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Sri Lanka sets up national unity government to speed up reforms

Sri Lankan President Sirisena has included 26 opposition lawmakers in his national unity government in a bid to push through reforms in the country. The move comes ahead of a parliamentary vote later this year.

On Sunday,

President Maithripala Sirisena

used his executive powers to appoint 11 new cabinet members and 15 deputy ministers from the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told Reuters news agency.

With the new appointments, the number of ministers in Sirisena's cabinet has risen to 39.

"The move will enable better cooperation between the ruling party and the main opposition in parliament until parliamentary elections," Senaratne said.

"This is a national government, and this is a (SLFP) party decision. We want to do all the reforms and then go to the elections," Senaratne added.

Proposed reforms

Sirisena, a former SLFP member, stood for the presidency in

January 8 elections

, promising to bring political stability to the country and embark on a

much-needed reconciliation process among political and ethnic groups

. He appointed the then-opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister to consolidate the process.

The proposed reforms, to be enacted in Sirisena's first 100 days in office, focus on the abolition of the executive presidency and the re-establishment of independent commissions to oversee the police, civil service and judiciary and to monitor human rights. However, the new leader may have trouble finding the two-thirds majority in parliament needed for constitutional reforms, or winning such a majority through the election of a new parliament.

The new appointments could also widen the rift within the already-divided opposition ranks before parliamentary elections later this year. Observers say the move is likely to upset the opposition United National Party (UNP), which backed Sirisena in the January 8 vote.

"It will satisfy no one because UNP will feel it is being crowded out by the integration of the SLFP members into the cabinet," Dayan Jayatilake, a former Sri Lankan diplomat, told Reuters, adding that the new appointments would slow down the decision-making process.

A SLFP faction is trying to get former president Mahinda Rajapakse back to power. Rajapakse ruled the country for a decade and was accused of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

The 69-year-old also faced criticism from Western countries over his refusal to allow an international investigation into

alleged war crimes

and his apparent unwillingness to promote reconciliation with the country's Tamil minority following the decades-long civil war, which ended in May 2009.

shs/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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