Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took the ministry of Law and Order in a bid to avoid an embarrassing hold up of the new cabinet as Sunday’s swearing-in was marred by President Maithripala Sirisena throwing a spanner in the works.
Political sources close to both sides said that Sirisena at the last minute refused to give the Law and Order ministry to Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka and Wickremesinghe stepped in to take the portfolio on a temporary basis.
Much of the anticipated major changes did not take place.
The United National Party is expected to insist that the war-winning general be given charge of the police to expedite high profile investigations against members of the Rajapaksa regime. Sunday’s ceremony was off to an inauspicious start as the squabbling delayed the swearing-in.
However, the last minute resistance by Sirisena forced him to give an additional portfolio to a man he wanted out as the Prime Minister. The irony may be lost on Sirisena who travels to Japan on Monday.
Soon after the local council election results showed that coalition partners had performed poorly, Sirisena blamed the defeat on Wickremesinghe even though his United National Party fared better than Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Instead of toppling the Prime Minister, Sirisena has now strengthened him with the Law and Order portfolio which puts him directly in charge of the police. UNP sources said they were agitating to give the portfolio to Fonseka.
Another round of cabinet changes are expected within two weeks. There were no shifting of portfolios of SLFP ministers, but it was widely expected that some may be dropped from the cabinet. Sunday’s ceremony was not open to the media.
Sirisena in a tweet congratulated the new appointees. “I congratulate the newly appointed Cabinet, State and Deputy Ministers. These changes as well as those soon to be made on the UPFA (SLFP) side of the government will strengthen us to better serve our people,” he said.
Ministers Kabir Hashim and Lakshman Kiriella swapped their ministries. Hashim is the new minister of High Education and Highways while Kiriella takes State Enterprises.
A new face in the cabinet is Ravindra Samarawickerma who takes Wildlife from Gamini Jayawickrama Perera. It is not clear what position Perera gets or if he has been dropped from the cabinet.
Junior ministers Harsha de Silva and Ajith Perera get promoted as state ministers in the same ministries where they were deputies.
State minister for Foreign Affairs Wasantha Senanayake was among the few who spoke to reporters outside the presidential secretariat to slam Sirisena’s “comedy” reshuffle. “What you saw was an episode from a comedy. I don’t know if people will laugh or throw stones at us.