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Why Mahinda, Mangala are at odds

The Lankan minister publicly slams the president's plan to take defectors from the Oppn, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2007 12:34 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

The long simmering conflict between Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has taken a sharp turn for the worse with Samaraweera publicly slamming Rajapaksa's plan to take defectors from the opposition United National Party (UNP).

In a letter to Rajapaksa sent on Tuesday, Samaraweera said that the acceptance of the defectors and the grant ofportfolios to them would be detrimental to the interest of the President, the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the people of Sri Lanka.

These steps would also alienate a long standing ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Samaraweera stressed.

Samaraweera asked Rajapaksa not to compromise the MOU he had signed with the JVP and forget the contributions of those who had helped him get elected as President in December 2005 only for the sake of a few defectors from the UNP.

Willing to quit?

Most interestingly, Samaraweera warned that if the president did not abandon his project, he would have to take a "political decision" on his future course of action, thereby touching off speculation that he might quit the government.

Copies of the letter were sent to cabinet ministers and a gist of it was leaked to the media.

Identified as a protégé of former President and SLFP chief, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Samaraweera had been suspect in the eyes of Rajapaksa, who had had to fight every inch of his way to the top against Kumaratunga's resolute opposition.

Like Kumaratunga, Samaraweera has been a consistent opponent of the UNP and has been a long standing advocate of an SLFP-JVP alliance to defeat the UNP.

It was he who had persuaded Kumaratunga to align with the JVP and build an "unbeatable combination" to defeat the UNP in elections. The formula had worked consistently.

Like Kumaratunga, Rajapaksa too went in for an alliance with the JVP to beat the UNP, and succeeded in his electoral venture.

Samaraweera was very much a bridge between the two.

Fallout of Chandrika-Rajapaksa conflict

But the deep-seated animosity between Rajapaksa and Kumaratunga manifested itself in Rajapaksa's sidelining those perceived to be close to her, including Samaraweera.

Rajapaksa rejected Samaraweera's candidate for the post of Foreign Secretary, CR. Jayasinghe, and appointed his own man, Dr Palitha Kohana.

Recently, one of Samaraweera's key business associates was investigated and his newspaper Mowbima came under pressure.

The crossover of stalwarts from the UNP could also deprive Samaraweera of some his plum portfolios like Ports.

Sharpening of internal dissidence

Political pundits here say that it is unlikely that Samaraweera will resign or that Rajapaksa will sack him.

What is thought to be more likely is that he may be further sidelined and deprived of some of his plum portfolios.

But Samaraweera may become the nucleus of a dissident group within the SLFP, having covert ties with Kumaratunga and the JVP.

First Published: Jan 24, 2007 12:17 IST