By Lal Wijenayake –
Today the question is posed as to who should be the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in the present context where the SLFP the major party in the opposition is said to have taken a decision to support the Maithripala Sirisena / Ranil Wickremesinge led government.
Our constitution has made no provision regarding an office of Leader of the Opposition. The Ceylon (Constitution) Ordering Council (Soulbery Constitution) 1947 as well as the Republican Constitution of 1972 and 1978 had made no provision regarding the office of a Leader of the Opposition. But in keeping with the British Parliamentary practice the office of the Leader of the Opposition was recognised from 1947.
It is the practice to follow the conventions of the British Parliament when no specific mention is not made on a matter in the constitution or in the laws governing the subject.
The British Parliamentary practice is for the member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the leader of the House of the party in opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength. (Vide Encyclopaedia of Parliament by Wilding and Laundy)
The importance of the opposition in the system of Parliamentary Government has found its way into formal recognition through a long period of practical recognition in the procedure of Parliament. (Vide Esking May on Parliamentary Practice)
It is not acceptable for the Speaker of Parliament who arbitrarily decide who should be the Leader of the Opposition. He has to appoint the leader of the largest party in the opposition. He cannot decide this issue on affidavits or petitions submitted even by a majority of members of the opposition. It will lead to wrong precedent in the future in naming the Leader of the Opposition.
The Speaker is bound to name as the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the largest party in opposition. It is for the party to decide whether to sit in the opposition or the government. The fact that a party supports policies of the government on certain matters does not prevent party from sitting in the opposition.
It is the duty of the Speaker to see that Parliamentary convention are honoured and protected.
If it is the decision of the SLFP to be a part of the government, then it is the leader of the next largest group in the opposition who should be appointed as the leader of the opposition. In this Parliament it has to be the Leader of the TNA which is the next largest party in the opposition.
*Lal wijenayake – Member – National Executive Council