Sri Lanka to hold parliamentary elections in 100 days

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena addressing Parliament in Colombo on Monday in this handout photo. -- PHOTO: AFP
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena addressing Parliament in Colombo on Monday in this handout photo. -- PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's new President on Monday announced fresh parliamentary elections to be held in late April, after he has implemented an ambitious 100-day reform plan.

Mr Maithripala Sirisena told a 27-member Cabinet inducted Monday that the election will be held two years ahead of schedule after carrying out a series of reforms aimed at securing his presidency following last week's presidential election.

"Soon after our 100-day programme, we will hold a parliamentary election and remember that this is only an interim government," he said.

"Win over those who did not vote for us at the presidential election," he added.

Mr Sirisena, who defeated strongman Mahinda Rajapakse in the presidential election, also called two years ahead of schedule, said he was keeping his promise of having a lean cabinet of 27 compared to his predecessor's bloated 67.

Mr Sirisena kept the defence ministry for himself as mandated by the Constitution and gave foreign affairs to top opposition figure Mangala Samaraweera, who had held the post under a Rajapakse administration too.

Mr Sirisena has promised to transfer most of the executive powers to parliament and allow independent commissions to run the public service, the police, the judiciary and the elections department.

He axed hundreds of officials and diplomats appointed by Mr Rajapakse and warned that he would take stern action against any corrupt official in his administration.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the President had ordered all political appointees of the former president to resign immediately, while diplomats were being recalled.

Mr Sirisena invited all parties to join his cabinet on Sunday, two days after he ousted South Asia's longest-serving leader in a surprise election victory.

The new President quit Mr Rajapakse's Cabinet in November to emerge as a leading candidate in the January 8 polls, uniting the opposition and triggering a mass defection of lawmakers.

Analysts have already warned that he may struggle to satisfy the diverse coalition that backed his campaign.

As he got to work on Monday, Mr Sirisena spoke to top US diplomat John Kerry after pledging to mend ties with the West.

The US secretary of state said Washington wanted to strengthen its relations with Sri Lanka, which soured under Mr Rajapakse.

Mr Senaratne said the new government had secured wide support, including from parties outside the coalition.

The main party representing the country's Tamil minority, who played a significant role in ousting Rajapakse, declined cabinet positions but agreed to support the president, Senaratne said.

Mr Sirisena, who needs a majority in the 225-member assembly to push through ambitious reforms, has moved to strengthen his hold on parliament by securing further defections.

He has pledged to reverse many of the constitutional changes made by the former president, who gave himself huge powers over all key institutions, including the judiciary.

Mr Rajapakse's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) split on Sunday night when a section of its policy-making central committee broke away and pledged support to Mr Sirisena.

Irrigation Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the SLFP had appointed the new President as party leader, though that was immediately challenged by the Rajapakse camp.

The new President has already led the biggest defection from any government in Sri Lanka since independence from Britain in 1948.

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