The suspense for Sri Lankans, kept in the dark for two weeks over the political crisis triggered by results of the local polls, will end today (Feb 25th).
The Presidential Secretariat on Friday informed new ministers to be present at a swearing-in ceremony at 11 this morning (Sunday Feb 25th). The move signals the continuation of the SLFP-UNP coalition with most differences resolved, at least for the moment.
The past two weeks have seen President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe locked in a see-saw exercise. Sirisena has rejected, at least on three different occasions, some of the names forwarded by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for Cabinet portfolios. They have also had a string of one-on-one meetings in this regard.
Thus, the delay of a swearing-in as a periodically amended lists went back and forth. However, the final list was approved by Sirisena with one rejection – that of the controversial former military strongman Sarath Fonseka as Minister of Law and Order, a portfolio under which the Police Department comes.
Assisted by UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema, Premier Wickremesinghe has been devoting considerable time formulating his list of new ministers. The delay was because he was engaged in a consultation process before deciding on the nominees – a departure from previous UNP leaders. When the late Presidents J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa sought to name their Cabinet, the prospective ministers did not know what their subjects would be until they turned up for the swearing-in ceremony.
If all goes as planned, there will be a switch in the portfolios held by Lakshman Kiriella (Highways and Higher Education) and Kabir Hashim (Public Enterprise Development). Ravi Samaraweera, the Badulla District MP, is to be the new Minister for Sustainable Development and Wild Life. The present incumbent Gamini Jayawickrema Perera will remain as Minister of Buddha Sasana. Sagala Ratnayake is to be the Minister of Southern Development and National Policies.
Other likely changes are a set of non-cabinet rank ministers. These independent portfolios are to be held by Harsha de Silva, Ajith Perera and Sujeeva Senasinghe. An SLFPer or two is also to be brought in as non-cabinet rank minister. President Sirisena has allowed the UNP to name a minister to be in charge of Samurdhi, a portfolio held by the SLFP earlier. This is in exchange for one now held by the UNP.
Kurunegala district parliamentarian J.C. Alawathuwala will be a new Deputy Minister. Tourism Minister John Ameratunga had turned down a request to step down and take the portfolio of Senior Minister.
Ministers from SLFP
Among the changes likely on the SLFP side is the appointment of Mahinda Amaraweera as the Minister of Agriculture. The present incumbent Duminda Dissanayake is to be the Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training.
Chandima Weerakkody who now holds that portfolio is to be the new Minister of Fisheries.