30 September, 2020

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President Must Not Lead The Opposition 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s announcement in parliament that the new Leader of the Opposition would be former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has been controversial. Following criticisms Speaker Jayasuriya, who had earlier played a key role in resolving the political crisis in the country, told parliament that he would soon make a statement with regard to the position of the leader of the opposition. Making a special statement in Parliament TNA leader R Sampanthan said the Speaker had not removed him from the opposition leader’s post though he had announced the appointment of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as opposition leader. This is reminiscent of the fate that befell Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when President Maithripala Sirisena replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa but without informing him beforehand.

As opposition leader, Mr Sampanthan fought very hard to ensure that justice was done, the constitution respected and the rule of law followed with regard to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. It is ironic that having performed this yeoman service, and ensured the successful reappointment of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, that Mr Sampanthan should be its first victim and lose the position he held. The sequence of events in both the removal of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Sampanthan from their positions suggests that following due process, or procedures established by law, is not a strong point in Sri Lanka’s ruling circles.

Instead of following accepted procedures, decisions are made on a political basis and then sprung into action without consideration as to whether they are just or not, or legal or not. The law, and the constitution itself, are too often taken as only a set of guidelines to be followed, but which can be transgressed if deemed necessary by the decisionmaking party. The belief that elected politicians are entitled to be supreme even above the law and all others because they have the people’s mandate is deeply embedded in Sri Lankan society and not in politicians only. The 1972 constitution purposefully made the judiciary and public service subordinate to the elected parliamentarians on the grounds that the embodied the sovereignty of the people who had given them their vote.

It is a tragedy that President Sirisena has recently been misled into believing that his electoral mandate as president permits him to push the boundaries of presidential powers to their extremes even to the point of transgressing them. He is now acting as a powerful opposition force to the government. This is a complete misreading of his role in the government. Those who are in government are meant to facilitate governance and to jointly solve the problems that exist so that the people may have a better life. This is also and certainly the duty of the president. He needs to find a way to work with the government not to thwart and undermine it.

Political Considerations 

Sri Lanka is still to get over the distortion of democracy that has come with the notion that politicians embody the people’s sovereignty and therefore notions of separation of powers and checks and balances do not really apply to them. The greatest progress in terms of these basic elements of good governance took place in the period January 2015 to October 2018 when President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave joint leadership to the creation of a new ethos of governance in which state institutions became more independent from political interference.

State institutions including the judiciary got strengthened in the past three years. Ideally, the judiciary should not be having to resolve political problems that need to be politically negotiated. But if there is a deadlock that is threatening the stability of the polity then the judiciary may have to take up the challenge and look into the legal aspects of the conflict as a way of ending it. The judiciary is better equipped to deal with issues of law concerning the position of the Leader of the Opposition which have a mix of political, legal, moral and ethnic considerations that need to be taken into account.

In the case of who should be the Leader of the Opposition it appears that political considerations have taken precedence over the legal, moral and ethnic aspects of the problem. The political dimension arises from the fact that former president Rajapaksa was unwilling to resign as prime minister despite having lost two successive votes of no-confidence in parliament. It now appears that as part of a package of incentives to persuade the former president to resign as prime minister, which he was refusing to do, he was offered the position of Leader of the Opposition. One of the key interests of the former president would be to obtain a strong political platform from which to launch his next election campaign.

There may be a political case for making former president Mahinda Rajapaksa the opposition leader. But the legal position is not so simple. This arises from the fact that both President Sirisena and former president Rajapaksa are from the same political alliance, the UPFA, which is registered as a political party represented in parliament. The complication is that President Sirisena holds three important cabinet ministries for himself, these being Defence, Mahaweli Development and Environment. These have been given to him by the constitution.

In addition, President Sirisena, even though leader of the UPFA, has purposefully taken a fourth ministry to himself, which is the former Ministry of Law and Order dealing with police and amalgamated it with the Defence Ministry. This shows that he is actively taking part in government. By taking these tasks to himself President Sirisena has ensconced himself and UPFA policies firmly within the government. In these circumstances a legal question arises whether the UPFA can, or ought to, be given the Leader of the Opposition’s position.

Legal Solution

The need for a legal solution arises also from the fact that the TNA’s own case for the position of the Leader of the Opposition is complex. The TNA gave strong support to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in his bid to regain the prime minister’s position. The TNA provided the votes of its parliamentarians to give the UNP led by Mr Wickremesinghe a majority in parliament on several occasions. These included the two no-confidence motions against Prime Minister Rajapaksa, the vote of confidence in Mr Wickremesinghe and most recently at the Vote of Account to pass a short-term budget for four months. In this regard the TNA has played the role of a responsible opposition which has safeguarded the democratic process, the constitution and the rule of law when all three were in danger of breaking down.

The responsible role played by the TNA can also be seen in the fact that they acted in the larger interest, rather than in their own narrow self-interest, during the recent political crisis. When both sides were desperate to get the support of the TNA and their 14 votes which made the difference between victory and defeat, the TNA could have struck a hard bargain with either side. At a time when a single parliamentarian was trading at a price of USD 2 million and above, according to President Sirisena no less, the TNA’s 14 parliamentarians could have fetched a premium price in terms of money or political concessions or both. But TNA leader Sampanthan’s commitment was to the democratic process, the upholding of the constitution and the rule of law. He and this party now need to show the Tamil people that their efforts were not in vain and beneficial to those who voted for them.

The fate of TNA leader Sampanthan and the TNA itself cannot be ignored by those who are concerned with political morality and the fostering of inter-ethnic relations. The denial of the opposition leader’s position to them would leave the ethnic minorities without the one position of high status in the polity that they enjoyed, as all other positions are occupied by members of the ethnic majority. The ethnic conflict arose and escalated into war because successive generations of Tamil citizens saw that they were being consistently marginalized and kept out of political decisionmaking. History must not be permitted to repeat itself either as tragedy or as farce. This is also why constitutional reform continues to be an urgent necessity.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    8

    Then there must be a clause saying President & the Prime Minister should be from the same party. I see none. This is utter non-sense.

    When CBK was President, MR was the Opposition Leader remember?

  • 7
    1

    QUOTE
    ….President Sirisena, even though leader of the UPFA, has purposefully taken a fourth ministry to himself, which is the former Ministry of Law and Order dealing with police and amalgamated it with the Defence Ministry. This shows that he is actively taking part in government. By taking these tasks to himself President Sirisena has ensconced himself and UPFA policies firmly within the government. In these circumstances a legal question arises whether the UPFA can, or ought to, be given the Leader of the Opposition’s position…..UNQUOTE

    VERY GOOD POINT!
    Hope Speaker Karu Jayasuriya takes the above interesting and legally valid point into consideration when deciding who should be appointed Leader of the Opposition. If UPFA wants it, then the President must give up the Defense portfolio. He cannot be part of the Government and also represent the Opposition!

  • 8
    1

    There is a clandestine deal between. Sajith-MS-and Capitol Maharaja.
    This should be stopped no matter what.

  • 3
    0

    When an appointment is being done why not the appointed check if it acceptance If it is totally involved in it or not. Leadership is authentic having a Leadership is absolutely about inspiring, but it is also about guarding against mis-action. Later on you are trapped and repeated in shame building bigger and better than before. And now saying we have Powerful opposition force ( two opposing leader )

  • 3
    1

    Jehan you know very well despite Ranil PM take 2; President is still lead by the opposition the ex Fake Govt AKA Mahinda

  • 2
    8

    This argument is ridiculous. Without the support of the TNA, the present government will fall at any time. The TNA is one pillar of the government though they are in the opposition for local political reasons. The TNA will protect the government anytime if it faces a threat of defeat. That behaviour cannot be described as that of a responsible opposition. At least now, there should be the right space for the real opposition.

    The TNA has not behaved like an opposition since 2015. There were numerous issues but they did not pay an iota of attention to those issues as an opposition. The opposition leader post should be given to a real opposition who can raise the voice on behalf of the people who are against this government and its actions.

    If Sampanthan is really for the democracy, he should be ashamed to ask for that post because he does not represent the voice of the majority of people who are against the agenda of this government.

    • 3
      0

      Dissanayake,
      Your accusation that TNA has not behaved like an opposition is rediculous. TNA is the only political party where there is no corruption, not greedy of power like SLFP or SLPP or UNP. It is the only party that fight for oppressed people in this country. In fact, TNA should govern this country. WhetherMahinda is President or Prime Minister or Opposition leader he will only worry about how to make his son President or How to become the richest or How to eliminate political enemies by assasination. It is very obvious that he got SLPP membership immediately after he appointed as fake PM. How on a world you can deny that? What you are aasuming is that over 75% of Sinhalese are fools. It is now the question is for every Sinhalese to proof that they are fools or not.

  • 2
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    Jehan Perera
    “As opposition leader, Mr Sampanthan fought very hard to ensure that justice was done, the constitution respected and the rule of law followed with regard to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.” – the respect he showed the Constitution and to the rule of law between 2001 and 19 May 2009 is a matter of public record.
    xxxx
    “Instead of following accepted procedures, decisions are made on a political basis and then sprung into action without consideration as to whether they are just or not, or legal or not.” – so were decisions to make a Prime Minister and Chief Justice disappeared starting 9 January 2015 based on accepted procedures or on a political basis? Where were you and your big theories at the time?
    xxxx
    “There may be a political case for making former president Mahinda Rajapaksa the opposition leader. But the legal position is not so simple. This arises from the fact that both President Sirisena and former president Rajapaksa are from the same political alliance, the UPFA” – first tell us how did (a) Mahinda Rajapaksa representing UF alliance function as Leader of Opposition in 2001-4 while CBK was President and leader of UF alliance (b) Nimal Siripala de Silva while representing UPFA functioned as Leader of Opposition Jan – Mar 2015 while Maithripala Sirisena was President and leader of UPFA alliance?

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 2
    0

    When the VoC was taken, fifteen UNP MPs were absent. Does this show the tardiness of lawmakers?
    If MS led an opposition to check and balance the government, that will be constructive.
    Instead MS leads an opposition lead by another opposition. The ‘personal loss or gain’ motivation must not dominate.
    MS seems to be comfortable associating with SLPP.
    .
    SLPP will use the way TNA voted on the VoC issue but NOT the UNP absenteeism.
    By the way, MR claims he never joined SLPP. If true, which party does he lead?
    .
    Our version of democracy does not have the spirit of democracy which is “All citizens are equal”.
    Took us seventy years to learn this! It is now “Elites are more equal than others”.

  • 0
    0

    Sampanthan cannot expect to continue as leader of the opposition if the numbers are low, just because he has helped the restoration of democracy. But can Mahinda expect to be a Leader of the opposition as per the present situation? Karu has jumped the gun without ascertaining the correct situation- may be blood is thicker than water?

    • 2
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      K Anaga,
      Sampanthan (TNA) is not asking for Opposition leader. The problem is the speaker did not officiaaly asked Sampanthan to leave the post before appointing former legal President and former fake Prime Minister as opposition leader. Their question is which party Mahinda Rajapakse MP represent. I am sure you also have seen him SLPP membership and it was in the public domain. It is pathetic that a former President becoming a PM illegally and now want to become an Opposition leader illegally. Now they are playing another illegal game. What do they think of Sinhala masses? They strongly believe that 75% Sinhalese are fools. Is it true?

  • 1
    0

    The leader of opposition is the leader of the party with second highest number of seats. I understand that is TNA.

    Mahinda wants to have the cake and eat it.
    He wants to be the leader of SLPP to prepare for the next election, but for the current term, he wants to wear the SLFP hat so that he can be the leader of the opposition.

    Mahinds thinks just because he is the most richest , Politician in Asia (achieved through swindling the country)….he can dictate anything…he thinks he owns Sri Lanka ….

    time to send him to galore and kick the whole rajapakse dynasty out…

    but Ranil or My3 are also in it …they are birds of the same feather..so they dont have the bottle to send the Rajapakses to the galores….

    we need fresh young politicians…not necessarily from the political class

  • 0
    0

    Jehan Perera: I hear Even Ranil is willing to come back to his previous marraige with Maithripala. I know it is the Same with the Pay masters of Propaganda. They like Ranil but with some one who can propr up Ranmil winning Streak.

  • 0
    1

    I don’t see an issue per se with having a President from an opposing party to the party in Government if the two are mature enough to maintain a professional working relationship between them irrespective of their political differences. However, this will inevitably become unworkable and destructive to the functioning of a Government, when the President doesn’t respect the mandate the Government has and is particularly resentful of the Premier.

    I can understand why the President is given the Defence portfolio but I don’t understand the rationale behind any constitutional provision for giving him the portfolios of Mahaweli Development and Environment, when he is not part of the ruling party or coalition. It doesn’t make sense.

    Regarding MR’s appointment as the Leader of the Opposition, there appears to be some doubt about if he is eligible to be sitting in the Parliament, let alone be the Leader of the Opposition.

    Section 99(13)a of the Constitution states that 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 (hereinafter referred to as the “relevant 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 ceasing to be such member: Provided that in the case of expulsion of a Member of Parliament……….

    Thus it would appear that it would be best to arbitrate this and be determined by the Supreme Court.

    The position of the Leader of Opposition should go to the leader of the opposition party with the highest number of seats in the Parliament, provided he/she is eligible to sit in the Parliament.

  • 0
    0

    Didn’t President CBK “lead the Opposition” starting a little over a year before the Election of 2005?

    • 0
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      That is not the point Dayan Jayatilaka. The question is, is it right or wrong.

      Thought you were grown up enough to know that two wrongs do not make a right.

  • 2
    0

    I think the Opposition leader should neither be MR or Sambanthan, but the person leading the party with highest opposition members. It is none other than the President, who is already acting the role by scuttling the moves of a legally elected government.

  • 2
    0

    Sirisena will continue to make it difficult for the UNP to govern. He has asked the civil servants not to give into pressure and that he will stand by them. If you read between the lines, it means don’t do your job, sabotage government projects. He wants the government to fail, he will then justify his unconstitutional moves. The SC should have gone a step further to clearly state the President violated the constitution and is not eligible to hold the post of president of the country.

  • 1
    0

    During the last two months TNA, and JVP contributed to democracy in a constructive manner in Sri Lanka. Every correct thinking citizens must acknowledge to their contributions. If not these two parties Democracy would have been thrown out of Sri Lanka. Popularly it is expected that opposition party in a democratic system must brave enough to put forward correct alternatives if a wrong decision is taken by the ruling party/government. And also shall support if the government is doing something good to the country and its people. As such what ever these two parties have done in the parliament is as responsible opposition parties and not as a party within UPFA OR UNP. Therefore what ever the argument against MS to give MR the opposition leader position may not applicable to Mr.R.S.

  • 1
    0

    People mistake the word “Opposition” for the group who are the “Opposition Party”

    Just because you are the opposition party doesn’t mean that its your mandate to oppose everything!

    Likewise it doesn’t mean that you cant support anything coming from the government. That is just cheap politics!

    Its about having a different approach and representing those who do not agree with every nitty gritty of the ruling party.

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