As to who should get the coveted Post of Leader of the Opposition in the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka, was the subject of much debate, after the two main parties, the UNP and the SLFP, the main constituent party in the UPFA, decided to form a national government at the conclusion of the August [...]


TNA’s Sampanthan Opp. Leader, much to the chagrin of UPFA ‘rebels’


As to who should get the coveted Post of Leader of the Opposition in the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka, was the subject of much debate, after the two main parties, the UNP and the SLFP, the main constituent party in the UPFA, decided to form a national government at the conclusion of the August 17 General election. The llankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) with 16 MPs staked a claim to the post early on, but the SLFP too said it would vie for the post, while so did a group of UPFA MPs who wanted to function separately in Parliament.

Lost in thought: Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe with Lakshman Kiriella, Mangala Samaraweera and John Amaratunga

R. Sampanthan: Opp. Leader of 8th Parliament

However, when Parliament met on Thursday for its first full day of work, instead of heated debate on who should get the post, newly appointed Speaker Karu Jayasuriya found he had a simple task on hand. He had received only one official communication seeking that post. It was from the ITAK, or the coalition of several Tamil political parties calling themselves the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which wanted its Parliamentary Group leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan to be appointed to the post. And that is exactly what Speaker Jayasuirya did. Making his first official announcement to the House since being appointed to the post of Speaker two days earlier, Mr Jayasuriya said the UPFA had informed him that it will not be seeking the Post of Leader of the Opposition. “Hence, TNA leader R. Sampanthan has been recognised as the Opposition Leader of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka,” he said.

The announcement took many by surprise, but the Speaker‘s decision had been an easy one. UPFA General Secretary, Wishwa Warnapala had written to him a day earlier, stating that the Alliance will not be staking a claim for the Opposition Leader’s post. Hence, 82-year-old R. Sampanthan, a veteran Parliamentarian from the Trincomalee District, joined the ranks of several illustrious lawmakers including N.M. Perera former Prime Ministers Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Ranil Wickremesinghe, as well as former Presidents J.R. Jayewardene and Mahinda Rajapaksa, all of who served as Opposition Leaders in the country’s Legislature.

All smiles: Newly elected Speaker Karu Jayasuriya with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mr. Sampanthan becomes the second legislator from the Tamil community to be appointed to the post, after Appapillai Amirthalingam who became Opposition Leader in August 1977, when his Party secured 18 seats, 10 more than the SLFP at the 1977 General election.

While his appointment was welcomed by the majority of members in the House, there were a few who voiced displeasure over his appointment. Chief among them was Colombo District MP Wimal Weerawansa, who said a group of 52 UPFA MPs have sent a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, requesting that its Kalutara district MP Kumar Welgama be made Opposition Leader and Kandy district MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage be made Chief Opposition Whip. Mr Weerawansa, along with MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Udaya Gammanpila, later told journalists at a press briefing, they would seek a reversal of Mr. Sampanthan’s appointment, when Parliament meets again later this month.

That aside Parliament debated the motion moved by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to set the limit on the number of Cabinet Ministers at 48 and non-Cabinet and Deputy Ministers at 45 in the national government. The motion was moved in keeping with the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which allows Parliament to determine such numbers in instances where a national government is formed.

A little pow wow: Speaker and Nimal Siripala De Silva. Pix by Indika Handuwala

The day-long debate on the motion got under way after the Speaker overruled objections from JVP Group leader Anura Dissanayaka and several other UPFA MPs that the definition of what constitutes a “National Government” was different to what is being set up by the UNP and the SLFP.

The Prime Minister said that it was time to move away from conventional politics that the country has been subject to since Independence. “No party can object to national polices being framed that will remain unchanged, whichever party rules the country,” he said.

UPFA “rebels” : Dinesh Gunewardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa

SLFP Badulla District MP Nimal Siripala de Silva also endorsed the views of the Prime Minister. “This move is in no way meant to stifle the voices of the opposition, but a national government is needed to fulfil aspirations of the people of this country,” he said. Hours later, MP De Silva joined the ranks of the Cabinet in the national government taking oaths as Minister of Transport.

Of course, not everyone was willing to believe that the reason for forming a national government was a noble one. JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said that if there was a genuine will to serve the people, there is no need to increase the number of Ministers. “In this national government are several ministers who served under the former regime and who have serious allegations of wrongdoings against them. It looks certain that the investigations against them will end with the setting up of the national government,” he alleged.

UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena said that they have been elected by the people at the last General election to serve in the opposition and he would fulfil this role.” I agree with the Prime Minister, we have to strengthen the Parliamentary Committee system. If it is successful, we can make Parliament a more productive place,” he said.

MP Wimal Weerawansa also strongly criticised the formation of the national government, saying this was only to share in ministerial privileges together. “The President is trying to reward everyone who is pursuing his agenda. This is a dangerous journey,” he said.

Going by the disgruntled voices arising from within the ranks of the UPFA, the uneasy partnership between the UNP and the SLFP will certainly face many challenges. Whether there is commitment on both sides to overcome the criticism and challenges and continue to work together for the next two years, for which they have signed up to work together as a national government, only the months ahead will tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.