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Talks on crossovers in SL Govt fail

Talks between President Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil on crossovers of MPs fail, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 16:04 IST

Talks between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe on the vexed issue of crossovers to the government side broke down on Tuesday.

But the two might meet again under the aegis of the Parliament Speaker WJMLokubandara.

Top sources in the Presidential Secretariat told Hindustan Times that Wickremesinghe, who heads of the United National Party (UNP), had pleaded with Rajapaksa that he should not accept MPs from his party in the interest of safeguarding the MOU on inter-party cooperation on national issues signed late last year.

But Rajapaksa told Wickremesinghe that he had not enticed the MPs. The MPs themselves were eager to cross over.

In this context, he had no choice but to accept them, he submitted.

Media reports say that 16 to 20 UNP MPs may cross over in a few days, with many taking ministerial portfolios in a reshuffle expected to be made later this month.

However, these MPs will not be joining Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

They will claim to be in the UNP even as they accept portfolios in the council of ministers and support the government.

Rajapaksa's argument has been that a crossover of this kind cannot be construed as a violation of the MOU because the MOU's objective is SLFP-UNP cooperation on national issues.

And earlier, there was an understanding that the UNP will acceptministerial portfolios.

But Wickremesinghe sabotaged this by dragging his feet on implementation.

Later, under pressure from the dissidents, he amended his stand, but insisted that he would nominate UNP MPs to the cabinet. He also demanded the Prime Minister's post.

But Rajapaksa feared that Wickremesinghe could use his hold on the UNP ministers to sabotage the SLFP and its government.

If the crossovers do take place in the magnitude expected, the UNP will be down from 60 to 44 or even 40, in a house of 225.

The UNP then, will be only marginally stronger than the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is expected to withdraw support to the Rajapaksa government on the issue of accepting the UNP, its arch enemy.

Given the dim chances of UNP-JVP cooperation, the opposition to Rajapaksa in parliament will be ineffective.

Wickremesinghe is hoping that a UNP in the opposition will be the natural and principal beneficiary when the Rajapaksa regime becomes unpopular a few years down the line.

But his chief lieutenants, most of whom are poised to crossover, rubbish this thought because in their view, a UNP under Wickremesinghe will not be capable of cashing in on any popular discontent.

First Published: Jan 16, 2007 15:15 IST