Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 28 February 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

MPs dismiss the joint opposition within the Opposition as:

A political absurdity

Recognising the Joint Opposition as a separate political entity remains a bone of contention, although the ‘bosses’ of Joint Opposition say they have won nearly 95 percent of their demands. However, a cross section of MPs point out that in parliamentary politics when there is an official Opposition another ‘Opposition’ is a political absurdity.

Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena

The 1965-70 Ginger Group headed by former MP Festus Perera and later the Mulberry Group of the late 1990s were pressure groups acting as watchdogs to safeguard ruling party interests. It is illogical for the Joint Opposition to identify itself as a separate political entity, so long as it continues to remain in the SLFP- led UPFA rainbow coalition.

Despite the Joint Opposition ‘bosses’ claims of winning 95 percent of their demands, SLFP seniors in President Maithripala Sirisena’s camp categorically state the SLFP party hierarchy has not taken any decision to recognise the SLFP dissidents as a separate entity in Parliament and added that since they sit in the Opposition, they have been given more time to air their views, move adjournment motions, represent Party Leader’s meetings and criticise or vote against the government.

However, they said it is not possible for the SLFP leadership to permit them to function as a separate entity, as long as they are members of the SLFP. Party seniors in the Joint Opposition also confirmed their intention was not to leave the party or pave the path for a breakaway group, but claimed they wanted recognition to air their views, which has since been granted.

Part and parcel of SLFP

Lakshman Kiriella

Minister of Labour and Trade Union Relations,W.D.J. Seneviratne said they were part and parcel of the SLFP. Since they sit in the Opposition, President Maithripala Sirisena had permitted them to criticise the government and vote against it.

However, he said as long as they were in the SLFP, they could not function as a separate entity.

Despite the assurance given by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament on Tuesday (February 23) that he would discuss it with the President and provide a solution, Minister Seneviratne said no decision had been taken so far to recognise them as a separate group.

Asked whether there is any validity in the points raised by the Joint Opposition, the party senior said, according to Parliament practices and constitutional provision, it is not possible to recognise the dissidents as a separate entity.

“During the tenure of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, some SLFP youth parliamentarians functioned as a ‘Mulberry Group’ within the party but never demanded to be recognised as a separate entity.

A. H. M. Azwer

“If the Joint Opposition wants, they can also function within the ambit of the party, but not as a separate entity,” he said, adding there was no legal basis for the demand put forward by SLFP dissidents.

“It is not possible for the SLFP leadership to permit them to function as a separate group, as long as they are members of the SLFP.

“If they quit the party, there maybe an alternative. None of them want to quit the party and we also don’t want them to do so,” Minister Seneviratne said.

Parliament recognised only five political parties

W. D. J. Seneviratne

Leader of the House and Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Lakshman Kiriella said only five political parties were recognised by Parliament. “There is no party called the ‘Joint Opposition’. There was no past experiences where such groups were recognised as separate entities in Parliament,” he said.

The Minister maintained that if the dissidents want to be recognised as a separate group, they should quit the UPFA and function as independent MPs to be recognised as a separate entity.

“The Mulberry Group that functioned during the tenure of former President Kumaratunga was a pressure group guiding the party.

Even the UNP breakaway group led by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake was not recognised as a separate group,” he said explaining that the Prime Minister has discussed this matter with the President and there will be an answer to this issue. The Joint Opposition had also met the Prime Minister on Tuesday (February 23), but no final decision has been made.

People’s representatives are in Parliament

MEP Leader and UPFA Colombo District Parliamentarian, Dinesh Gunawardena, said they were expecting the outcome of what was agreed upon to implement and announce the changes. They have conveyed some of these but they have to be implemented separately. Nothing has been implemented so far. Asked whether there is any past experiences on such independent groups being recognised as separate entities in Parliament, MP Gunawardena said that was in the past and what is happening now is the present.

Dinesh Gunawardena

“One cannot stick to rules and say they don’t recognise 51 MPs, which is the largest number in the Opposition. Parliament has representatives of the people and not only those who govern. If those who govern it is a dictatorship and not parliamentary democracy. If the principles of parliamentary democracy are accepted, they have to admit that opposing and dissenting views should be accommodated and that is the reality, he said adding “We are watching the on-going developments.”

Basic issues faced by Joint Opposition resolved

UPFA Matara District MP, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, said 95 percent of the issues pertaining to the Joint Opposition have now been resolved. The government has promised to give enough time for Joint Opposition members to speak and raise oral questions, he said, but added that though the basic issues faced by the Joint Opposition have been resolved, so far, they have not been recognised as an Independent group. “We don’t want to leave the party or create a breakaway group within the party. This is not our intention.

We only want to be recognised within the House to air our views and that has been granted. We only want to be independent in the House.” The SLFP dissident said there was some controversy as certain SLFP MPs had obtained portfolios in the government, while others are in the opposition.

“When we air our views in the House, there is controversy with the government. That is why we want to act as an Independent Group in the opposition and air our views. It seems that they are not prepared to recognise us as an independent group in Parliament.”

Speaker’s ruling final

Former UPFA National List MP, A.H.M. Azwer, said it was the Speaker who has to decide whether the Joint Opposition was a separate entity or not.

As far as Parliamentary procedure and privileges are concerned, his ruling is final, Azwer said, but pointed out that the Speaker can’t ignore the voice of the people’s representatives in the Joint Opposition. “Parliament is under the Speaker and he has the command over all MPs.

“According to Standing Orders of Parliament the Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of all MPs.

Although, we were in the former UPFA government, the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa was supportive of requests by the Opposition. It was the right thing. The Speaker need not fear or give consideration to other facts outside the ambit of Parliament.

“In numerous instances, single members and groups have been recognised by the House of Commons in England and the Canadian Parliament as well.

“For democracy to function, Parliament should have an effective Opposition. Else, it would become the dictatorship of the Chair and you can’t have the authoritarianism of it.

“This issue is with the Speaker, not about the party because an outside party can’t do anything.

When JVP MP Ajith Kumara quit the JVP, former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa recognised him as an independent MP and allocated time for him to speak.

For democracy to function, there should be a strong Opposition and that is the cardinal principle set out by Erskine May the famous author of Parliamentary Practices,” he said.


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