Sri Lanka: PM, cabinet sworn in after military takes over protest site

Rajapaksa allies given all top portfolios despite mulling all-party government for months



By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Fri 22 Jul 2022, 6:23 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Jul 2022, 10:20 PM

A few hours after the Sri Lankan military stormed in and violently took over a peaceful protest site, the prime minister and cabinet comprised of Rajapaksa allies were sworn in.

Despite months of discussing an all-party government, ruling party members and Rajapaksa allies have been handed all top portfolios.

Senior lawmaker and veteran politician Dinesh Gunawardena, 73, former foreign affairs and education minister in Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, was sworn in as Prime Minister on Friday. Gunawardena is believed to be a close confidant of the Rajapaksa family and, despite belonging to the opposition camp, a friend and classmate of the current president.

"We will join hands without any political differences to support the problems of our nation," Gunawardena told reporters after he was sworn in.

While President Wickremesinghe holds on to the Finance Minister's portfolio himself, other ministers complete the cabinet.

The man who faced criticism from his own community for defending the Rajapaksa government's decision not to allow the burial of Muslims who died of Covid last year was named Foreign Affairs Minister.

This is the third time the lawyer-turned politician holds a powerful portfolio under the Rajapaksa regime. First as Justice Minister and then last year when he replaced Basil Rajapaksa, who resigned as Finance Minister following angry protesters who wanted the Rajapaksas and their allies out.

Some other new cabinet ministers who fell out with the previous president include the Minister of Education, Susil Premajayatha, who was removed as State Minister under Gotabaya Rajapaksa's presidency. Wijeydasa Rajapakshe, who launched a scathing attack on then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Basil Rajapaksa over corruption charges, is also back in the cabinet. Premajayantha has been appointed Education Minister, and Rajapakshe as Justice Minister once again.

Strikingly missing from the new cabinet is the long-time ally of the Rajapaksas, former Foreign Minister GL Pieris. Ruling party members told Khaleej Times he was dropped because Pieris questioned the ruling party to which he belongs and its decision to back Wickremesinghe from the opposition party in this week's presidential elections.

Despite their differences with former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, both remain loyal to his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, the powerful leader of the ruling party that voted in President Wickremesinghe.

"It's the same wolves in new sheep's clothing," a human rights activist told Khaleej Times. "The same old crooks, with new portfolios, all loyal to the Rajapksas, all back to protect them."

The new cabinet is predominantly made up of the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party.

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Protesters have been demanding for months for the Rajapaksas, who they blame for the country's severe economic crisis, to step down. They have also been calling for the current president Wickremesinghe of the opposition party to quit, claiming he has been protecting the Rajapaksas.

The two Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, had to step down as prime minister and president in the past two months following mass protests.


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