MPs dismiss the joint opposition within the
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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.