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Ranil unfazed by prospect of defection

Even in the midst of a major revolt in his party, Ranil is on a pleasure trip abroad, reports PK Balachandran.
None | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2007 11:34 AM IST

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka, is unfazed by the prospect of twenty of his MPs crossing over to the government side on Sunday.

Even in the midst of a major revolt in his party, which could see the strength of his United National Party (UNP) dwindle from 62 to 42 in a parliament of 225 members, he went on a holiday to Tanzania.

Currently, he is on a jaunt in Nepal and India.

Wickremesinghe's nonchalance is due to his belief that the crossovers will only cause problems for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and not solve any.

The massive reshuffle in Rajapaksa's Council of Ministers which the crossover of 20 UNP MPs and 5 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) MPs will necessitate, may trigger deep resentments in the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its alliance partners, he feels.

This "political earthquake" will only spawn an anti-Rajapaksa faction within the SLFP and the government.

"The seven-page missive sent on Tuesday by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to the President, protesting against the proposed inductions from the UNP, may well be the first shot of a rebellion," a source close to Wickremesinghe told Hindustan Times.

It is also noted that there is growing resentment among senior ministers and ruling party MPs against the concentration of power in the hands of a small coterie around the President.

Rajapaksa has already lost the support of a key ally, the 38 member Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

The current military victories against the LTTE have smothered the opposition, and curbed the expression of discontent in Sri Lanka.

But once the battle front victories become scarcer and scarcer, the economy fails to take off, and the burdens heaped on the people by an expensive war mount, the latent opposition within the ruling party will surface, Wickremesinghe predicts.

Ambitious military objectives, like the plan to capture the LTTE's main eastern bases in Thoppigala and the main Northern bases in the Wanni, may prove to be very costly in terms of men, material and money, independent military observers say.

Recalling the past, they say that the LTTE could come back from humiliating defeats to torment the government, as it did in 1996 after being driven out of Jaffna in 1995.

In 1997-99, the LTTE blunted the bid to capture the highway to Jaffna. In 2000, it was knocking at the gates of Jaffna.

The Rajapaksa government's barely concealed disdain for the humanitarian and security concerns of the Western donor countries could affect aid and investment flows and prevent the expected economic take off, Wickremesinghe feels.

Germany, which now heads EU, has already expressed concern about the security situation created by the continuing war, by suspending aid for tsunami reconstruction.

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