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Cabinet reshuffles


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Sri Lanka is readying itself for what could be its fourth Cabinet reshuffle in less than two years with the coalition Government fighting to stave off potential crossovers to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp. Speculation is rampant that plum Cabinet posts could be used in political horse trading as President Maithripala Sirisena attempts to hold onto his faction within the deeply splintered Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).   

Politicians have also promised that the latest Cabinet reshuffle would provide a “new look”, throwing into question policy continuity within a Government which has often been criticised for being inconsistent. President Sirisena is also expected to make yet another policy statement setting out government goals for the remainder of its term when Parliament reopens on 8 May. This statement follows a five-year policy statement made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe about a year into his term and V2025 which was also launched in 2017. The Prime Minister also made a policy statement ahead of last year’s Budget. 

All these statements and Cabinet changes, politicians insist, are to provide clarity about their plans. Yet the public would argue to the contrary. Customarily, Cabinet reshuffles are a crucial aspect of governance because they outline how government policy will be implemented and what priorities are focused on by leaders. 

However, it would seem that in Sri Lanka, Cabinet reshuffles are done with political rather than economic goals in mind and are short-term fixes for political uncertainty that has little if anything to do with policy consistency, improving governance, development or economic growth.      

As the Sri Lankan Government bargains for its survival, Singapore is also readying for a crucial Cabinet reshuffle. However, there are significant differences in how these two countries are using the all-important institution of Cabinet posts to define the way forward for their respective countries. 

In Singapore, as in Sri Lanka, succession planning has received much attention. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, has made clear that he is ready to stand down in the next couple of years, but no obvious successor has emerged from a group of 16 ministers tasked with picking a leader from within their ranks. 

In the Cabinet reshuffle announced this week, Lee has selected Chan Chun Sing as Trade Minister in a move analysts say gives him an edge to become the next Prime Minister by rounding off his experience with more economic focus. 

Chan is one of three potential successors picked by Singapore’s media and political analysts, alongside Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who both kept their portfolios and received additional responsibilities. 

This is all done ahead of a general election Singapore must hold by early 2021. With years of grooming and clear planning, shown through strategic Cabinet reshuffles, Singapore has already indicated where its priorities lie and with it comes strong political and economic stability. 

The two Cabinet reshuffles could not showcase the difference between Sri Lanka and Singapore more starkly. Sri Lankan politicians, at least at this late date, should understand that reshuffling a Cabinet is pointless unless they are ready to play a strong game. 

 


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