The Opposition Leader conundrum | Daily News

The Opposition Leader conundrum

As rightly being argued by the SLFP/UPFA/SLPP combine TNA leader R. Sampanthan could no longer claim to hold the post of Opposition Leader in the wake of the support extended by the TNA to former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at Wednesday’s Confidence Vote moved on behalf of the latter. The entire TNA membership, barring Shivashakthi Anandan (who abstained), voted for Wickremesinghe, backing a UNP sponsored motion expressing Confidence in Wickremesinghe.

The Opposition Leader’s post had been a bone of contention with the Joint Opposition (JO) from the very outset of the formation of the new Parliament. It was the JO’s contention that it was their faction with a membership of some 50 MPs that represented the largest Opposition group in Parliament and that the TNA which had only 16 Members had no claim to the post. The JO also argued that the TNA was purely a regional party which only represented the Tamil community and espoused Federalism. It could no way be representative of the national electorate as a whole. There are also accusations that the party was working to the agenda of sections of the Tamil Diaspora sympathetic to the separatist cause and therefore was a threat to national security.

But Speaker Karu Jayasuriya would have none of it. It was the Speaker’s contention that although the UPFA and the UNF contested each other at the August 2015 General Election both parties had now teamed up to form the Unity Government and by virtue of the JO too being part of the UPFA it was not entitled to the Office of Opposition Leader even though it has decided to sit separately in Parliament. The issue cropped up umpteen times in Parliament, with the Speaker sticking to his original ruling and the JO accusing him of working to the dictates of the UNP. In fairness to the Speaker, the SLFP/UPFA did not find fault with his ruling at the time. They remained non committal during the entire debate, lending tacit approval to the Speaker’s ruling.

However things turned topsy turvy since October 26, with the SLFP/UPFA pulling out of the Unity Government changing the whole equation in Parliament. UPFA MP Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that with this change, the Speaker no longer had the authority to recognize the TNA as the official Opposition in Parliament.

To whom should the post belong then? Both sides are claiming that they are the Governing Party while the Speaker too is acting coy. While stating that he no longer considers Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister (following No Confidence Motions) he is equally non-committal about the UNP. Even after the Confidence Vote was passed in favour of Wickremesinghe the Speaker did not address him as the Prime Minister. In the light of these developments, many wonder whether we have come to a stage where there is neither a Government nor an Opposition in this country.

Hopefully, the multiple Supreme Court verdicts that are pending would resolve the matter one way or the other. The country is almost teetering on the brink and the situation is becoming grave with each passing day. The UNP has given the Government an ultimatum to settle the crisis within two days failing which they would “bring the people to the streets”. On the other hand, Government politicians say the status quo would prevail irrespective of the SC ruling on the dissolution.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Professional Association (OPA) has appealed to the warring parties to bury the hatchet and spare a thought for the people. Issuing a statement it has prevailed on all political parties and politicians, legislators and the Executive the need to uphold the spirit of democracy.

The statement said; “the OPA views with deep concern, the ongoing political impasse between the Legislature and the Executive. Being a professional apex apolitical body, the OPA urges all parties to the current crisis to resolve their differences through consensus without resorting to violence. The OPA views with deep concern, the effects this impasse has on the economy and urge that the socioeconomic fabric of society is not irreparably damaged.” Last week the various Business Chambers too expressed their growing concern on the damage the present crisis would do to the country’s economy and investor confidence.

Rather than issuing statements it would be better for all these professional bodies and Captains of Industry to initiate face to face discussions with the leading actors in the current drama. This way we feel they would be able to drive home their point more effectively eliciting a positive response. As we have mentioned in these spaces religious leaders should take the lead in dousing the flames of hatred and bitter rancour that is evident all round. It is a pity that the Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras are still being lukewarm in their response to the crisis. This is given the prominent role played by the Maha Sangha from the times of our kings to offer their counsel to rescue the nation in times of peril. This nation is presently facing a crisis that demands their pragmatic advice.


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