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Defections, alliances to boost UPFA numbers

The leaders of three of Sri Lanka’s minority parties, Rauff Hakeem, Arumugam Thondaman, and P. Chandrasekaran, are likely to join the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration shortly, The Sunday Times reports.

But the governing United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is already gaining strength, with the defection of numerous politicians from the United National Party (UNP), press reports.

The Daily Mirror newspaper even quoted an official close to President Rajapakse as saying that the minority government would soon get the crucial two-thirds majority in Parliament.

President Rajapaksa met Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) leader Arumugam Thondaman and was scheduled to meet Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem on Monday in a bid to win their support for his administration. Upcountry Peoples’ Front (UPF) leader P. Chandrasekaran is also due to meet the President, the paper said.

The CWC has agreed to end its long standing opposition to the Upper Kotmale hydro-power project in return for the cabinet portfolio for Mr. Thondaman, the Sunday Times reported.

They say Mr. Thondaman is likely to get the Airport and Aviation portfolio before the local council polls on March 30 while Mr. Chandrasekeran is likely to get a portfolio linked to the plantation workers, the paper said.

The CWC and the UPF are contesting the local elections in the Nuwara Eliya district on the UPFA ticket while in at least seven other local councils the CWC and UPF are contesting together.

To symbolize the CWC’s new links with the government, Nuwara Eliya District parliamentarian Muttu Sivalingam on Friday took part in a project to build alternate houses for those who will be displaced by the Kotmale project.

Confirming the CWC’s decision to drop his objections to Kotmale power project, Mr. Sivalingam said priority would now be given to the welfare of the people displaced by the project, reported the Sunday Times.

CWC Vice President R. Yogarajan said a party delegation led by Mr. Thondaman on Thursday met President Rajapaksa to discuss a series of long standing issues. He said that among them were supply of electricity for the estate sector, improvement of roads and housing in the area.

After the CWC decided to extend support to the government at the March 30 local elections, President Rajapaksa had directed the Defence Ministry to increase the security for Mr. Thondaman, the report said.

Meanwhile, following a series of defections to the UPFA from the UNP ranks, the Daily Mirror reports that closed-door meetings are on to woo another three UNPers to the Rajapaksa administration.

On top of the list is Nuwara Eliya district UNP Parliamentarian Naveen Dissanayake. Puttalam district UNP organiser Neomal Perera and Ratnapura organiser Susantha Punchinilame too are on the verge of crossing over, the paper reported.

However, the President has said that the members would be offered nothing beyond a Deputy Ministerial portfolio.

Opposition Chief Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe joined the government as the Disaster Management Minister while former Parliamentary Affairs Minister A.H.M. Azwer took up the post of President’s Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs.

Meanwhile Kandy district UNP MP Keheliya Rambukwella was sworn in as the Planning and Plan Implementation Minister of the Rajapaksa government. Mr. Rambukwella received the highest number of preference votes by a UNP Member from the Kandy District at the last General Elections.