COLOMBO: Sri Lanka appointed its smallest ever Cabinet on Friday. Caretaker Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed just 15 ministers — compared to more than 40 in the previous Cabinet — who were sworn in by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — Mahinda’s younger brother.
For the first time in the country’s history, the Cabinet — which will only hold office until next year’s general elections — does not include a Muslim minister.
The prime minister will hold several posts, including minister of finance, economic affairs, policy development, Buddha Sasana, culture, water supply, urban development, and housing, while another Rajapaksa brother, Chamal, was named minister of Mahaweli development, agriculture and trade.
Reacting to the new appointments, N.M. Ameen, leader of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told Arab News that there was “visible displeasure” in the Muslim community about the absence of Muslim ministers in the new Cabinet.
He noted that since the country’s independence, there had always been “someone to represent the Muslim community in the Cabinet.” However, he added that he hoped the problem would quickly be rectified with the appointment of a Muslim MP as a minister or deputy minister.
Some diversity does still remain in Sri Lanka’s authorities: On Wednesday, President Gotabaya appointed a Muslim governor — who has ministerial powers — to the North Western Province, where there is a large Muslim population.
And in the new Cabinet, Arumugam Thondaman and Douglas Devananda are members of the minority Tamil community.
International lobbyist and strategist Muheed Jeeran urged the Muslim community to remain calm, stressing that the Cabinet will only be in charge until next year’s general elections and insisting to Arab News that the Cabinet had been chosen to ensure representation from a range of political parties, rather than a range of communities.
One veteran Muslim politician, who asked to remain anonymous, also told Arab News that there is no cause for alarm, particularly considering the appointment of A.J.M. Muzammil as the governor for the North Western Province.
“At least one Muslim parliamentarian will be appointed as deputy minister on Monday,” he predicted.
In other news, it has been reported that 33 of the 35 candidates who contested Sri Lanka’s recent presidential election lost their deposits, having failed to receive five percent of the votes cast. Independent candidates had to pay a deposit of $500 to register, while candidates from a political party paid $270.
Only the winner, Rajapaksa, with 52.25 percent of the vote, and the New Democratic Front’s Sajith Premadasa (41.99 percent) retained their deposits.
Even the third-placed candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka from the National People’s Power party, only received 3.16 percent of the vote.