There is diversion in the politics of the Joint Opposition, moving away from the defeat of the Yahapalana coalition and plans for the coming presidential and general elections, to the demand for the office of Leader of the Opposition.
The big debate in parliament this week was over declaring the JO’s leading member in parliamentary business, Dinesh Gunawardena, as Leader of the Opposition. The JO is not a registered party in parliament, though a group with at least 70, in a house of 225 members.
Dinesh Gunawardena could certainly be a good Leader of the Opposition, with his experience in parliament as an MP and Minister, and his personal and political background. His personal suitability apart, there is the political reality of the JO. The leader of the JO is none other than Mahinda Rajapaksa, functional leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), former Prime Minister and Executive President, and the mover and shaker of the JO today.
Is it not strange the JO does not call for Mahinda Rajapaksa as Leader the Opposition (L/O), but keep pushing for Dinesh G?
The Office of L/O is a political twist from the time of the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa from the office of President in January 2015. After that change in government, with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the MPs of the MR government, were an opposition with a parliamentary majority, but unable to assert any political strength. Strangely, Nimal Siripala de Silva was then the L/O with many more MPs behind him than the new Prime Minister had. The adoption of the 19th Amendment, which defined the political party structure, and the results of the General Election in August 2015, changed the whole picture.
The reality today is that all members of the parliamentary group known as the JO contested the election as candidates of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance, a political alliance founded by former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004, which continued under MR leadership. It brought together the SLFP, MEP, and other political parties that accepted MR’s leadership. However, the harsh reality is that the leader of both the SLFP and the UPFA today is President Maithripala Sirisena. The UPFA Secretary at the time of the general election was from the SLFP.
Mahinda Rajapaksa too was an SLFP/UPFA candidate, returned from Kurunegala District. By the time of that general election, MR had given up his leadership of the SLFP and consequently of the UPFA. All those who are now in the JO, (other than Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF) are members of the UPFA, whether members of the SLFP, MEP or any other associated party. At least 20 elected and appointed MPs after that poll remain in government, under the leadership of President Sirisena.
What the JO is calling for is a political convolution, to escape their own twist in parliamentary politics. As members of the UPFA or SLFP, they cannot be in both the Government and the Opposition. To be a party of the Opposition they must resign from the UPFA/SLFP –and face the possible consequences, which could be the loss of parliamentary seats.
They must not forget that MR remains an advisor to the SLFP, as a former party leader. They are in a political trap of one’s own making, of being in both government and opposition, without the courage to move out of the party and the alliance that gave their seats in parliament. The spin continues with several members of the JO showing allegiance to President Sirisena as the SLFP leader, with the suspicions they have of the SLPP and the Pohottuwa.
This diversion of the politics of the JO seems more a desire to escape from the emerging conflicts of the Rajapaksa family on the next candidate for the presidency, and a possible diversion from coming court cases on fraud and corruption by the Rajapaksa Regime.