By Lal Wijenayake –
The appointment of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament has emerged as a contentious issue. There is no provision in the constitution or in any other law setting out the procedure for the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The appointment of the Leader of the Opposition in the British Parliament is done in accordance with the British Parliamentary conventions. We are guided by the conventions of the British Parliament in matters relating to Parliamentary procedure where specific provisions are not provided for in our law. In the British Parliament the Leader of the Opposition is appointed by the Speaker and it is the prerogative of the Speaker to appoint the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of Opposition is appointed by the Speaker following the Parliamentary convention that the Leader of the Opposition has to be the leader of the largest single party in the opposition. Therefore, in the present situation the Leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as the leader of the largest party in the opposition has to be appointed as the Leader of the Opposition.
A section of the SLFP cannot claim the office of the Leader of the Opposition as the SLFP has officially decided to be a part of the government.
The Leader of the Opposition is only next in importance in Parliament to the Speaker and the Prime Minister, because an opposition in Parliament is an integral part of the democratic parliamentary process. The attempt to have the opposition under the government by the appointment of a member of the SLFP as Leader of the Opposition is a threat to a proper functioning of Parliament under the democratic system.
Therefore the Speaker as the custodian of the rights and privileges of the members of Parliament and in fact responsible for democratic functioning of Parliament should act in accordance with the conventions under the democratic system of government.
The leading authority on Parliamentary practice Eskine May in “Parliamentary Procedure and Practice” has laid down the convention that has to be followed in the appointment of the Leader of Opposition.