Muslim Congress quits Government
In a blow to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election bid, Sri Lanka’s largest Muslim party quit the government on Sunday to support common presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem said that the party’s decision to support the opposition candidate was aimed at reversing the current state of affairs.
“The popular wish among many people in the country, not just simply the Muslims, is to see a reversal of the current state of affairs,” Hakeem told reporters.
Hakeem, who is also the Minister of Justice of the country, said he had resigned his post.
Addressing a Press conference, the SLMC leader said that the party’s decision to leave the Rajapaksa government was also prompted because of the “surreptitious changes” made to a 2010 law that lifted the two-term limit on the executive presidency. The new law, which was also voted in by Hakeem, gives the president almost unlimited powers over the judiciary, police and the civil service.
“Good governance is the main issue for us,” said Hakeem. “We are guilty of voting for the 2010 statute, but now we want to rectify the situation.” The decision of the Muslim Congress comes after weeks of speculation during which several Muslim ministers and parliamentarians defected the government.
However, the announcement just 10 days prior to the presidential elections does not come as a surprise to the Muslim community which has been critical of the party’s indecisiveness over quitting the government.
Although the government is yet to make a formal statement, sources said that the Muslim Congress defection is a “major blow” to Rajapaksa. The desertion comes just five days after Rishard Badurdeen, a key Muslim minister and his party left the coalition government to support the opposition candidate.
Ameer Faaiz, a central member of the Muslim Congress on Sunday said that Rajapaksa’s “intolerance towards religious minorities” was the reason for the party’s decision to quit the government.
Rajapaksa, who was voted to power by a majority of Muslims, has been accused of backing Buddhist extremist groups that have continuously harassed Muslims in recent years.
A spate of anti-Muslim violence erupted in the country recently with the backing of Bodu Bala Sena, a group led by Buddhist monks, who pledged their support to the president last week. Muslims, the second largest ethnic minority group after Tamils, make up 10 per cent of the total population.
The Tamil National Alliance, the key Tamil political party in Sri Lanka, has not yet said if it will side with Rajapaksa whose government wiped out the Tamil Tiger guerillas after a three decade ethnic war, or Sirisena who is backed by the former army chief under whose command the Tigers were defeated. Both Rajapaksa and Sirisena belong to the 70 per cent majority Sinhalese community.
Sirisena, who is backed by the main opposition, a former president and a former army commander, was the health minister in the coalition government before defecting last month. (Khaleej Times)