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TNA claim for Opposition leadership Gains Ground

2 September 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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But UPFA MPs keep fighting




The appointment of the Opposition leader remained an unresolved issue even when the eighth Parliament inaugurated its session on Tuesday.

The newly-elected Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced all the appointments, but not the Opposition leader. There is much wrangling involved in this case in the quarters of the United Freedom People’s Alliance (UPFA) as the party with the single largest number of seats in the Opposition. 
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the dominant ally of the UPFA, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United National Party (UNP) to form a national unity government. Twelve of them are slated to accept Cabinet portfolios in the government under the direction of President Maithripala Sirisena.
Now, an argument is floated in political circles   that the two main parties are parts of the government, and that the party with the next highest number of seats should be declared as the main Opposition. And, against this backdrop only, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is staking a claim for the Opposition leader’s post.    The TNA secured 16 seats at the election. 


Initially, the TNA issued a statement explaining its position in this respect, and it made a renewed effort for it  when  its parliamentary group    took up the position that its leader R. Sampanthan should be appointed as the Opposition leader of the eighth Parliament as soon as possible .  But, a set of MPs from the UPFA are all-out to impede it.  Altogether 56 UPFA members signed a petition and handed it over to the President, as the UPFA leader, asking to appoint Kalutara district MP Kumara Welgama as the Opposition leader and Kandy district MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage as the Chief Opposition Whip. 
Earlier, the President reportedly told a meeting with the leaders of the UPFA allies that he would not interfere with the appointment of the Opposition leader as it was a matter for the Legislature  to decide on.   


 Probably after these remarks, the UPFA members, aspiring for the Opposition leader post for one of them, thought of pursuing  the action. Maybe, they think the President would listen to them and endorse their decision to appoint one of them as the leader.
But Mr. Welgama is a close friend of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who now serves in Parliament as an MP from the Kurunegala district. The   SLFP, under the leadership of President Sirisena, sacked Mr. Welgama from the party’s Central Committee.  He was also in the forefront of the campaign to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the August 17 general elections.  So, it is doubtful whether the President would favour MP Welgama holding a key position in the Legislature. 
 

''Earlier, the President reportedly told a meeting with the leaders of the UPFA allies that he would not interfere with the appointment of the Opposition leader as it was a matter for the Legislature  to decide on''


Alongside, the parliamentary tradition, is that someone commanding the confidence of the majority of the Opposition should get the post.   It has to be waited to see whether the President would go by this parliamentary practice or not.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that the President prefers the political parties in Legislature to do consensual politics rather than confrontational politics to achieve the policy objectives of the government outlined by him in his maiden address to the House during the    inaugural session.
 He likened his proposed national unity government to the all party government of South Africa, formed    after the end of apartheid or racial discrimination on skin colour in that country. Obviously in this context, the President would not prefer an Opposition leader who, he thinks, might hamstring the affairs of his government. Instead, he would look to someone who does not oppose to the government’s business in the traditional sense.


 However, a section of the UPFA, including its allies are opposed tooth and nail to the unity government between the United National Party (UNP) and the UPFA at this hour.   Democratic Left Front Leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara hinted this in his parliamentary address to congratulate  the new Speaker.  “There can be wheels within wheels in the Opposition,” he said. 
So, who would be the next Opposition leader?  Is it R. Sampanthan or somebody from the UPFA?  The answers to these questions remain to be had within days to come. But the idea of making the TNA the main Opposition seems to be gaining ground as the party has secured a support base within the UNP and UPFA for it. These sections, supportive of the TNA for its claim, holds the view that such a move would improve Sri Lanka’s image in the international arena as a country well looking after the interests of the minorities.  Then, they believe the sections of the international community, which is harsh on Sri Lanka on the human rights issues, would soften their voice.


Udaya protested by PM
The parliamentary session ended nonchalantly on Tuesday barring the incident in which Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU)  was  protested by Prime Minister Ranil  Wickremesinghe  after he mentioned about an armed struggle and federalism.    
“We military crushed an armed struggle by separatists.  Yet, if these separatist elements were empowered politically   through federalism, we cannot undo it.  We seek you as the custodian of this Parliament not to let it happen,” Udaya Gammanpila requested the Speaker.
TNA claim for Opposition leadership Gains Ground
Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera first tried to disturb Mr. Gammanpila.  Yet, the latter said there was no tradition of disturbing a newcomer during his maiden speech in the House. 
Then, the Prime Minister got up and said, “No mention should be made about MPs taking up arms.”
Afterwards, Mr. Gammanpila sat down, and then, UPFA MP Salinda Dissanayake, seated next, said to Mr. Gammanpila , “Your remark prompted even  the Prime Minister to respond. You have a great future in Parliament.” 
Likewise, former President Mahindra Rajapaksa remarked about this to Mr. Gammanpila outside the Chamber of the House. 


MR invited to form a new political alliance 
 Udaya Gammanpila, along with his family members, paid a visit to Mahinda Rajapaksa at his residence in Tangalle. While exchanging pleasantries, he mentioned to MR that most local government members were    reluctant to contest under the betel symbol of the UPFA or the hand symbol of the SLFP under their present leadership. So, he requested him to take steps to form a new political front. 
MR dodged a direct answer to this request, instead suggested meeting some people waiting outside.  People crowded outside his residence. A youth, who was waiting to see MR also made the same request. 
At that point, Mr. Gammanpila told MR “It will not be easy for   you to disregard that request.”
Already, the PHU has announced that a new political front would be formed in view of the local authorities’ election.  Yet, it is uncertain whether MR would give leadership to it formally or not. 


Karu chairs party leaders’ meeting 
After assuming duties in the office of Speaker Mr. Jayasuriya chaired a party leaders’ meeting.  The government wanted the House to meet again today to debate and pass the resolution for the increase of the Cabinet posts.   According to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Only Parliament has to decide the number of Cabinet Ministers in case of a national government.  Otherwise, it has to be restricted to 30. 
After that, the House will be adjourned till September 22. By the government is intending to have its parliamentary business lined up. 
In the meantime, the UNP had its parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. The Premier categorically requested his MPs not to compromise their parliamentary duties on personal matters such as attending weddings and funerals.     He emphasized the need for MPs to attend sessions regularly and make their respective contribution to the process.  
Before that, the UNP MPs, chosen for Cabinet responsibilities, were called for a meeting.  But, most members remain uncertain about the nature of portfolios to be offered to them.


Altogether 33 Cabinet posts will be offered to the members from the UNP-led political front, and 12 to the UPFA members.  From the quota reserved for the UNP- led front, members of the parties such as SLFP, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), All Ceylon Makkal Congress and Democratic People’s Front will receive portfolios. Besides, some SLFP members such as Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who contested on the UNP ticket will also get Cabinet posts. Dr.Senaratne is tipped to be the Health Minister in the new Parliament as well.
All in all, it is said the actual number of UNPers serving in the Cabinet, once the share of other parties in alliance with it, is reduced, will be 23. 


TNA develops understanding with Govt, but Wigneswaran acts otherwise 
While the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) seeking to work in co-operation with the government in Parliament, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) controlled by it seems to be acting otherwise. The TNA MP Selvam Adaikkalanathan was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of Committees. It was proposed by Jaffna district MP M.A. Sumanthiran and seconded by Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella.
However, NPC Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran moved a yet another resolution calling for an international investigation into the alleged rights violations and accountability issues during the war time.  It was seconded by TNA member M.K. Sivajilingam, who is notorious for the use of racially inflammatory language and actions. The NPC adopted this resolution on Tuesday. In fact, Mr. Sivajilingam sat in the Chamber of the Council holding aloft a placard.  
This happened at a time when the new government has announced a domestic mechanism to probe such rights violations and accountability issues. The United States, the prime mover of resolution calling for an international investigation by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is now planning to move yet another resolution in support of the approach by the new government. 
The TNA parliamentary group also seems to be having some form of understanding with the new administration of Sri Lanka, both at executive and legislative levels.    
It is reported that the TNA enjoys the backing of some sections of the government to become the main Opposition. 
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