Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expands his Cabinet

Sri Lanka's new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) and his Prime Minister brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. (AFP file photo)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday expanded his Cabinet by appointing 35 ministers of state and three deputy ministers, all men and none from the Tamil and Muslim minorities, to run his newly-elected government until the parliamentary polls next year.

The President named his eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa, who was already part of his limited 16-member Cabinet, as the new minister of state for defense. However, Namal Rajapaksa, the President's nephew and son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, was not given any position.

There are no women and and no members from the Tamil and Muslim minorities among the 38 new ministers. However, the 16-member interim Cabinet included two Tamils and a woman.

"These positions should not be treated as privileges, these are all positions to fulfil our manifesto promises and implement our work for the betterment of people," Gotabaya Rajapaksa said while addressing a gathering.

His administration would function as a minority government heading to the next parliamentary election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa can dismiss the current assembly after February 20 next year. The fresh parliamentary election is expected to take place after April.

The President will embark on his first official visit to India on Friday at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two leaders are expected to hold talks on a wide-ranging issues during the visit deemed as a "fresh start" between the two governments after the bilateral ties were strained during the previous Rajapaksa regime that was tilted more towards China.

Meanwhile, the assembly Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced on Wednesday that he recognised former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the main opposition leader.

The position came under dispute when a group of 40 legislators aligned to Wickremesinghe wrote to Jayasuriya asking for Sajith Premadasa, the losing presidential candidate and Wickremesinghe's deputy, to be named as the main opposition leader.

The Tamil minority, who overwhelmingly voted for the losing candidate Premadasa, earlier said they expected losing presidential candidate to be the main Opposition leader.

A serious division within the United National Party (UNP) resurfaced following Gotabaya Rajapaksa's victory in the presidential polls. Gotabaya defeated UNP's deputy leader Premadasa in the presidential election held on November 16.

Since the defeat, Wickremesinghe and Premadasa have been engaged in a battle to be the main Opposition parliamentary leader.

The UNP general Secretary had asked the Speaker to recognise Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe has been the Opposition leader since 1994 except for two separate stints as prime minister between 2001 to 2004 and again from 2015 to 2019.

"Recognition of the leader of the Opposition was done upholding established parliamentary traditions that should not be violated. While I empathise with the challengers too, it is best that a party's internal disputes are settled from within," Jayasuriya said in a tweet. 

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