Sampanthan steals the show in Parliament | Sunday Observer

Sampanthan steals the show in Parliament


The first Parliament session since the February 10 local government elections last Monday (19) promised to be a fiery affair, with political grandstanding on all sides, and the Joint Opposition (JO) flexing its muscles after the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa performed well in the polls.

Demanding a snap general election – an impossible demand under the provisions of the 19th Amendment according to legal experts – and recognition in Parliament as the official Opposition, JO Group Leader Dinesh Gunewardane agitated for an adjournment debate when the House met on Monday on the ongoing political situation.

When the debate fell flat, following an announcement by the SLFP that it would continue within the national unity coalition, it was the 84-year-old Tamil National Alliance Chief and Opposition Leader, Rajavarothiam Sampanthan who stole the show.

In a widely publicized speech, Sampanthan pitched into former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose proxy party, the SLPP, he said had run a racist local polls campaign.

The octogenarian parliamentarian said he had been alarmed by Rajapaksa’s remarks in the run up to the elections that “Tamil Eelam would bloom after the LG election.”

Sampanthan called it “abhorrent” for responsible politicians to play the racial card. “If you continue to behave the way you have, Eelam will not bloom on account of us, it will bloom on account of your lotus bud,” said the Opposition Leader, who punned on the SLPP ‘pohottuwa’ symbol to illustrate his point.

“We have made our position very clear that the Tamil people want a solution within a united, undivided, indivisible and single country,” Sampanthan asserted. He said it was wrong to instigate communal feelings against a single community which was demanding a political solution. He also accused Rajapaksa of trying to deceive “innocent Sinhalese people in the South” during the elections campaign.

“There was no campaign carried out anywhere in the North and East which talked of division of the country. We only talked of a solution that is acceptable to our people, that is reasonable, with substantial power-sharing within the framework of a united, undivided, indivisible single country. That was the propaganda we carried out in all our areas and when we did that, how dare former President Rajapaksa say that Eelam could bloom after the election. This is not merely deception of the innocent Sinhala people in the South, but it is the deception of everyone including himself,” the TNA Chief raged during the debate.

Analysing the local government elections for the first time, Sampanthan also told Parliament that there was nothing for the Rajapaksa-backed JO to get ‘excited about’. “Elections are held, parties win, parties lose,” he argued rationally, after his TNA also found its vote share significantly diminished in the Northern Province. As for the Rajapaksa backed SLPP, the Opposition Leader analyzed that the party had still failed to exceed 50 percent of the votes cast in the February 10 election, just as the former President had failed to do in the 2015 Presidential and Parliamentary polls. Ultimately, the vote share polled by anti-Rajapaksa forces was greater than what the former President and his SLPP had been able to muster, Sampanthan reiterated.

The Parliamentary session on February 19 began with Joint Opposition Leader Dinesh Gunawardena raising “a matter of national importance” drew the attention of the House to the anarchy created in the country owing to the political crisis in the country following the outcome of the LG election. MP Gunawardena along with over 20 MPs in the JO stood up and requested the Speaker to give a special debate to discuss the current political situation in the country. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who adjourned the House 15 minutes for a special Party Leaders’ meeting told the House when it resumed, that three hours had been allocated for an Adjournment debate to discuss the matter.

The debate was to kick off at 4pm last Monday, but by that time, SLFP MPs who had been meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena had already announced that they would remain within the national unity government, ending seven days of political uncertainty. Later in the week, both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera would officially inform Parliament that both coalition partners – the UNP and the SLFP had decided to continue with the National Government until the Parliamentary elections in 2020.

The UNP, SLFP, JO, JVP and TNA members who joined the debate gave different interpretations to consolidate their positions on the outcome of the LG election polls and the future prospects of the National Unity Government.

JO Parliamentary Group Leader Gunawardena moving the Adjournment Motion said the Government’s time had come to an end and claimed it had lost legitimacy. The Government could not just claim that this result was for local bodies only, Gunewardane claimed, since both the President and the Prime Minister had engaged in the campaign and asked people to vote for them. “The people rejected them so this Government has no mandate to run this country,” he claimed.

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the House the results of the LG election had proved that the SLFP’s traditional support base had shifted to a new camp. Dissanayake attempted to convince the House that the election results had shown the world that SLFP was no longer at Darley Road but elsewhere. He said President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should realize that they cannot dream of winning the next Presidential election.

Making an aggressive speech, Health Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne said the Joint Opposition had a dream of toppling the Government but their hopes had been shattered. Dr. Senaratne said there were media reports quoting Minister Mahinda Amaraweera as saying that the UPFA was to quit the Government. Now Minister Amaraweera has denied those reports.

Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake who joined the debate made the point that the UNP would concentrate on its own weaknesses and rectify them to fulfil the aspirations of the people. The Minister who congratulated the SLPP for its victory at the LG polls, also warned them not to carry out the misinformation campaign that they command the majority support in the country.

As political parties made multiple claims, UNP MP Nalin Bandara quipped that UPFA members had short-lived dreams of forming a Government. “They came to Parliament to prove that they have 113 MPs. Now the JO can’t even find 13 or even three,” he taunted.