- The term National List which is not in the Constitution, has come into use for convenience, with the passage of time
- Only a few major parties have managed to prevent serious infighting over these seats
- UNP had obtained only one National List seat but had not appointed anybody for it until yesterday
Despite Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) having an issue with the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) over the sharing of the National List seats allocated to it, in a way, it must be happy with the adamancy of the latter. The reason is that its deprivation of seats has prevented another split within the party.
The SLMC must be the political party that has been affected most thus far, by the conflicts over the National List seats. The conflicts have twice resulted in the formation of new Muslim political parties by second rung leaders of the party who were disappointed by not being considered for the National List slots. However, both new parties so formed could not become a challenge to the SLMC.
It happened subsequent to the 2004 Parliamentary election when Hafiz Naseer Ahmad along with some others formed the Democratic Unity Alliance (DUA), after a row over a National List seat allocated to the SLMC. Again the former Chairman and the General Secretary of the SLMC – Basheer Segu Dawood and M.T.Hassan Ali – broke away from the party in 2017 to form the United Peace Alliance (UPA). Although the duo had attributed their divorce from the SLMC to many political issues, it was well known then that the two National List seats won by the SLMC at the 2015 general election was the bone of contention.
This time Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the SJB under which the SLMC together with some other minor and minority parties contested the Parliamentary election, saved the SLMC from another split by depriving them of National List seats.
"The SJB was given 7 national list slots according to the nationwide votes it had secured along with its allies at the August 5 general election"
Although we have discussed the conflicts within the SLMC over the National List seats, it is not a matter confined to that party alone. Only a few major parties have managed to prevent serious infighting over these seats. A tense situation that had arisen last week between the SJB and its smaller allies – the SLMC, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) subsided later after the small parties decided to make a strategic withdrawal.
The SJB was given 7 national list slots according to the nationwide votes it had secured along with its allies at the August 5 general election and the party leader Sajith Premadasa had selected 7 candidates from his party alone for the slots, ignoring the allies. Then the Tamil and Muslim parties warned SJB leadership that they would have no alternative but to sit in the parliament separately, if they were not given any slots. However, Premadasa refused to budge despite the minor and minority parties, particularly the Tamil and Muslim parties having contributed considerably to the 2.7 million votes that his party had gained at the election.
Finally, the minority parties fell in line as the JHU did. Mano Ganesan, the leader of the TPA in a Facebook post said “National List is not our ultimate objective, nor is it our weakness or inability to get it.” He then explained the decision taken by the minority parties to withdraw from the struggle within the coalition headed by the SJB. “We do not want to fall prey to the strategy of the government which wants to portray Sajith Premadasa as a weak leader as Ranil Wickremesinghe. Government media has been working overtime to create a notion among the majority Sinhalese that Tamils and Muslims were getting everything by pushing Premadasa to the wall. This was how the parties and monks affiliated to the government destroyed Wickremesinghe. We do not want to help them portray Sajith Premadasa as another Ranil Wickremesinghe.”
The UNP, the grand old party formed by D.S.Senanayake, has been wiped out from all districts at the August 5 general election. It had obtained only one National List seat but had not appointed anybody for it until yesterday.
"The Constitution does not explain either the reason to appoint 29 MPs to Parliament after electing 196 MPs"
The brawl that was in the making within the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the solitary national list seat it had been allocated was settled by the customary high-handed approach by the TNA leadership by appointing Thavarasa Kalaiarasan, a candidate from the Digamadulla (Ampara) District. Even Mavai Senathirajah, the leader of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the main constituent party in the TNA has been ignored when this decision was taken. Now, there seems to be an agreement over the appointment despite allegations still being levelled that the constituent parties were not consulted before taking the final decision. The story involving another solitary seat obtained by the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya or Our People’s Power Party (OPPP) through its National List has become a drama. The Secretary of the party, Ven. Wedinigama Wimalatissa Thera has gone underground after appointing himself for the seat that the party is entitled to, another monk with plasters on his head went public claiming that he was abducted and assaulted. Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Chief Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera had denied the allegation.
There are instances in the history where the general secretaries of political parties had named themselves for the National List slots. Raja Collure, the Secretary of the United Socialist Alliance (USA) did so after a long dispute over the only National List seat his party was entitled to, at the 1989 general election. Following the same election A.Amirthalingam as the Secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) did the same.
The term National List which is not in the Constitution, has come into use for convenience, with the passage of time, as the Constitution explains it in length and in a confusing manner. The Constitution does not explain either the reason to appoint 29 MPs to Parliament after electing 196 MPs at the election conducted on a district basis. Yet, one has to surmise that the National List has been introduced to avert any crisis situation where the collective strength of all Opposition parties being higher than the ruling party, as happened in many local government bodies after the 2018 local government election.
In spite of there being a notion that the National List is meant for the appointment of experts who might not be elected at elections, it is normally ignored by political parties, when appointing members through it. The Constitution clearly indicates only one purpose of the National List – maintaining the country’s ethnic ratio in Parliament – despite it being not clearly articulated. However, no party cares about it either, as it is worded in the Constitution in a watered down phrase.
The monthly salary of a Member of Parliament is just Rs. 54,000. However, the millions of rupees they spend individually at elections and the physical as well as verbal clashes they are engaged in, at elections and when appointing National List MPs indicate how precious and lucrative the Parliament membership is for them. Those who are appointed through the National List are luckier than those elected at election, as they have to spend little or no funds for the parties they represent during elections, despite there being exceptions.