The strength of ruling coalition headed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) hit a dangerous low on Thursday, when the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC), a party of Indian Origin Tamils (IOT), said that it had quit the government in protest against being "insulted and taken for granted."
When the five CWC MPs left, the coalition government's strength came down to 112 in a house of 225 making it a "minority" government, a senior leader of the CWC, Yogarajan, told Hindustan Times.
He said that President Mahinda Rajpaksa's brother and "Presidential Advisor" Basil Rajpaksa, had "shouted at and insulted" the Deputy Minister for Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure, Muthu Sivalingam, a very senior CWC leader.
According to Yogarajan, Basil Rajpaksa, had completely denied any role played by the CWC in a particular prestigious project and even handed over a sheet of paper to Sivalingam to pen his resignation if he wanted to resign in protest.
Yogarajan said that President Rajpaksa had tried to make amends by meeting the CWC supreme, Arumugam Thondaman, but to no avail.
"The minorities are being taken for granted by the Sinhala-oriented government," Yogarajan said.
"There is no chance of us coming back," he asserted.
Bid to weaken CWC in estates
The CWC's main bases are the tea and rubber estates of Central and southern Sri Lanka where most of the workers are Indian Origin Tamils. The Sinhala parties like the SLFP, the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) are trying to make inroads into this and decimate the Tamil-speaking CWC politically.
This explains Basil Rajpaksa's conduct. The cabinet minister for Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure is President Mahinda Rajpaksa himself. And his brother is said to be the de-facto minister.
Exacerbation of relations with minorities
The CWC's "quitting" the Rajpaksa government is a further indication of the latter's poor relations with the ethnic minorities, though the minorities' parties are represented in the government.
The minority parties, though in government, feel that they have little say in running it. They believe it is run as per the interest of the ruling clique and the majority Sinhala community.
A variety of factors, chiefly security, have forced the minority parties to be with the government. Political circles say that they will switch sides if the political climate goes against Rajpaksa and the majority community loses faith in him.
But that prospect is a far cry now, especially because of the government's military victories against the LTTE in the Eastern districts in the recent past.
Rajpaksa's recipe for survival
President Rajpaksa has two options now to get out of the tight situation he is in parliament:
(1) he can mend his fences with the estranged Marxist and radical Sinhala JVP
(2) he could try and get three or four more defectors from the opposition UNP.
Given the bad relations with the JVP, he is more likely to step up the bid to get defectors from the UNP with the offer of plum cabinet portfolios and deputy ministers' posts.
Political observers say that a dissolution of parliament is not on the cards because the government may not get a majority given the sharp rise in prices and other economic difficulties faced by the voters of the majority Sinhala community.
The JVP, which has 38 MPs, has shown no keenness to seek fresh elections. It fears that the UNP might come to power with the help of the minorities. Though its relations with Rajpaksa are none too good, it prefers Rajpaksa to the right wing and pro-minority UNP.