Front rank MPs from the opposition United National Party (UNP) are poised to defect to the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.
Among those mentioned in this connection are Karu Jayasuriya, Milinda Moragoda, GL Peiris, Rajitha Senaratne, Navin Dissanayake and Gamini Lokuge.
It is not clear as to how many will defect, but the government itself wants to get a minimum of 16 defectors so that its dependence on the radical Marxist and Sinhala nationalist Jantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the parliament ends, or at least gets minimised.
In case the JVP walks out protesting against the entry of UNP MPs, the government will be left with only 97 members, needing 16 more to get the required simple majority.
A few days ago, as if to facilitate defection from the UNP, President Rajapaksa declared his intention to reshuffle the cabinet by month end.
Then on Wednesday, the cabinet decided to take defectors from the UNP, despite the existence of a MOU on constructive cooperation between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the UNP.
Alarmed by this development, the UNP leader and Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has asked for a meeting with Rajapaksa.
But Rajapaksa is expected to tell Wickremesinghe that the defections cannot be construed as a violation of the MOU because the MOU itself is meant to facilitate cooperation between the ruling party and the opposition to solve key national issues.
The defectors will remain UNP members and will be supporting the government in its efforts to solve key national issues by participating in the administration!
A Centrist himself, Rajapaksa will be more comfortable with the Centrist UNP MPs than with the radical leftist JVP.
Also, if Rajapaksa is to solve the Tamil question through devolution of power, and get Western aid to boost the sluggish economy, he will have to be less dependent on the JVP which is against devolution of power and dependence on the Western powers.
Why join Rajapaksa?
As for the UNP leaders, they are eager to join the Rajapaksa regime for the following reasons:
• Proven inability of Wickremesinghe to win elections.
• Wickremesinghe's refusal to democratise the party.
• Popularity of Rajapaksa's moderate Sinhala nationalist line.
• Government's successes in the battle field against the LTTE.
• Rajapaksa's affability and accommodativeness in contrast to Wickremesinghe's aloofness.
• Pleas from India and the international community to the two main parties to jointly solve the Tamil question.
Given the power of the Rajapaksa regime, two main Indian Tamil parties have already joined the government. And the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is only waiting for an invitation to do so.