By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Sri Lanka, having been a country with two Prime Ministers at the same time for several weeks has now turned into a country with two Leaders of Opposition (LoO)!
The Speaker, in his infinite wisdom, announced the name of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new LoO after the end of the imbroglio with two Prime Ministers which gripped the nation for 52 days. The LoO till October 26, R Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance has disagreed with the Speaker‘s decision on the grounds, he had not been removed from office before the appointment of Rajapaksa to the position. He has therefore refused to vacate the office premises. Did not the Speaker, now being hailed as the savior of democracy for the role he played during the recent political crisis ascertain for himself if a sitting LoO needs to be removed from office in writing or the announcement of a new LoO acts automatically as the termination of the incumbent’s tenure of office? It does not speak well for the wisdom of a person with decades of experience in the private sector, politically appointed ex-diplomat, former Mayor, parliamentarian and former cabinet minister. He is also the current ex-officio Chairman of the Constitutional Council.
The position of LoO stems from the Westminster parliamentary system. He or she is chosen by a vote of the largest non-government party. The holder of the post is sometimes called the alternative Prime Minister, as the holder may become Prime Minister if their party (or coalition) wins the support of the majority of Members of Parliament.
The Opposition’s primary role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. Though not practiced in Sri Lanka, the position holder also heads the shadow cabinet that monitors government ministries and ministers.
To perform such a function, the LoO must have an impeccable attendance record and participation in parliamentary debates on critical national issues besides other qualities.
www.Manthri.lk, a popular website contains real-time data of attendance and participation in parliamentary debates of 224 Parliamentarians (225th being the Speaker). It provides details of Overall Ranking, Party Ranking, Participation in Parliamentary debates and Topics Participated in, of each parliamentarian. According to this website, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ranking in attendance is no 178 (out of 225), no 55 within the Joint Opposition, has participated 13 times in parliament and taken part in debates related to five topics.
It must be highlighted, Rajapaksa did not vote in the No-Confidence motion brought against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by the Joint Opposition in April 2018.
It is a disgraceful track record.
For purposes of comparison, the parliamentarian with the best track record is Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP with a number one ranking in attendance in both overall and his party rankings, participated on 619 times in parliament in 14 topics.
In terms of attendance and participation from the Joint Opposition, the parliamentarian with the best record is Dinesh Gunawardena of MEP. His overall ranking is no 9, party ranking no 1, has participated in parliament on 498 times and in 15 topics.
There is an urgent need for a strong opposition led by a younger and abler parliamentarian to keep the UNP government in check and thwart their deceitful and duplicitous efforts in bending the rules to suit their political needs. An already visible example is the efforts to overcome the constitutionally mandated limit of 30 Ministers deceitfully.
That function can be undertaken only by a person who attends parliament regularly and takes part in debates sensibly on a wide range of subjects.
MR certainly does not fit the bill.