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Why Mahinda sacked his top ministers

Sacking of ministers like Samaraweera is meant to stem Kumaratunga's influence, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2007 15:35 IST

By sacking top line ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Anura Bandaranaike and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi on Friday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sent out a clear warning that he will not tolerate the formation of any group in the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which owes allegiance to his main rival, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Samaraweera, Bandaranaike and Sooriyarachchi are closely identified with Kumaratunga, who Rajapaksa sees as a threat to the emerging order in the SLFP, though she no longer holds any political office and does not even reside in Sri Lanka.

Bandaranaike, who is Kumaratunga's younger brother, had been constantly talking of his being a scion of the Bandaranaike clan which founded the SLFP.

Samaraweera had been in touch with Kumaratunga. And his Sinhala paper Mawbima had been attacking Rajapaksa for the past one year.

All this did not fit Rajapaksa's plan to build an SLFP whose leaders would owe everything to him; depend entirely on him; and who would under no circumstances, hark back to the days when they were with Kumaratunga.

In the process of building a new-look SLFP and government, Rajapaksa had brought in his brothers, Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

It is this troika which has been running the party and the government.

The move to alienate the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and admit a large number of   defectors from the opposition United National Party (UNP) into the government was essentially meant to discard the old props and put up new ones.

The admission of 33 defectors, including 18 from the UNP, has lessened Rajapaksa's dependence on the Kumaratunga faction and the JVP, both of which could legitimately act as a check on him.

These moves were slammed by Samaraweera in a recent letter to Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa reacted by downgrading Samaraweera and Bandaranaike in the last cabinet reshuffle, virtually asking them to go.

But Samaraweera intensified the conflict by trying to garner support among partymen.

Bandaranaike charged that some people close to Rajapaksa had threatened to skin him and Samaraweera alive and hang them.

In an angry retort, Rajapaksa said that nobody had a birth right to lead the SLFP and that he would establish that it belonged to the man in the street.

Warning that he would deal with dissidence with a heavy hand, he used a Sinhala expression which meant that he could be as hard as a village toughie if he wanted to.

The very next day, the dissident leaders were sacked.

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