President asks SJB if it will join interim Cabinet

SLPP rebels decline portfolios but won’t hinder ‘good decisions’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has offered another opportunity to Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa to be part of the interim administration.

The President has asked Opposition Leader Premadasa to inform him if his party is willing to accept positions in the Cabinet of Ministers to be appointed.

On Thursday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declined SJB leader’s last minute offer to accept the premiership.

In a two-page letter dated 12 May, addressed to Opposition Leader Premadasa, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasised that an early response is required as the decision on the finalisation of the Cabinet couldn’t be delayed in view of the prevalent political and economic crisis. The President has assured the SJB leader that before a decision to swear in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was made he had consulted leaders of political parties represented in Parliament. The President didn’t name those he had consulted.

The SJB won 54 seats, including seven National List slots at the last parliamentary elections in August 2020. One of the SJB NL members, Dayana Gamage, switched her allegiance to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Meanwhile, the SLPP rebels have declared that they will not accept ministerial portfolios in the new Cabinet.

Addressing the media, separately, the SLFP, said it wouldn’t be part of the new administration. SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera later told The Island that they would support government efforts to procure the required essential supplies. The SLFP wouldn’t do anything to undermine the government as long as the new administration didn’t take decisions inimical to the public.

The SLFP parliamentary group comprising 14 members is the largest party in the rebel group, which comprises 11 political parties and groups.

On behalf of the rebel group, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa said that they wouldn’t accept ministerial portfolios. Underscoring their concerns over newly appointed PM Wickremesinghe’s past conduct, lawmaker Weerawansa declared that they would continue to sit in the Opposition though continuing to support right decisions. The SLPP rebels account for about one third of the total parliamentary group. Yuthukama Leader and SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga assured their support for proposed constitutional reforms. He however reiterated the need for the continuation of the executive presidency as long as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution remained in its current form. While appreciating the ongoing efforts to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt with the IMF’s intervention, MP Cumaratunga said that the countries that had sought IMF help remained in debt.

The rebel group said it was unfortunate that the person whose party had been rejected by the vast majority of the electorate at both the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2020, respectively, was now the PM. Cumaratunga called it a tragedy.

Responding to criticism that the SLPP is in crisis today due to the stand taken by a section of the party over the controversial Yugadanavi deal, MP Cumaratunga said that they had made a desperate bid to pressure the ruling party to abandon its disastrous strategies. Former Minister Weerawansa said that Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t have been humiliated if he quit the premiership in response to the rebel group’s plea.

Weerawansa said that the current predicament could have been avoided but the then PM had refused to heed the warnings. Before the break up in early March this year, the SLPP comprised 145 members. The ruling party had the backing of several SJB members, who on two occasions (20th Amendment and the Colombo Port City Commission Bill) voted with the government. Altogether 15 political parties represent the Parliament. They are SLPP (145), SJB (54), ITAK (10), JJB (03), AITC (02), EPDP (02), UNP (01), SLFP (01), OPPP (01), TMVP (01), MNA (01), ACMC (01), NC (01) and SLMC (01).

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