TWENTY-FIVE OPPOSITION MPs defected to join the Sri Lankan government on Sunday, all of them securing posts as ministers as President Mahinda Rajapakse reshuffled and expanded his cabinet. With the expansion -- including the induction of 19 MPs from the opposition United National Party and six from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress -- the number of ministers has risen from 70 to 104.
Sri Lanka (population: two crores) now has the largest council of ministers in South Asia -- 46 per cent of MPs are ministers of some kind. There are 52 cabinet ministers, 33 non-cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers. India has 73 ministers; Pakistan, with a population of 16.8 crore, has 16.
The quantum jump has taken place despite an electoral promise that the count of ministers would not exceed 35. The Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP), which had extracted this promise, has fallen out with the government, which it earlier backed. But the government, which now has a simple majority -- 113 seats in the 225-seat parliament -- no longer needs the JVP's support.
It, however, still lacks the two-thirds majority needed to make any radical changes in the constitution to secure a peace deal with Tamil Tiger rebels. "I don't think we will see any movement on the peace front for some time," said Sunanda Deshapriya, a director at the independent think tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
(With agency inputs)