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Defection shakes Sri Lankan gov't before no-confidence vote.

COLOMBO, Oct. 9 Kyodo

A lawmaker from President Chandrika Kumaratunga's coalition government defected to the opposition Tuesday amid mounting speculation that she would dissolve parliament and announce a snap general election.

The crossover in Parliament of Bandula Gunawardene, a member of the coalition ally Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), came just two days before a scheduled opposition no-confidence motion against the government.

It was the second defection from the People's Alliance in two months. In July, a Muslim ally crossed over, costing the government seven seats.

''I cannot support this government with a clear conscience,'' Gunawardene said before he changed sides in the 225-seat assembly.

Kumaratunga ducked the United National Party's no-faith motion once before, in July, when she prorogued Parliament for 60 days. However, the UNP brought it forward when the assembly was re-summoned, and it is due to be debated Thursday.

Until now, both the opposition and the government have maintained that they have sufficient numbers to win the vote.

Gunawardene's defection, however, further destabilized the latter's position as it lent credibility to UNP claims that they have support from within government ranks.

The coalition has been rocked by rumors of dissent over the past few months, with three senior ministers resigning in September after differences with Kumaratunga.

Political analysts speculated that Kumaratunga will not face a vote unless certain of victory, predicting that she may either prorogue Parliament for another two months or dissolve it in favor of general elections.

The head of the MEP, Dinesh Gunawardene, appeared to support this view when he said of the latest defector, ''We will not vote against the government at a no-faith motion.''

''This may be an indication that there will be no vote,'' a senior politician said on condition of anonymity. ''Why else would a defector not vote against the government?''

The government still has a slim majority in Parliament thanks to a recent deal with the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna but the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the Muslim ally which defected in July, has not made its position clear. Meanwhile, the UNP maintains that it can woo over enough government members.

Three Tamil parties in the opposition have already pledged support for the opposition, expressing unhappiness at the government's failure to solve a 18-year civil war with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Oct 15, 2001
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