The bizarre line-up of political parties in the Present Parliament has raised many questions that could not be answered by any text book on politics. The Premiership is held by the leader of a relatively smaller party, rather than that of the largest party in the Parliament. One may argue that there is nothing wrong in it since the Constitution stipulates that “the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of Parliament who in his opinion is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament” and the largest party has not so far contested the President’s decision. But the country knows the true stance of the largest party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The main opposition party, the SLFP, which ironically has more than half of the seats in the Parliament is divided between the ruling party and the Opposition, holding ministerial portfolios as well as the post of Opposition Leader. As a result some ministers who would attend the Cabinet meeting would attend the parliamentary group meetings of an opposition party as well.
The President was elected mainly by the voters supportive of relatively smaller parties, such as the UNP, JVP and JHU, but was appointed the leader of the largest party, which was driven to the Opposition, soon after his election. He is said to have told that he would lead the SLFP at the forthcoming General election against the main party that toiled so hard to elect him as the President of the country.
The current bizarre order of political parties has put the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa in a difficult situation as many parties have protested against the SLFP holding the post of Opposition Leader while its members hold ministerial posts. Last month he said even he cannot decide who should be the Opposition Leader and his ruling that was expected on Tuesday has again been put off indefinitely.
The parties that strive hard to bring ousted President Mahinda Rajapaksa back to the political helm argue that Mahajana Eksatha Peramuna(MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardane should be appointed to the post while some other parties including the JVP contend that it is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan, who is entitled to hold the post under the present circumstances.
However, it is not clear on what grounds Nimal Siripala de Silva, the Present Opposition Leader should be ousted from the post as there have been occasions in the past when members of opposition parties had held ministerial portfolios. In 2007, seventeen UNP parliamentarians joined the UPFA government led by the former President Rajapaksa and they could not be sacked from the UNP until the term of that parliament ended in 2010.
One may argue that that situation could not be taken as a comparison, since those 17 members crossed over to the then government breaking ranks with their party, rather than joining the government with the consent of their party as in the present case. The UNP was prevented from sacking them from the party, but they did not participate in any party meeting thereafter. However, it must be remembered that Karu Jayasuriya has gone on record by saying that he joined the Mahinda Rajapaksa government with the consent of party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Hence, Opposition MPs joining the government while retaining their membership as well as with the consent of the party leadership is not something without precedence. This points to the difficulty faced by the Speaker in this regard. Even Erskine May would not be able to shed light on the matter as he wouldn’t have expected such a bizarre situation when he wrote his, “Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament” or the Parliamentary Practice, though it is sometimes called the Parliamentary Bible.
The call for the appointment of Dinesh Gunawardane as the Opposition Leader seems to be illogical. The group campaigning for him are said to have collected signatures of 60 MPs, a majority of whom belong to the SLFP, to support their claim. The irony is that they, while rejecting the claim by the SLFP for the post on the ground that the latter can no more be treated an opposition party, have got the members of the same party to sign their petition to the Speaker. What right do the members of a ruling party have to elect the Opposition Leader? On the other hand there is no party called the SLFP in Parliament. It is the UPFA that represents both the SLFP and the MEP among others in the Parliament. Therefore one cannot reject a party that is not in Parliament.
Therefore, the decision of the Speaker that is eagerly expected by the country on the issue is so important, since it would become a precedent in future, irrespective of the possibility of a similar bizarre line-up of political parties in future is extremely remote.