House challenged by Opposition Leader’s post | Sunday Observer

House challenged by Opposition Leader’s post

Members of the House argued, on Tuesday,(18), the appointment of UPFA Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of Opposition, by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Government lawmakers, challenging the legitimacy of appointing Rajapaksa as Opposition Leader pointed out that those who left the SLFP are not entitled to hold seats allocated for that party, and said that around 60 % of the UPFA MPs are now in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and are no longer MPs.

UPFA members in the Opposition who rejected the claim argued that they have been elected to Parliament from the UPFA ticket and there is no SLFP representation in the House. They said, the UPFA being the largest political entity in the Opposition, they can hold the Opposition Leader’s post without let or hindrance.

Amidst a series of arguments put forward by the Opposition and Government members, the UNP and TNA members were opposed to recognise Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Opposition Leader, calling him a Leader of a group of ‘strangers’ in the Chamber. Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella said, according to the Standing Orders, those who are not Members of Parliament could not come to the Chamber and that ‘strangers’ should be removed. Minister Kiriella said, if any MP resigns from the party from which he was elected to Parliament, he or she loses the parliamentary seat.

Accordingly, the point raised by the Minister was that those who resigned from the SLFP cannot hold the seats allocated for that party, and that this matter need not go before court as their MP posts end one month after leaving the SLFP. However, the Opposition MPs interrupted and shouted at the Minister’s statement.

TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said, the post of Opposition Leader goes to the party with the highest number of seats in the Opposition. He queried whether the UPFA is a party in the Opposition since the Leader of the UPFA is the Head of State and also the Head of Cabinet, holding three ministerial posts. Sumanthiran was of the view the Leader of the UPFA represents the Executive so that it is not ideal for his party to represent the Opposition.

Countering MP Sumanthiran’s argument, MP Udaya Gammanpila recalled the precedent, when D.B. Wijetunga was the President Gamini Dissanayake from the same party held the post of Opposition Leader.

Similarly, when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was the President, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake from the same party held the post of Opposition Leader. Gammanpila said, none of the UPFA MPs have resigned. He asked the Speaker whether the UPFA General Secretary informed him of anyone having resigned to which the Speaker answered in the negative.

Minister Rauff Hakeem said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is an MP today, and suggested that the matter of the appointment of Opposition Leader be decided by a special parliamentary committee. MP Dinesh Gunawardena said the Speaker himself had recognised the UPFA as the biggest group in the Opposition ranks and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Opposition Leader and as such the business of the House could proceed.

On the following day (19) TNA Leader R. Sampanthan argued that there are two Opposition Leaders in the current Parliament. Making a special statement in Parliament he said, the Speaker had not removed him from the Opposition Leader’s post though he had announced the appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Opposition Leader. Sampanthan said it has been alleged that former President Rajapaksa’s Parliament seat had fallen vacant as one month had lapsed since he ceased to be a member of the SLFP, and obtained SLPP membership. Following Sampanthan’s submission, TNA Parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran tabled three newspaper articles dated November 12 which had carried the story of former President Rajapaksa ceremonially obtaining SLPP membership on November 11. The MP said, this event was held two days after the purported dissolution of Parliament by the President.

However, UPFA MP Chandima Weerakkody said it was wrong for a senior Parliamentarian such as Sampanthan to make such allegations of there being two Opposition Leaders. UPFA MP Susil Premajayantha joining in said Mahinda Rajapaksa had neither resigned from the UPFA/SLFP nor was he expelled from the party. He said the Speaker has no authority to appoint a Parliament Select Committee to determine whether Rajapaksa was eligible to hold the Opposition Leader’s post in terms of the Constitution.

UPFA MPs Wijith Wijayamuni Zoysa, Lakshman Seneviratne and Indika Banadaranayake joined the UNF Government on Tuesday (December 18).

Previously another three UPFA MPs A.H.M.Fowzie, Piyasena Gamage and Manusha Nanayakkara joined the UNF pledging their support to the Government. Soon after crossing over, making a special statement in Parliament MP Zoysa said, there were many reasons that prompted them to take this decision. He said the people are aware of the recent incidents where Parliament was rendered dysfunctional while the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary were on a clashing course. A political instability prevailed in the country and the people had to bear the cost of the crisis.

The JVP on Tuesday (18) moved an Adjournment Motion stressing the need to abolish the Executive Presidency. Moving the Motion JVP Parliamentarian Dr.Nalinda Jayatissa said, the JVP has now provided the opportunity for the House to get together to abolish the Executive Presidency. They had presented the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, seeking to abolish the Executive Presidency, last September.

MP Jayatissa said, the majority of the people wanted the Executive Presidency abolished. People had understood the disadvantages of this institution during the last 50 days and now it is our responsibility not to miss this opportunity. He said it had taken 40 years for the country to realise what Dr. N.M. Perera predicted when the Executive Presidency was introduced. Dr.Perera had asked what would happen if the Executive Presidency post fell into the hands of a mad man! The MP said, the people should be consulted on the Executive Presidency via a referendum, and that almost all post-1978 election manifestos had pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Friday presented a Vote on Account totaling to Rs.1,765 billion to cover Government expenditure of the first quarter of the next year, which was passed in Parliament with a majority of 96 votes.

The UNF and TNA members voted in favour and the JVP MPs voted against. The UPFA members including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa were not present at the time of voting.

Earlier, the Government had planned to present its Budget on November 5. However, it was prevented due to the Presidential Order to dissolve Parliament on October 26. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, the Government had intended to present its Budget on November 5 and give relief to the people.

However, the effort failed owing to the political crisis that erupted on October 26. The Premier said following the rulings given by the Speaker and the Judiciary, it is evident that the country’s financial control is within the ambit of Parliament. The Government had to present a Vote on Account due to the decision to dissolve Parliament to the detriment of democracy. He said the presentation of the Vote on Account is an important step in restoring democracy in the country.

Minister Samaraweera said, after a lapse of 54 days of political and economic crisis faced by the country, the Government has been entrusted with the task of managing the economy. Attempts were made to oust the Government in power through a constitutional conspiracy hatched on October 26 which he called ‘Black Friday’. As a result, there was no Prime Minister, Government nor a Cabinet of Ministers during the past 54 days, and the country was heading towards an anarchy.

Minister Samaraweera said if the Vote on Account could not be passed before December 31, the country would have precipitated into a huge economic abyss from January 1 next year.

However, the Government assumed office and presented the Vote on Account. The Minister said steps would be taken to present the Budget with amendments in January next year.

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, joining the debate rejected the claim by Government lawmakers that attempts had been made by the Opposition to form a Government by hatching a conspiracy. He cautioned that while the UPFA is in the Opposition, it would not be prudent for Government members to be too sure of their seats. 

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