Sri Lanka President to paper over SLFP cracks

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has moved to prevent a formal split of his SLFP by allowing members to decide if they want to join a coalition government or remain as opposition MPs, officials said.

During a meeting with SLFP members in Colombo, Sirisena has given them the option of taking up cabinet positions in a broad coalition Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promised after he was sworn in on Friday.

An SLFP MP who attended the meeting said Sirisena suggested that the SLFP could also retain the leader of the opposition position if a sufficiently large number remained as opposition MPs.

It was not immediately clear what role former president Mahinda Rajapaksa would play, but he has already announced that he would remain a backbencher and would not stake a claim to be the opposition leader.

President Sirisena’s move to allow his party men to join the government or remain in the opposition is an attempt to head off an open defiance by sections still loyal to Rajapaksa.

"Whether he likes it or not, a large section of the SLFP is still with Mahinda," a former SLFP minister said asking not to be named. "He is now trying to show that a group remaining in the opposition with his blessings."

Rajapaksa loyalists claim that 60 out of the 95 MP’s elected under the UPFA (of which the SLFP is the main constituent party) were supporting Rajapaksa and not Sirisena.

A split in the SLFP leading to a ginger group led by Rajapaksa taking the opposition leader post could prevent the third largest party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), taking that position.

The TNA had claimed that they should hold the opposition leader slot if the SLFP was joining a jumbo cabinet in a national government led by the Prime Minister.

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