Ministerial portfolios await crossovers

Govt. confident of two thirds majority

  • Cabinet of the new government initially would be between 35 and 38
  • Elections Commissioner has gazetted the names of 180 MPs
  • Rank and file of UNP is pressing for radical reorganisation of the party
  • Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, D.M. Jayaratne and Maitripala Sirisena prime ministerial candidates

Although the ruling UPFA scored a resounding victory at the April 8 Parliamentary general election, the release of the final result is being delayed pending the re-polling at 34 polling stations in Nawalapitiya electoral division and at one polling station in Trincomalee. Meanwhile, the Elections Commissioner has gazetted the names of 180 MPs - elect from all the districts except those from the Mahanuwara and Trincomalee districts.

The appointment of the new Cabinet and the MPs from the national lists too is held up pending the re-balloting at the 35 polling stations scheduled for April 20. However, according to the gazette notification issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on February 9, the new parliament is required to meet in its maiden session at 11.30 a.m. on April 22.

Parliament to meet
Therefore, the release of the final result of the April 8 election, the appointment of the new cabinet and the national list MPs will take place on April 21 or thereafter. Meanwhile, the new cabinet of ministers will be sworn in on April 23, a government source said. In such circumstances, parliament will have to meet on April 22 without a prime Minister and a cabinet of ministers.

According to the gazette notification issued by the President, parliament has to meet at 11.30 a.m. on April 22. However, the Parliament Secretariat says that the new parliament will meet at 8.45 in the morning on April 22.
The first item on the agenda of a new parliament is the election of a speaker. Thereafter, all the MPs - elect are collectively sworn in. The election of deputy Speaker and the deputy chairman of committees would follow. Afterwards, as a matter of tradition, the speaker would adjourn parliament for another day.

However, the President is due to inaugurate the new parliament and present the policy statement of the government. Therefore, the speaker, once elected, will have to suspend the sittings without adjourning for another day to make way for the President to formally inaugurate parliament and present his policy statement.
According to tradition, the President would arrive for the inauguration of parliament accompanied by the Serjeant at Arms, the Speaker, the Secretary to Parliament and Deputy and Assistant Secretaries. The Serjeant at Arms,who forms part of the entourage escorting the President to the chamber, would not carry the Mace as it is, as a matter of practice deposited inside the House when sittings are suspended.
In the event of parliament being adjourned to make way for the inauguration by the President on another day, the Serjeant-at-Arms would get the opportunity to walk at the head of the procession conducting the President to the House, adding more solemnity to the occasion. It is learnt that the parliament authorities are looking into the possibility of suspending the business of the House for at least one hour to enable the Serjeant-at-Arms to walk at the head of the procession carrying the Mace which is the symbol of parliament. However, there is no provision for taking the Mace outside parliament at a time it is suspended under standing orders. Therefore, the parliament authorities are reportedly in consultation with the leaders of political parties represented in parliament in search of a solution to this problem.

Meanwhile, Secretary to Parliament, Dhammika Kitulgoda and his officials have made arrangements to hold a workshop on April 23 and 24 for the newly elected MPs to familiarise themselves with the parliamentary traditions, standing orders, the functioning of parliament and also how they should conduct themselves in the House.
A poser
Selection of national list MPs has set a poser to all the main political parties. The Elections Commissioner has already announced the number of slots each political party has earned on the basis of votes polled by the respective parties, according to the results so far announced. According to his reckoning subject to possible alterations following the release of the final result, the UPFA has become entitled to 18 national list seats, the UNP 9, and the TNA (ITAK) and the DNA one seat each. However, minor alterations to these seat entitlements cannot be ruled out following the release of the results of Mahanuwara and Trincomalee districts after the re-polling on April 20.

UPFA national list
Meanwhile, the Elections Commissioner has gazetted the names of 180 MPs - However, former speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara, whose name appears on the UPFA national list, is unlikely to be appointed an MP. He is due to succeed Janaka Bandara as the Governor of Sabaragamuwa when the latter returns to parliament from the UPFA national list.

UNP on tight bind
The three constituent parties of the UNF, SLMC, DPF and the SLFP (M) have put the UNF on a tight bind by asking three national list seats each. The UNP entitled to only 9 seats, would be left with no national list seat for the party if they were to concede the shares the constituent parties are demanding. Therefore, Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided to concede two national list seats to SLMC and one each to DPF and the SLFP (M). Accordingly, Hassan Ali and Nisham Kariappar, of the SLMC, DPF leader Mano Ganesan and Ruwan Ferdinandus, a close friend of Mangala Samaraweera are expected to make it to parliament from the UNF national list. According to the Mahanuwara district results so far out, Mano Ganesan will not win a seat from the district. However, in case he succeeds in getting a seat with possible additional preference votes from Nawalapitiya at the re-poll to be held on April 20, the seat allotted for his party might go to Kumara Gurubaran.

UNF national list
Given this scenario, the UNP National List MPs will be a former Bank CEO Eran Wickremaratne, Economic Advisor to Ranil Wickremesinghe Dr.Harsha de Silva, Tissa Attanayake, Rukman Senanayake, Joseph Michael Perera, Mano Ganesan, Hassan Al, Nisham Karaippar and Ruwan Ferdinandus.
As we pointed out in our column last week, for the first time since 1947, no Muslim candidate from the Colombo Municipal area has succeeded in winning a seat at this election. The three Muslim candidates, A.J.M. Mussamil, H.M.Maharoof and Shafik Rajabdeen, who contested on the UNP ticket, suffered defeat.
Shafik Rajabdeen was an SLMC candidate. Therefore, A.J.M. Mussamil last week requested Ranil Wickremesinghe that he be appointed an MP from the UNF national list to watch the interests of the Colombo Muslims. Meanwhile, the UNP leader is being inundated with letters, telegrams, and fax messages from Muslim political organisations, youth leagues, civil society organisations and boards of trustees of mosques requesting him to nominate a Muslim for appointment as a UNF national list MP. The SLMC has requested that Rajabdeen be appointed an MP to look after the interests of the city Muslims.

Meanwhile, as a number of UNP Muslim leaders have raised strong objections to conceding any national list seats to the SLMC. They have pointed out that the SLMC has already won 9 seats, thanks to the advantage of contesting on the UNP district lists. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem has polled a comfortable number of preference votes by contesting on the Mahanuwara district list. He contested in the Digamadulla district at the last election. The UNP Muslim leaders maintain that Hakeem has won a seat in Mahanuwara at the expense of the UNP, which means that the UNP is getting one seat less from this district due to accommodating Hakeem on the UNP district list. They also point out that the SLMC has won a seat from Trincomalee with the support of the UNP’s Muslim and Sinhala voters.

At the 2004 general election the UNF won 11 national list seats. Of these seats, 4 seats had to be conceded to the SLMC, 2 seats to the CWC and one seat to the Upcountry People’s Front. As a result, the UNP was left with only 4 national list seats. These seats were allotted to Prof. G.L.Peiris, Navin Dissanayake, `Myon’ Mustapha and K.N. Choksy. Three of them later crossed over to the government.
Daya Gamage, a UNF candidate on the Digamadulla District list, who unsuccessfully contested this election, was a leading subscriber to the party’s election fund. He funded the party leader’s air transport for electioneering. His wife’s name also appears on the UNF national list. Gamage has requested that his wife be given a national list seat on the understanding she would resign later making way for him to succeed her as an MP. He has cited as a precedent, the case where Mervyn Silva’s wife Mary Lucilda had been fielded on the UPFA national list at the 2004 general election with a view to replacing her with Mervyn later.

The DNA has won only one national list seat, which will go to JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake. In case, the DNA gets another seat, it will be offered to Tiran Alles.
Attorney-at-law P.Sumanthiran is expected to make it to parliament from the TNA’s national list. Incidentally, the TNA has won only one seat from their national list.

Old Left vs. New Left
Samajavadi Janatha Peramuna, a combine of the LSSP, CP, SLMP, Democratic Left Front and the Deshavimukti Janatha Pakshaya fielded eight candidates under the UPFA banner, but only three of them had won. They are Vasudeva Nanayakkara who contested in Ratnapura, Chandrasiri Gajadheera of the CP in Matara and Y. G. Padmasiri of the LSSP in Kegalle. If DEW Gunasekera and Prof. Tissa Vitarana get seats from the UPFA National List, this Peramuna will have a total of five MPs in Parliament.
The JVP, described as the New Left, succeeded in winning 40 seats at the 2004 general election. But contesting under the `Trophy’ symbol of the Democratic National Alliance, the JVP could win only four seats (including the National List seat) at this election. General Sarath Fonseka and Arjuna Ranatunga, who have won two of the DNA four seats, are not JVP members. Time only will tell how far these two will toe the JVP line in the future.

Cry for reforms
The rank and file of the UNP are pressing for a radical reorganisation of the party following the party’s ignominious defeat at the April 8 general election. They are also calling for a change in the party leadership. The party stalwarts who too look forward to changes in the party leadership do not openly agitate for them. Instead, they emphasize the need to bring about reforms in the party.
Speaking to the media, soon after the election results were out, Ranil Wickremesinghe said that there was no need for him to step down from the leadership, given the steep decline in the voter turnout. The UNP’s prominent youth leader Sajith Premadasa in a statement to the BBC had said there is a pressing need for a reorganisation of the party.

Meanwhile, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe too has reportedly worked out a plan to revamp the party. He has expressed the view that the party MPs should not hold office as the party’s General Secretary or as Chairpersons of party organisations or those affiliated to the party such as youth leagues, women leagues, student unions and trade unions. It is learnt that the UNP leader has decided to appoint Sagala Ratnayake, who suffered defeat in Matara at the April 8 election, as the UNP General Secretary. Wickremesinghe had earlier decided to appoint Sagala as an MP from the national list, but had been compelled to abandon the idea when a host of other defeated candidates too clamoured for a seat in parliament from the national list. Tissa Attanayake, who is now holding the key office of General Secretary of the party, is to be appointed the national organiser of the party. It was S.B. Dissanayake who held this office before crossing over to the government and this position was suppressed following Dissanayake’s defection. S.B. Dissanayake had earlier publicly declared that his position as the National Organiser was an `empty’ one which carried hardly any powers. Meanwhile, Ravi Karunanayake and Sajith Premadasa are to be appointed deputy leaders of the party. The proposed changes are to be implemented once ratified by the UNP Working Committee, Sirikotha sources said.

Next PM?
Many people in the country are eagerly waiting to know their next prime minister. The names of Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, D.M. Jayaratne and SLFP General Secretary Maitripala Sirisena are being mentioned in this connection. Of these three hopefuls, the one who is most confident of getting this office is D.M.Jayaratne. Jayaratne, according to a reliable report, has even inquired from a very senior Police officer the number of security personnel that the prime minister is entitled to!

Another government source says that there is a strong possibility of D.M.Jayaratne being appointed the prime minister and Ratnasiri Wickremenayake the Speaker. Maitripala Sirisena, the most likely loser, is expected to be offered a key ministry in the new cabinet.

Basil Rajapaksa, Wimal Weerawansa and Sudarshani Fernandopulle, outstanding performers at the general election are tipped to get three vital ministries. The present indications are that Basil Rajapaksa will be assigned the Nation Building and Tourism, Wimal Weerawansa, the Housing and Construction and Sudarshani Fernandopulle, the Health Care.

Ports and Aviation will go to Chamal Rajapaksa, Foreign Affairs to Mahinda Samarasinghe, Power and Energy to Champika Ranawaka and Industries to Kumara Welgama. Dew Gunasekera, Athauda Seneviratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana, Dinesh Gunawardena, Arumugam Thondaman, Douglas Devananda, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha and Prof. G.L.Peiris too have been identified for important ministerial portfolios.
Although the cabinet of the new government is expected to be 40-strong, the number of ministers to be appointed initially would be between 35 and 38. The balance portfolios are to be reserved for those expected to cross over to the government from the opposition, government sources said.