by Saman Indrajith
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, yesterday, referring to the argument that Mahinda Rajapaksa could not hold the Opposition Leader’s post as he (Rajapaksa) and President Maithripala Sirisena belonged to the same party, told Parliament that there had been precedents.
The Speaker said so making a special statement in response to a statement that had been made earlier in the day by TNA leader R Sampanthan.
The speaker’s statement: I would like to inform the House that R Sampanthan MP made a written request to me to allow him to raise a Point of Order in respect of the matter that I had made a ruling on Jan 08, 2019 which was delivered to this House by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri on my behalf pertaining to the Leader of the Opposition.
As this Point of Order was raised by R Sampanthan MP today in the House let me inform the House my position in respect of the matters raised.
In my ruling delivered on Jan 08, 2019, I have not touched upon in detail the subject of conflict of interest pointed out by R Sampanthan MP in his statement made on Dec 19, 2018 and I wish to state the following.
As indicated by R Sampanthan, MP the recognition of Mahinda Rajapaksa MP was not consequent upon any request from UPFA General Secretary, but because of the age old convention of this house that the Speaker should recognize the Leader of the Parliamentary Group of the recognized political party having the largest number of Members sitting in the Opposition, as the Leader of the Opposition.
The letter sent by the Secretary General of the UPFA indicated to me the Member to be recognized as its Parliamentary Group Leader for the purpose of recognition of the Leader of the Opposition.
In the past, even though some Members belonging to the UPFA were sitting on the Opposition benches, UPFA, as a party was not recognized as a party belonging to the Opposition as the UPFA officially constituted a party which formed the national government under the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution with the UNP which had the largest number of seats in Parliament. As I indicated in my ruling on Dec 18, 2018 after the UPFA ceased to be a party forming the national government and having officially decided to sit in the Opposition, it was my duty to recognize the UPFA as the party having the largest number of Members sitting in the Opposition.
In my ruling delivered by the Deputy Speaker on Jan 08, 2019, I have made my position clear in respect of the issues raised in connection with the contention that Mahinda Rajapaksa, Leader of the Opposition has ceased to be a member of the UPFA and thereby had vacated his seat in Parliament in respect of the appointing of a Select Committee to look into the matters connected therewith, which decisions stand and I do not propose to delve into these matters further.
However, in respect of conflict of interest issues raised by R Sampanthan MP even though I have considered this matter in depth, I have not given any reasons in my ruling. The fact that the executive President belongs to a party, which is not the majority party in Parliament to which the Prime Minister belong is not a new experience or a situation in our country. There was time when D.B. Wijetunga was the President in our country, during which time Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was the Prime Minister. At the relevant time, Gamini Dissanayake followed by Ranil Wickremesinghe both of whom belonged to the UNP had been recognized as the Leader of the Opposition. During the said period, DB Wijetunga held several ministerial portfolios including Minister of Defence and Minister of Buddhasasana. Then again, during the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and Mahinda Rajapaksa served as the Leader of the Opposition. At a particular rime, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga held several ministerial portfolios including Minister of Defence, Minister of Mass Communication and Minister of Interior.
Therefore it is quite clear that this is not a new phenomenon and this situation has arisen in the past as well.
According to provisions envisaged in the Constitution to elect the executive President and constituting legislature, I may say that this will not be the last occasion that the party from which the Executive President is elected becomes the main opposition party in Parliament. It is the right of the President to hold any ministerial portfolio, subject to any qualification that the Constitution may impose and if such exercise of his or her right is going to deny the Party having the second largest number of Members in Parliament sitting in the opposition and who is not a party to a national government in functioning as the main opposition party I am of the view that this would deny that Party of its legitimate rights to enjoy all privileges of an Opposition Party including its parliamentary leader being recognized as the Leader of the Opposition.
I would further state that if some Members of a party in the opposition decide on their own to join the government by accepting some portfolios, such action cannot deny the rest of the membership of the said party from functioning as an opposition party. This would be a serious violation of the rights of the rest of the members of the party sitting in the Opposition. Hence I cannot accept the contention of R Sampanthan MP the fact that if some Members choose to join the Government while officially the party remaining as an opposition party the said should be accepted as a recognized party in the opposition.
Even though R Sampanthan MP strives to draw a parallel between the House of Commons of the United Kingdom and Parliament of Sri Lanka, such a parallel cannot be drawn for the reason that the United Kingdom parliament is constituted on the Westminster Model of Parliament and the Sri Lankan Constitution provides for an Executive President elected by the people who is the Head of the Executive and also the Head of the Government. The Constitution does not preclude the President from appointing a Member from an Opposition Party as a Cabinet Minister. In such a situation to deny a Party its right to function as an Opposition party cannot be accepted.
Having considered all aspects of the Point of Order raised by R Sampanthan, MP, I’m of the view that this is a matter that needs to be addressed in drafting a new Constitution and we cannot find a remedy within the confines of the present Constitution and the Standing Orders.