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President plays his cards very close to his chest

With three more days to go before the final election results are declared after the re-polls at Nawalapitiya and Trincomalee are completed on Tuesday and the results announced the next day, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is playing his hand regarding various appointments he will make very close to his chest.

"He’s been given various ideas but he is telling nobody what he plans to do,’’ a very senior member of the administration said yesterday.

The re-poll at several polling stations at Nawalapitiya is attracting a great deal of interest in the context of the final Kandy district results, in terms of preference votes, being yet in the balance.

"The likely timetable is the election on April 20 and the declaration of the results after midday with the various parties compiling their National Lists which will bring 29 members into Parliament,’’ a senior politician explained.

"Parliament will meet on April 22 with the first item of business being the election of the Speaker. We won’t have the tension we had on that business we had the last time round,’’ he chuckled.

The outgoing Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara, a veteran UNPer from Haputale, changed sides in the dying hours of the previous parliament with his son running on the UPFA ticket as organizer for Haputale with the father placed on the government party’s National List.

"Lokubandara, of course, will not be Speaker again,’’ knowledgeable sources said. ``It is widely expected that one of two senior ministers in the last cabinet will fill the slot.’’

Asked to identify the `possibles,’ the sources declined to do so. He said there may be changes between now and the event but there will be a surprising appointment if the chips fall as now expected.

Senior political observers and analysts were disappointed that Mr. Sarath Amunugama, widely regarded as one of the ablest and best performing ministers in the last government, is under attack from his own side for a seat in the Kandy district from the UPFA with an effort to deprive him of preferences from government supporters.

"There is a campaign against him,’’ a senior government source admitted. ``He is targeted.’’ However he was expected to scrape through and mentioned for a senior position in the in coming government.

"There’s a lot of guessing and a lot of people waiting hat in hand. But the president is firm on his stand that the cabinet size is reduced to between 35 and 38 ministers. Newcomers will not get ministries,’’ the sources said.

He recalled that when the UPFA candidates went to the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura to kick off their campaign, a resolution to limit the size of the cabinet to below 40 was unanimously adopted.

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