s Sri Lanka seemed to have sorted out a large share of its political crisis on December 20 (Thursday) by appointing a 29-member Cabinet, there still seems to be burning ashes under the fire caused by the political impasse with two individuals claiming that they hold the post of Opposition Leader.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya by informing Parliament that he had accepted Mahinda Rajapaksa as Opposition Leader gave hope to two sections of the citizenry. One is the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) whose members consider him to be a DemiGod who can achieve the unthinkable. The other section of the divide comprises those who have their thinking caps on and want to have an able politician who can play the role of watchdog in parliament. Many are of the opinion that Rajapaksa with his ever present vigil and gift of the gab would be the man to keep a check on the activities of the Government as the Leader of the Opposition.
But now Rajapaksa encounters a problem because some members of minority parties have posed the question whether the former Prime Minister is eligible to retain his parliamentary membership because he took membership of the SLPP while being a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. According to article 99 (13) of the Constitution a politician ceases to be an MP when he leaves a party and contests from another party. Rajapaksa’s critics say he did so by contesting the General Elections under the UPFA ticket. But a fact which is in Rajapaksa’s favour is that the UPFA is not a party and is an alliance. There are also claims that Rajapaksa never left the SLFP.
Going down memory lane to 2015 September the majority in Parliament warmly welcomed the appointment of Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition. At the time this appointment was made, Sampanthan was one of the most senior members of the parliament and much was expected of him. But he never rose to the stature that the post offers to whoever who posses it. For the record one time president J.R Jayewardene elevated the post of Leader of the Opposition to that of a Cabinet Minister. The opposition often opined that Sampanthan was not strong enough for the post and hardly aired his voice on matters which affected the country at large. He was mostly seen raising the issues which were of utmost importance only to the Tamil community.
Sampanthan’s major role in parliament as Opposition Leader came under scrutiny when he chose to vote against a no-confidence motion which was brought to remove Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. The opposition questioned Sampanthan’s thinking because the stance he took then made it evident that he was trying to save Wickremesinghe. The rest of the opposition was furious and warned that they would agitate nationally and internationally for the removal of Sampanthan. The Joint Opposition wrote to the Speaker and wanted Sampanthan removed and added that if not a no-confidence motion would be brought against him. These are the memories we have of Sampanthan while he served as the Leader of the Opposition.
What has transpired now is that parliamentarians Lakshman Kirella, M.A. Sumanthiran and Rauf Hakeem have requested to have a Parliament Select Committee to inquire into the matter whether Rajapaksa still holds his parliamentary membership because there are opinions formed that he has flouted the Constitution by holding membership in two political parties.
While the battle continues whether Rajapaksa can start functioning as the Leader of the Opposition or whether Sampanthan can as his appointment affords is in a position to continue in this capacity. But there is a statement which Sampanthan made to the press regarding this issue which will stall all Sri Lankans in their tracks. Sampanthan has said that Sri Lanka has two opposition leaders and thereby carries the danger of being called a failed state. The last bit of this phrase which pertains Sri Lanka to a ‘failed state’ is food for thought and must be considered above all else for posterity