Ferial joins Hakeem in surprise move
SLMC-NUA quit PA coalition

Franklin R. Satyapalan

In two dramatic moves yesterday, the coalition partnership between the People’s Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress ended in shambles and the SLMC was in the opposition fold.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga stripped leader of the SLMC, Rauf Hakeem of his Ministerial Portfolio - Internal Trade, Commerce, Shipping Development and Muslim Religious Affairs. No reasons were given as a government news release tersely announced Mr. Hakeem had been removed from his ministerial offices.

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Within hours Mr. Hakeem in a surprise move teamed up with NUA leader Mrs. Ferial Ashraff with whom he had been squabbling during the past few months and announced they had joined hands and quit the government.

Political circles were buzzing about Mr. Hakeem being deprived of his Ministry when Speaker Anura Bandaranaike made his order rejecting the Supreme Court’s impeachment of the Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, Mr. Hakeem was absent when the order was made.

Later when he entered Parliament he was informed of his removal but Mr. Hakeem maintained that he had resigned from the government with effect from 12 noon on Tuesday.

Last morning on entering Parliament Mr. Hakeem met Minister Mrs. Ferial Ashraff at a one to one meeting in a committee room and held discussions. Informed sources said that he had convinced Mrs. Ashraff to resign from the PA in the interests of the party and she had agreed.

Thereafter Mr. Hakeem summoned a meeting of the SLMC Parliamentary Group where it was decided that all Deputy Ministers should resign and the entire SLMC - NUA should sit in the Opposition as an Independent Group.

The SLMC leader’s ministerial and Special Task Force security were removed with immediate effect from yesterday.

Hakeem, Mrs. Ashraff and others later paid homage at the grave of the late M.H.M. Ashraff at the Jawatte Cemetery. Later, Hakeem addressed a press conference at the Jumma Mosque, Jawatte and said his parliamentary group felt insulted at the manner the PA treated them and that was why they decided to move out. "We are united in diversity to safeguard the interests of the party," he claimed.

Hakeem and Mrs. Ashraff followed by hundreds of SLMC supporters entered the Jawatta cemetery yelling - ‘Nave Thakbeer, Allahu Akbar’.

Hakeem charged that the President and her government attempted to devide the party but failed as the SLMC/NUA worked in unity.

He said that all diplomatic posts and other assignments given to the party will also be sacrificed to uphold the dignity of the party.

Hakeem pointed out that his party had so far not made contact with the UNP.

Mrs. Ashraff said the decision to resign from the Cabinet was collective. "Our minds are together after the leadership of the party was insulted."

She said all actions had to be taken as the party leader was removed from the Cabinet which was an insult.

Hakeem quipped that the PA has strengthened the unity of SLMC/NUA following his ouster from the Cabinet. "Now we are more stronger in unity", he added.

At the time of going to press Mr. Hakeem addressed Parliament from the government side and crossed over to the Opposition with six SLMCers. UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe told the Speaker that the government had lost the majority in the House while senior UNPer John Ameratunga offered his seat to Mr. Hakeem.

At the time of the crossover Mrs. Ferial Ashraff, ULM Haniffa, and Wimalaweera Dissanayake were not present in the House while U. L. M. Mohideen remained in the government ranks.

However Mr. Hakeem in his speech from the government side said that the decision to quite the PA was unanimous.