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Sri Lankan president faces pulls of coalition politics

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Musicians of Sri Lanka's three armed forces beat drums as the flag-draped casket of Sirimavo Bandranaike passes during her state funeral in Nittambuwa, 35 kilometers (21 miles) north east of Colombo, on Saturday, Oct.14, 2000. Bandaranaike, who 40 years ago became the world's first female prime minister, died of a heart attack Tuesday after voting in Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections. She was 84. (AP Photo/Str)

October 16, 2000 


COLOMBO (AP) - After a close election victory, President Chandrika Kumaratunga is gearing for another tough battle: running a jigsaw coalition that props up her government, and wants a lot in return.

Kumaratunga, who is expected to announce her Cabinet on Monday, was experiencing the pulls of coalition politics as the government's partners made a series of demands including Cabinet positions, diplomatic postings and a pledge to end the 17-year civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels. Her government was formed on Friday.

Along with her coalition partners, Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party has the support of 116 members in Parliament. The SLFP and seven other parties form the People's Alliance that governed the country for the past six years. The coalition has the support of two other parties.

The opposition United National Party won 89 seats.

The National Unity Alliance, an Islamic coalition which secured 10 seats in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections, is providing the vital members required for Kumaratunga's government to remain in power. It also has a wish list.

Abul Kalam, member of the NUA's top decision-making panel, said the alliance had been assured by Kumaratunga it would have two Cabinet ministers and three junior ministers.

The NUA has also asked for other senior government positions and diplomatic postings, and threatened Saturday to topple the government within 100 days if Kumaratunga does not enact a new constitution, touted as a solution to the separatist war.

Before the elections, Kumaratunga had refused to call a cease-fire and said she would have her constitutional reforms passed in Parliament before starting any negotiations.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for an independent Tamil homeland, claiming widespread discrimination by the Sinhalese in education and jobs. The war has claimed more than 63,000 lives.

"It is natural that all constituent parties of the PA are represented in the Cabinet and we expect the same for us," said Dinesh Gunewardena, leader of the United People's Party, another coalition partner.

The Eelam People's Democratic Party, a former guerrilla group which became a political party in 1990, and the Ceylon Workers' Congress, have sought two Cabinet positions each. Both parties represent minority Tamils.

The Communist Party and the Lanka Socialist Party also want to have their members as ministers. The coalition partners mainly represent the minorities.

Members of Kumaratunga's own party are making no demands.

The Sinhalese majority, mostly Buddhists, comprise 76 percent of the 18.6 million people of this island nation off India's southern coast. Tamils make up 14 percent and are mainly Hindus. The remaining 10 percent are Muslims and other minorities.

"There is a danger that the larger Sinhala population will start feeling that the minorities are getting more than their fair share of government power and access to government resources," said Jehan Perera, an analyst with the National Peace Council, an independent think tank.

"I also think the NUA is asking for a lot - a total of five positions in the government for its ten lawmakers," Perera told The Associated Press. "This will create resentment between other parties within the government, especially the SLFP."

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