Sri Lanka’s new president said yesterday that he will call a snap parliamentary election in March following his sweeping victory at the weekend.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is hoping to ride a wave of popularity by calling an election six months before the current parliament’s five-year term expires on March 1.
“I will consult the people at the earliest opportunity I get under the constitution,” he said, after swearing-in a new cabinet headed by his brother Mahinda, a former president who will now serve as premier and finance minister.
The brothers are credited with brutally defeating Tamil separatist militants in 2009 to end Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, making them adored among the majority Sinhalese-Buddhist majority.
For the same reason they are feared by many Tamils, and also among the Muslim minority who have seen increased hostility since Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people in April.
Currently the Rajapaksas and their allies have just 96 lawmakers in the 225-seat parliament, making it hard for them to pass legislation.
The opposition of outgoing premier Ranil Wickremesinghe is also six MPs short of a majority.
The new 16-member cabinet also includes another Rajapaksa brother, Chamal, who was made minister of agriculture and irrigation in addition to trade.
Foreign affairs was given to Dinsesh Gunawardena, 70, a leader of a small Sinhala nationalist party in coalition with the ruling party.
The only female in the cabinet, Pavitra Wanniarachchi, will take on women’s affairs and health.
Nobody was named to the defence or law and order portfolios.
The International Monetary Fund said earlier this month that Sri Lanka’s economy was slowly recovering from the devastating effects of the April 21 attacks.
But the international credit rating agency Fitch warned on Thursday that the new president’s pledges to increase social spending, public-sector wages and pensions could damage Sri Lanka’s public finances.
During Mahinda’s 2005-15 presidency, Sri Lanka borrowed almost $7bn from China for infrastructure projects – many of which turned into white elephants mired in corruption – pushing up Sri Lanka’s debts.
In a possible sign that he intends to avoid a repeat of Sri Lanka’s strategic drift towards Beijing under his brother, Gotabaya’s first official trip abroad will be to India next week.
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