Sri Lanka′s Sirisena announces parliamentary elections, swears in new cabinet | News | DW | 12.01.2015
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Sri Lanka's Sirisena announces parliamentary elections, swears in new cabinet

After his surprise victory, Sri Lankan President Sirisena has called new parliamentary elections. He also claims to have started ridding the government of the bloat and corruption he blames on his predecessor.

Sri Lanka's new president Maithripala Sirisena on Monday called a parliamentary election to take place in 100 days - 2 years ahead of schedule.

The new president also said he was taking measures to purge the government of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa's appointees. Rajapaksa was often accused of cronyism and nepotism.

Lawmaker Rajitha Senaratne, one of Sirisena's top aides, told the AFP news agency that he had "asked all political appointees of the former president to resign immediately," and added that diplomats appointed by Rajapaksa had been asked to return to Sri Lanka.

Sirisena himself will be minister of defense, as according to the Sri Lankan constitution. He has given the post of foreign minister to Mangala Samaraweera, a top opposition figure who also held the post under Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is now also the minister of reconciliation, policy development and economic affairs.

Sirisena's new cabinet has under 30 members, less than half the number of Rajapaksa's. The main party for the country's Tamil minority declined to be part of the cabinet, but said they stood behind the new president.

A ‘new chapter' for Sri Lanka

The new parliamentary election is part of Sirisena's plan to clean up after Rajapaksa, who garnered great popularity after quelling the nation's 36 year long civil war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Rajapaksa became increasingly disliked as he filled prominent posts with friends and family members and greatly increased presidential powers. Sirisena needs a majority in the 225-member parliament in order to push throw promised reforms.

Sirisena defected from Rajapaksa's government in November amid promises to roll back his rival's overreach. This move led to mass defection of lawmakers who nominated Sirisena as their candidate for the January 8 poll under a broad opposition coalition.

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

The new president also spoke on the phone with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, who said that the United States was hoping to strengthen its ties with Sri Lanka, which had soured under Rajapaksa.

Kerry hailed what he saw as "a new moment, a new chapter, a new set of opportunities for the people of Sri Lanka."

The relationship between the two countries deteriorated after the US secured a UN-led investigation into allegations that 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by government troops in the final months of the civil war. Rajapaksa refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

Rajapaksa is currently under investigation by the new government for seeking to cling to power via a coup after his shocking defeat.

es/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)