Sajith Premadasa named Opposition leader in Sri Lanka

Parliament will convene on January 3

December 05, 2019 10:09 pm | Updated 11:30 pm IST - COLOMBO

United National Party (UNP) Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa was on Thursday named the Leader of Opposition, weeks after he lost the presidential contest to Gotabaya Rajapaksa who won decisively.

The move comes after the UNP resolved internal differences, with some in the party backing leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for the post. However, party sources said supporters of Mr. Premadasa prevailed, citing the imminent general election that they argued could be fought better with Mr. Premadasa helming the Opposition. Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue to lead the party.

Mr. Premadasa will be officially appointed as Leader of Opposition, when the Parliament convenes on January 3. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently prorogued the House for a month, until January 3, 2020, in a move that Opposition parties said was aimed at keeping out parliamentary opposition to his minority government until then. Following his election win, Mr. Gotabaya appointed a caretaker government to run the country until general elections next year.

Parliament prorogued

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Wednesday termed the period of prorogation “excessive”. “It would’ve been legitimate for President @GotabayaR to prorogue Parliament for a week so that a new session commences with his address on government policy. One month is excessive and obviously for collateral purposes and hence anti-democratic and indeed illegal,” the TNA said from its official Twitter handle.

According to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, the President may, from time to time, by proclamation summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament. The proclamation proroguing Parliament shall fix a date for the next session, not being more than two months after the date of proclamation.

However, some fear that the President may address the Parliament in January, possibly prorogue it again until he is able to dissolve the House in March — when 4.5 years of the current Parliament’s term is completed — and call snap polls.

‘Convention sidelined’

Further, critics of the move argue that according to parliamentary convention, prorogation must be done for the parliament’s purposes and in consultation with the Speaker. Referring to the UK Supreme Court’s September ruling that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down Parliament ahead of Brexit was unlawful, they say, the landmark ruling reaffirms the principle.

The opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) questioned the “intention” behind the move. JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake said in a tweet that the President can address Parliament at any time without proroguing. The intention behind the month-long prorogation seemed to be to “weaken” the legislature, “shut the voice of real Opposition”, prevent discussion on “undemocratic” acts witnessed post-election and dissolve a parliamentary committee on public enterprises, he said.

Dismissing the accusations, State Minister Vasudeva Nayakkara said “nothing was lost” by proroguing Parliament for a month. Referring to a parliamentary committee’s forensic audit report on the alleged Central Bank bond scam during the tenure of President Maithripala Sirisena — Ranil Wickremesinghe administration — which the committee’s former chairman has decided to keep confidential until Parliament reconvenes, he said: “The JVP and the TNA could have tabled the report and sought a debate in Parliament on January 3.”

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