By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya nominated MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of the Opposition soon after Parliament convened yesterday, but responding to protests from Parliamentarians, said he would decide whether to appoint a Select Committee to look into the validity of the appointment.
Filling three other important positions in Parliament, Speaker appointed United National Party (UNP) MPs Lakshman Kiriella the Leader of the House and Gayantha Karunatileka Chief Government Whip. United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Mahinda Amaraweera was appointed as the Chief Opposition Whip. According to the Speaker, UPFA is no longer a part of the coalition Government, and can hold the Opposition Leader and Chief Opposition Whip positions.
When the Speaker’s decision was announced in Parliament, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran made the observation that 49 members of Parliament, including Rajapaksa himself, who had contested on the SLFP ticket, had in writing resigned their membership when switching to Rajapaksa’s camp during the Constitutional crisis.
Sumanthiran contended that under the Constitution (Section 99(13(a)) all 49 had vacated their seats a month after the cross-over. Further it was held that when the President who heads the SLFP holds three portfolios, it is not possible for Rajapaksa to claim to be in Opposition, even if he claims SLFP membership. Accordingly, the contention is that the President too has to resign his portfolios. Since the President is part of the Government, a member of his party could not be part of the Opposition.
Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and UNP MP Rauff Hakeem objected the nomination of MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, citing the recent membership obtained in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). He urged the Speaker to appoint a Select Committee to consider the matter in detail before officiating the nomination. According to MP Hakeem, MP Rajapaksa cannot hold office of the Leader of the Opposition if he has obtained the membership in the SLPP, which is not a member of UPFA or the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
“I wish to ask whether the former President has now become a former Member of Parliament. That’s the issue and this is a very critical question. Nothing personal against former President Rajapaksa, but the question is whether to call him Hon. Rajapaksa or Mr. Rajapaksa?” questioned MP Hakeem referring to a newspaper report.
As per the provisions in the Constitution, the judicial power of the people shall be exercised by Courts through Parliament except for the case of privileges and powers of Parliament. But with the questionable nomination of MP Rajapaksa, MP Hakeem said: “The judicial powers of the Parliament are vested in this House and now this is a matter that has to be gone into and decided upon by this House and this House alone. Therefore, it is important for us to appoint a Select Committee to see whether these facts are true or not.”
Seeking the validity of the SLPP membership MP Rajapaksa took, lawmaker Hakeem proposed to summon the Elections Commissioner before Parliament. It was also proposed to study the UPFA Constitution to determine the validity of membership, and the reasons a membership would cease to exist.
“We have to see who the constituent parties of the UPFA are, and how the membership of the UPFA is decided, because UPFA is the party that contested the last parliamentary election. Also, in Article 99 (13) is very clear that only when a member is expelled from a party that they can go to Court within a month, otherwise when a member obtains membership in another party immediately his membership ceases and his parliamentary seat also ceases to exist immediately, and not in the expiration of one month,” added Hakeem.
In response, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya held he would look into the issue and is likely to announce a decision on the appointment of a Select Committee on Friday