Colombo, November 22 (newsin.asia): Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena (70), is a hardcore left-wing nationalist belonging to the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), an ally of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The soft-spoken Dinesh Chandra Rupasinghe Gunawardena, born in 1949, has a background which should help him handle countries as diverse as the United States, India and China. These countries, which have developed high strategic and economic stakes in Sri Lanka because of its location in the Indian Ocean, pose a formidable foreign policy challenge to Sri Lanka. Previous Foreign Ministers have had to face tricky situations with mounting rivalries between big powers in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
After his schooling in the prestigious Royal College in Colombo, Dinesh, as he popularly known, went to Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Amsterdam and then to the University of Oregon in the US.
His father, Philip Gunawardena, was among the founder-leaders of the leftist Lanka Sama Samaj Party (LSSP), which had fraternal ties with the Indian National Congress during the struggle for Indian and Sri Lankan independence.
When Philip escaped from detention in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) during World War II for opposing the war with Germany and Japan,, he headed for India for safety as the Congress too was opposing the war. But he was detained there also.
Dinesh’s mother, Kusuma Gunawardena, was also a left-wing politician whose ‘Viplawakaari Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP), had fraternal ties with the Communist Party of China. Kusuma, who was the second woman MP to be elected to the Sri Lankan parliament, was President of the Ceylon-China Friendship Society.
Though a staunch Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist, Dinesh is said to be “worldly-wise” and not given to antagonizing those opposing him needlessly or wantonly. He will stand his ground as a Sri Lankan nationalist while diplomatically engaging his country’s detractors.
His close connections with the West, India and China and his amiable disposition will enable him to engage these countries in a non-abrasive manner. As a politician and Minister, Dinesh has also been in regular contact with a wide range of diplomats based in Colombo over a long period.
Dinesh is expected to handle the war crimes issues which will come up with the US and the UN Human Rights Council with a judicious combination of firmness and flexibility.
In his dealings with the world, Dinesh will be guided by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his senior in politics and long-time political ally, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Since Japan is keen on playing a leading role in Sri Lanka (to checkmate China, its historical rival) Dinesh would be required to balance the interests of Japan and China even as he balances relations between rivals India and China. He is said to have close ties with Japan too which should stand him good stead.
The newly appointed Cabinet of Ministers is as follows:
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs, Policy Development, Buddha Sasana, Cultural, Water Supply & Urban Development, Housing Facilities Ministry
Nimal Siripala de Silva – Minister of Justice, Human Rights & Legal Reforms
Arumugam Thondaman – Minister of Community Empowerment & Estate Infrastructure
Dinesh Gunawardene – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Skills Development, Employment & Labour Relations
Douglas Devananda – Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources
Pavithra Wanniarachchi – Minister of Women & Child Affairs, Social Security, Health & Indigenous Medicine
Bandula Gunawardene – Minister of Information & Communications Technology, Higher Education, Technology & Innovations
Janaka Bandara Tennakoon – Minister of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils & Local Government
Chamal Rajapaksa – Minister of Mahaweli Development, Agriculture & Trade,
Dullas Alahapperuma – Minister of Education, Sports and Youth Affairs
Johnston Fernando – Minister of Roads & Highways, Ports & Shipping
Mahinda Amaraweera – Minister of Passenger Transport, Power & Energy
Wimal Weerawansa – Minister of Small Medium Enterprise (SME) & Enterprise Development, Industries & Supply Management
S.M. Chandrasena – Minister of Environment, Wildlife, Land & Land Development
Ramesh Pathirana – Minister of Plantations & Export Agriculture
Prasanna Ranatunga – Minister of Industrial Exports & Investment Promotions, Tourism & Aviation
There are no new faces in the cabinet. Addressing the appointees, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that State Ministers (Junior Ministers with independent charge of ministries) will be appointed next Monday, November 25.
The present government headed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is a temporary one. It could either stay until the next parliamentary elections in mid 2020, if a decision is taken to manage with the existing parliament, or it could go, if a decision is taken to dissolve the House and go for fresh elections ahead of time with a resolution backed by two-thirds of the MPs.
To get two-thirds majority, all parties in parliament must agree. While the ruling SLPP is keen on immediate dissolution to exploit the pro-SLPP mood in the country, the United National Party (UNP)-led alliance, which currently has majority in the House, is divided on the issue. Negotiations are on to resolve the contradictions.