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Sri Lanka’s cabinet expanded to 54 ministers yesterday, compounding logistical problems for parliamentary staff struggling to find them a big enough meeting room, officials said.A layman from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks’ party, the National Heritage Party, was sworn in as environment minister by President Mahinda Rajapakse, a government statement said.  The president also brought into government two more junior ministers to take the total number of ministers, non-cabinet ministers and deputy ministers to an unprecedented 108.  With nine members of the National Heritage Party supporting the government, Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led administration will now have 122 seats in the 225-member assembly. Rajapakse on Sunday swore-in the largest cabinet in the island nation’s history.

The “cross-overs”—18 from the United National Party (UNP) and 6 from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC)—followed weeks of behind-the-scenes haggling. All 18 of the UNP members have been given a post in the government—10 as cabinet ministers and the remainder as non-cabinet and deputy ministers. SLMC leader Rauf Hakim was given a cabinet post and other SLMC members were appointed as deputy ministers.

The coalition government now has 113 members in the country’s 225-seat parliament—a majority of just one. The essential glue holding this alliance together is the perks and privileges of office. After his reshuffle on Sunday, Rajapakse presides over the largest cabinet in Asia—104 government members have posts. Of those, 52 are cabinet ministers, 33 are non-cabinet ministers and 19 are deputy ministers.

When Rajapakse narrowly won the presidential election in November 2005, his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had just 58 seats. The SLFP’s “Peoples Alliance” with five other parties had a total of only 88 MPs, well short of a majority. To avoid defeat in parliament, Rajapakse was dependent on the support of two Sinhala extremist parties—the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU)—with which he had signed electoral pacts.

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