COLOMBO - Sri Lanka’s new president Sunday brought 26 opposition legislators into his government in a move that widened a rift within opposition ranks before early parliamentary elections, officials said.

Sirisena’s move to give portfolios to opposition lawmakers further weakened former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s grip on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which is now the main opposition.

“The cabinet was expanded to give places to SLFP MPs in exchange for their support for political reforms before parliament is dissolved in late April,” said a source close to Sirisena. It was the biggest induction of opposition lawmakers into any Sir Lankan government since independence from Britain in 1948, officials noted. Soon after winning the January 8 presidential election, Sirisena appointed the then-opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister heading a minority government.

However Wickremesinghe, who had helped Sirisena to win after he broke away from the SLFP to challenge Rajapakse, does not have enough votes in parliament to carry out reforms he promised.

Sirisena has vowed to abolish the executive presidency and return the country to a Westminster- style parliamentary democracy that existed till 1978.

Last week the state minister for higher education Rajiva Wijesinghe quit the government, accusing it of moving too slowly to implement the political reforms promised in Sirisena’s manifesto.

Those appointed Sunday - 11 with full cabinet rank, five non-cabinet and 10 deputy ministers - were seen as members of an opposition faction which did not favour a comeback by former president Rajapakse.

Another faction of the SLFP had been clamouring for the return of Rajapakse, who ruled the country for a decade and was defeated mainly on allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

Wickremesinghe has pledged to dissolve parliament by April 23 and hold a parliamentary election one year ahead of schedule.