially announced. Many hurdles had to be crossed before 42 cabinet-rank Ministers could be sworn in.
The 43 rd Cabinet Minister, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, was sworn-in in August itself to enable the newly elected government to hold official talks with the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Biswal.
The first hurdle was getting political support for the formation of a National Government (NG), which in effect meant a coalition of the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG),the largest group, and the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the second largest group.
While the UNFGG had been touting the idea of a NG since December last year, the UPFA was divided on it. The faction led by President Mithripala Sirisena was committed to it, but the one led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was against it. To add to the difficulties, the Rajapaksa faction was very much larger than the Sirisena faction.
It was only after the parliamentary elections, in which the UPFA was defeated and Rajapaksa could not become Prime Minister, that his faction agreed to join a NG. However, even now, it is not clear as to how many Rajapaksa faction MPs will actually support the NG. Fifty five of the 95 UPFA MPs are said to be in the Rajapaksa faction.
The second hurdle was getting parliamentary approval to increase the size of the cabinet from 30 (the limit set by the 19 th. Amendment) to 48, as the government was going to be “National”. Approval was secured on Thursday, with 16 voting against and 63 keeping away.
Quarrel Over Loaves Of Office
The third hurdle was the distribution of portfolios. The UNFGG wanted the lion’s share and the high profile portfolios, having won the elections. But the UPFA argued that the gap was narrow (106 seats to 95). Finally, the UNFGG bagged 32 seats in the 43-member cabinet, with plum portfolios like Finance, Home, Ports, Housing, Plantations, Commerce and Industry, Health and Education. But President Sirisena, who is UPFA, holds Defense.