The weakness of the opposition is always the strength of the government
Mr. Wickremesinghe had been the longest-serving opposition leader of Sri Lanka
As a long-standing politician, he is an ardent believer of parliamentary traditions, practices and procedures
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the main opposition of Parliament, appeared to be anxious following the announcement that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be sworn in as an MP filling the sole parliamentary seat secured by the United National Party (UNP) at the last parliamentary elections.
Along with the announcement of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s planned entry into Parliament, speculation, apparently politically motivated, was rife that he would expend his political capital to garner the support of the legislators of the opposition and become the opposition leader ultimately.
Such work of spin doctors, published mainly online, triggered concerns in the minds of those in the SJB that their leader MP Sajith Premadasa who is now recovering from Covid-19 would be stripped of his post as the end result of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s debut in the present Parliament.
With the fear in mind, the SJB hurried to pass a resolution at its parliamentary group meeting last Monday. Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella took the lead in passing it pledging loyalty to Mr. Premadasa.
Whatever anyone might say, the post of opposition leader is naturally given to the party with the highest number of seats in the opposition. It is also a matter of recognition by the Speaker who presides over the House
“I have received instructions from the leadership to pass this resolution. There were reports on some websites about a move to unseat Mr. Premadasa from office,” he told the meeting. Afterwards, he read out the resolution, and it was seconded by Kurunegala district MP Ashok Abeysinghe, a long time loyalist of Mr. Premadasa, seconded it.
In doing so, Mr. Kiriella intended to put to rest speculation being spread through the internet media that Mr. Premadasa’s post is at stake.
The government also fuelled such rumours exacerbating concerns of the SJB. During their parliamentary speeches on Tuesday, Ministers Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Sehan Semasinghe repeatedly tried to sow doubts about Mr. Premadasa’s opposition leader post in the minds of the SJBers.
For the government legislators to do it, there is every reason. It is always advantageous for the government to have its political opposition led astray and riven with splits. The weakness of the opposition is always the strength of the government. As such, the conduct of the government MPs, raising such doubts in the minds of the opposition rankers, is well understandable.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be sworn in as an MP filling the sole parliamentary seat secured by the United National Party (UNP) at the last parliamentary elections
Nevertheless, the SJB has a genuine reason for fear in this instance. Mr. Wickremesinghe had been the longest-serving opposition leader of Sri Lanka with a wealth of experience in handling the job under difficult circumstances. He held the post from 1994 to 2001. He returned to the same post once again in 2004 after serving as the Prime Minister for two years and remained there till 2015 when he became the Prime Minister again under the previous Yahapalana government. A long-standing politician he is, Mr. Wickremesinghe is an ardent believer of parliamentary traditions, practices and procedures. He is far excellent in terms of his knowledge of them and the Standing Orders that govern parliamentary businesses. Supremacy of Parliament is the cornerstone of his political ideology.
His United National Party (UNP) had a debacle when a section of it defected and formed SJB under the leadership of Mr. Premadasa ahead of the 2020 general elections. At the general elections, the UNP suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat and ended up with a single parliamentary seat on the National List. It means the party does not have any elected member to represent it in Parliament.
UNP stalwart Vajira Abeywardana who insisted right from the beginning that Mr. Wickremesinghe should be sent to represent the party in the House gave rise to such speculations and assumptions
Almost a year into the constitution of the current Parliament, the UNP nominated Mr. Wickremesinghe as its sole National List MP. In Parliament, there are only two parties enjoying a single seat each. Of them, Our Power of People’s Party nominated Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera as its MP. Though he sits in the opposition, he acts more like a government member supporting vital bills. Then, the UNP is the only single member party in the opposition. In other words, it is the smallest opposition party of Sri Lankan Parliament. That it is represented by Mr. Wickremesinghe will increase its stature in the House, though. Therefore, one may assume that his contribution to the parliamentary process, in terms of his argumentative power on the Standing Orders, the Constitution and other laws, will shoot him to fame in the House eclipsing others. Also, he stands a better chance of getting the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) - the second-largest party of the opposition with 10 MPs.
All these have triggered concerns in the minds of the opposition if he will eye the post of the opposition leader.
UNP stalwart Vajira Abeywardana who insisted right from the beginning that Mr. Wickremesinghe should be sent to represent the party in the House gave rise to such speculations and assumptions.
He took questions from the media in this regard on Tuesday and said one should not underrate the political maturity of Mr. Wickremesinghe.
“You must remember Mr. Wickremesinghe is someone who became the Prime Minister with only 40 seats in his hand. We decided to send him to Parliament because this is the right time for him. His presence matters a lot in Parliament because of the current crisis situation of the country,” Mr. Abeywardana said.
Laying emphasis on the fact that Mr. Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister with 40 seats in Hand, Mr. Abeywardana added fuel to the speculation.
Whatever anyone might say, the post of opposition leader is naturally given to the party with the highest number of seats in the opposition. It is also a matter of recognition by the Speaker who presides over the House. The SJB is the largest party in the opposition. As long as its MPs remain loyal to Mr. Premadasa, it will be difficult for anyone to unseat him from office. If anything happens to the contrary, it will only be through political manoeuvring and manipulation.