4th lead

Rajapakse sacks dissenting SLFP ministers

[TamilNet, Friday, 09 February 2007, 15:29 GMT]
Shortly after rumblings of discontent amongst the ranks of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) over the recent admission of opposition MPS into his mammoth cabinet, President Mahinda Rajapakse sacked three of the most vocal dissenters on Friday, Presidential Secretariat officials said. SLFP stalwarts Anura Bandaranaike, Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Suriyarachchi were stripped of their portfolios Friday soon after their criticism of the government become public and vocal.

Anura Bandaranaike lost the Ministry of National Heritage, Samaraweera lost the Ministry of Ports and Aviation and Suriyarachchi lost the ministry of Ports Development.

Bandaranaike, brother of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, had been openly critical of the government, even alleging in Parliament this week that President Rajapakse’s two brothers were behind threats to his life.

Gothabaya Rajapakse is the Defence Secretary and Basil Rajapakse has a senior advisory role in government. But both have emerged as powerful players in their brother’s presidency.

SWRD Bandaranaike formed the SLFP in 1956. Since then it was run by him, his widow (after his assassination) and then his daughter, Chandrika.

Anura Bandaranaike declared that no one could keep the Bandaranaike’s out of politics, which has added to rumors that Chandrika, who left the island when Rajapakse assumed power, apparently for good, may in fact return to Sri Lankan politics in the near future.

The move portends turmoil within the SLFP.

Indeed dissent has been simmering within the party ever since Mahinda Rajapakse’s assumption of the leadership SLFP in 2005, to the chagrin of the former leader, Mrs. Kumaratunga.

Rajapakse’s leadership was not supported by many within the party who remain loyal to the Bandaranaikes.

Internal SLFP tensions have been exacerbated by President Rajapakse’s efforts to cultivate defections from the opposition, especially the main opposition United National Party (UNP), with promises of cabinet portfolios.

But last month 19 UNP MPs crossed over to the government, along with entire Sri Lanka Muslim Party (SLMC) with its six seats and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with nine seats.

The move gave the SLFP-led coalition 122 seats in the 225 seat parliament. But rankled some senior SLFP members who had to surrender their portfolios to reward the crossovers.

In last month’s reshuffle which followed the crossovers, Rajapakse, who has appropriated and usurped the JVP’s hardline Sinhala nationalist stance, stripped Samaraweera of Foreign Ministry, giving it to Rohitha Bogollogama from the UNP.

Even before the reshuffle, Samaraweera had been publicly critical of President Rajapakse’s strategy of engineering defections.

Samaraweera had managed Rajapakse’s relationship with the ultranationalist JVP (which in 2005 campaigned for Rajapakse’s Presidency more vigorously than the divided SLFP).

There is speculation that a sizeable section of the SLFP, rallying behind Mrs. Kumaratunga and Anura Bandaranaike, intends to work with the rump of the UNP to frustrate President Rajapakse’s government.

Local press reports pointed out that Bandaranaike, Samaraweera and Suriyaarachchi, were absent from Parliament Wednesday during the vote for the extension of emergency regulations.


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