COLOMBO: Shaken by the successful rally staged by pro-Rajapaksa elements at Nugegoda on February 18, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are girding up their loins to face a perceived threat from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the June parliamentary elections.
Alarmed by the fact that some MPs of his own Sri Lanka freedom Party (SLFP) had attended the rally, Sirisena called a meeting of party MPs and reprimanded those who attended the rally and those leaders who allowed party men to attend it.
To keep his flock of MPs from fleeing to Rajapaksa’s camp and also to attract MPs and others from the Rajapaksa camp, Sirisena also proposed the formation of a National Government or an enlarged multi-party government. News reports on the meeting did not say that the MPs were in agreement with Sirisena on this question, but the President’s Office put out a statement saying that the MPs had agreed to a National Government.
Later, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said that in the proposed National Government, the size of the cabinet will be expanded from 27 to 45, and the number of non-cabinet ministers will go up by 55 (presently non-cabinet ministers number only 17). The pre-Presidential election promise to downsize the Council of Ministers has been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
In a recent interview to New York Times, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe revealed that Sirisena does not intend to give Rajapaksa an SLFP ticket to fight the parliamentary election, though the former President is a “Patron” of the party.
In answer to a barb from the Rajapaksa camp that Wickremesinghe and his United National Party (UNP) have no right to be in the government when the UNP has only 49 MPs in a House of 225, Wickremesinghe has pointed out that Sirisena won the Presidential election in alliance with the UNP, along with a public pledge to make him PM.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe group also thinks that early parliamentary elections will be to its advantage, while delayed elections will be to Rajapaksa’s advantage. Hence the decision to go for mid-term polls in June, although parliament has one more year to go.