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Sri Lanka Speaker brokers rapprochement within uneasy coalition

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Speaker Karun Jayasuriya Sunday secured an agreement among squabbling coalition partners to continue their National government with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and cabinet changes by Wednesday.

Official sources close to both sides said Jayasuriya displayed his political acumen in getting President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister to thrash out their concerns and save the coalition they had built to keep the Rajapaksa regime taking power again.

Jayasuriya, who was being promoted by United National Party dissidents as a successor to Wickremesinghe, assured the president and his own party that he was not interested in fuelling a power struggle and was only keen to ensure stability.

During the talks at the president’s official residence in Colombo, the three men also discussed the formation of a new cabinet by Wednesday, the sources said adding that the talks were extremely cordial with all sides demonstrating a desire to give and take.

There had been speculation earlier in the day that Sirisena was planning to prorogue parliament which is due to meet on Monday. The move would have only given more time to the UPFA/SLFP to try and engineer defections from the UNP. However, official sources said there was no such move.

Soon after the Speaker and the Prime Minister left the President’s residence, a group of SLFP legislators, led by minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, went in for talks with the president.

The private Sirasa television, which is leading a major campaign to oust Wickremesinghe, said the SLFP legislators went in to inform the president that they had the support of 113 MPs to form a government of their own. However, if that was the case, they need not inform the president because they could simply move a no-trust resolution against the premier, defeat him and form a new government on Monday.

No party in the current parliament enjoys an absolute majority (113 seats) in the 225-member parliament. The SLFP needs 17 more seats even if it retains the full support of the Rajapaksa-faction which has promised conditional backing to the Sirisena-faction if it can form a government without the UNP.

The coalition government went into a tail spin after both Wickremesinghe’s UNP and Sirisena’s SLFP/UPFA suffered defeats at the February 10 local government election at which former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party won a landslide.

Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) emerged the largest single party in 241 councils, but in over 150 councils they do not enjoy an absolute majority and will have to seek coalition partners. With the actual number of councils under SLPP control significantly lower than the 241 initially thought to have been won outright, the Rajapaksa faction will need allies to increase their hold on local bodies.

An alliance between the UNP and the Sirisena-faction of the SLFP will give them a majority of the councils to turn the tables on the SLPP.

(COLOMBO, February 18, 2018)

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