By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Putting the issue of party membership before the Judiciary, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday said it was up to the courts to decide whether any Parliamentarian has resigned from his party membership and reaffirmed United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) lawmaker Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of the Opposition.
In the absence of Speaker Jayasuriya, who had left the island to attend the Conference of Speakers of Commonwealth Countries in Malta, the Deputy Speaker and the Chairman of Committees J. M. Ananda Kumarasiri read out the Speaker’s ruling yesterday in Parliament.
According to Speaker Jayasuriya’s ruling, courts should decide whether the seat of a Member of Parliament has been vacated or not as per the law or the Constitution, and whether any Member of Parliament has resigned from OR lost his party membership.
“These are not matters coming under the purview of the Speaker to decide as per the Constitution as well as Standing Orders of Parliament. Those matters must be decided by the courts of law,” held Speaker Jayasuriya in his decision.
The Speaker, issuing a notice on 18 December 2018, informed the House that it is parliamentary tradition to accept the Leader of the political party seated on the Opposition bench with most number of members as the Leader of the Opposition. Following this tradition, the Speaker recognised UPFA MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of the Opposition.
Speaker Jayasuriya has also noted the letter he received from UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera on 19 December 2018, informing that the UPFA nominates former President Rajapaksa to be the Leader of the Opposition.
With the Speaker recognising MP Rajapaksa as Leader of the Opposition on 18 December 2018, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Leader MP Rajavarothiam Sampanthan made a special statement in Parliament on 19 December 2018 followed by many other lawmakers. They argued that during the constitutional deadlock, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and several other key Parliamentarians had obtained membership in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at a public ceremony and therefore, had vacated their positions in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
However, the SLFP is yet to clarify on whether their membership within the SLFP is still valid. Based on the opinion of lawmakers, Speaker Jayasuriya has reached his decision recognising MP Rajapaksa in the office of the Leader of the Opposition.