The President can keep the cabinet small or ‘go big’. The decision will mark him.
The ardent fans of the 19th, back in the day, bragged about the yahapalana regime putting a limit to the number of cabinet ministers. They played ostrich when it was pointed out that the deliberately vague wording related to ‘National Government’ essentially made a mockery of this restriction.
The 20th is clear. No limits. So is it better or worse? Neither. The 19th was bad on this matter, and the 20th is bad. The outcome is the same and there is nothing to cheer about.
When the 20th was taken up for vote, several opposition MPs said ‘aye.’ An ‘aye’ from an opposition MP always makes one murmur, ‘hmm..’ or else exclaim ‘aha!’ Given the removal of the meaningless caveat on cabinet size, one should go ‘hmmm…hmmm’ or ‘Aha! Aha!’
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was elected could have appointed a 30 member cabinet (he didn’t have a parliamentary majority at the time). He didn’t. When the SLPP secured a commanding majority in August 2020, he could have gone up to 30 and beyond. ‘Beyond’ because all he had to do was to say the following: ‘The SLPP is forming a “National Government” along with the SLFP” as per the Jayampathy Wickramaratne thesis when the SLFP left the yahapalana coalition; and as such, it is parliament, through a simple majority, that decides the size of the cabinet, following relevant articles in the 19th Amendment.’
He did not.
Now he can. Will he?
If he does, it will be a serious blemish on his presidency. It would be a reversal of statesman-like decisions in the early days. It would be a clear signal: ‘I am like any other politician…it’s about power and not about getting things done; it’s about convenience and I don’t care about efficiency.’