Disna Mudalige, Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawaarachchi
Questions were raised in Parliament yesterday over the appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Opposition Leader.
The Speaker, listening to arguments of both sides of the House, said he will give his ruling on the Opposition Leader’s post on Friday.
At the commencement of the House, Speaker Jayasuriya announced that former President Rajapaksa will be given the Opposition Leader’s post according to Parliamentary traditions. He observed that the UPFA MPs have withdrawn from the national government and assumed their seats in the Opposition.
The Speaker also announced that UPFA MP Mahinda Amaraweera has been appointed as Chief Opposition Whip and UNP MPs Lakshman Kiriella and Gayantha Karunathilake have been re-appointed as Leader of the House and Chief Government Whip respectively.
TNA Leader R.Sampanthan was seen seated on the chair allocated to the Opposition Leader of Parliament since the commencement of sittings.
Former President Rajapaksa, who entered the Chamber after the sittings commenced, took the seat next to Sampanthan.
Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, taking the floor, contended that former President Rajapaksa and his fellow MPs ceased to be Members of Parliament as one month has lapsed since they vacated the SLFP and obtained membership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
He quoted ‘Article 99 (13) (a)’ of the Constitution in support of his argument which said, “Where a Member of Parliament ceases, by resignation, expulsion or otherwise, to be a member of a recognized political party or independent group on whose nomination paper his name appeared at the time of his becoming such Member of Parliament, his seat shall become vacant upon the expiration of a period of one month from the date of his ceasing to be such a member”.
He pointed out the Constitution is clear on this provision, adding that no “strangers”, who are not MPs, must be allowed in the Chamber.
TNA MP M.A Sumanthiran, explaining the TNA stance on the Opposition Leader post, requested the Speaker to keep the Opposition Leader post unchanged till a Parliament Select Committee ascertain the suitability of Rajapaksa to hold that position.
He also questioned as to whether it is correct to give the Opposition Leader post to a Member of Parliament belonging to the same party of the President, who is the Head of Government, Head of Executive and Head of Cabinet and currently holding three Cabinet portfolios.
“Secondly, a question has arisen as to whether those who resigned from the SLFP have also ceased to be members of the UPFA. I am of the view that there are strangers in the House today and they must be asked to vacate the Chamber” he added.
“The above issues must be sorted out as they matter to determine the composition of Parliament. We hope to make these submissions to the Speaker in writing.This is a matter of principles. It is not because any individual wants to hang on to any position.We don’t want the Constitution be violated again,” he noted.
UNP MPs Ajith P. Perera and Rauff Hakeem supported Sumanthiran’s proposal to appoint a PSC. Hakeem also asked to summon the Election Commission members before that committee and inquire on the UPFA Constitution, which is lodged at the Commission, to clear the matters before the House.
“Only when a member is expelled from a party that he can go to Court, otherwise he ceases to be a member of the party once that member obtained the membership of another party and ‘ipso facto’ (by the fact itself) his parliamentary seat also ceases,” Hakeem contended.
UPFA MPs Susil Premajayantha, Udaya Gammanpila, Chamdima Weerakkody and Dinesh Gunawardena argued in support of appointing former President Rajapaksa as the Opposition Leader. MP Gammanpila pointed out that there had been three previous instances where the Opposition Leader was appointed from the same party of the President. “In 1994, Gamini Dissanayake was the Opposition Leader when D B Wijetunga was the President. In 2001, Rathnasiri Wickramanayake was the Opposition Leader when Chandrika Bandaranaike was the President, and most recently Nimal Siripala de Silva was the Opposition Leader while Maithripala Sirisena was the President,” he remarked.
MP Kiriella replied that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike did not hold any Cabinet portfolios in 2001.
UPFA MP Premajantha pointed out that no member has been elected to Parliament from the SLFP ticket. “There is no SLFP representation, but UPFA representation.The UPFA is the largest party in the Opposition.Therefore there is no hindrance for the UPFA to get the Opposition Leader’s post,” he argued.
UPFA MPs Duminda Dissanayake, Faiszer Musthapha and Dr. Sarath Amunugama were notable absentees in Parliament yesterday.