COLOMBO: The Tamil National Alliance on Saturday openly staked its claim for the post of Leader of Opposition in the light of a national government to be formed by the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is the dominant constituent of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
In a statement, the TNA, which has secured 16 seats in the August 17 general elections, said that “as political parties in Parliament, they [the UNP and the UPFA] must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet. This support includes voting with the Government when sitting in Parliament. There is thus no question whatsoever [a section] of the UPFA sitting in opposition in Parliament.”
The TNA’s statement assumes significance in view of reports that a section of the UPFA, which has been supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, will sit in the Opposition and as the number of such a group is likely to be higher than that of the TNA, any one of its representatives may be made Leader of Opposition. The name of Chamal Rajapaksa, a brother of the former President and Member of Parliament from the Hambantota electoral district, is doing rounds for the post.
In the event of the TNA’s claim for the post getting accepted, this would be the second time for a Tamil to hold the post since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. In the 1977 parliamentary elections [held under the 1972 Constitution], the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) won 18 seats and its leader A. Amirthalingam held the post till 1983.
In early April this year, the TNA, after a section of the UPFA joined the Ministry, had even then claimed the post, which was given to Nimal Siripala de Silva, a leader of the UPFA, in January. In the previous Parliament, the TNA had 14 members. Also, the faction supportive of the former President had petitioned to the then Speaker, Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa, to appoint Dinesh Gunawardena of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), a key leader of the pro-Mahinda camp, the Leader of Opposition. Till the dissolution of Parliament in late June, no ruling was given on the competing claims.
The TNA, in its statement, mentioned that as it had emerged as the largest political party in Opposition in Parliament, its parliamentary group leader should be recognised as the Leader of Opposition in accordance with parliamentary practices and conventions.
Pointing out that both President Maithripala Sirisena and the government had publicly committed themselves to treating Tamils as equal citizens of the country. “However, a reluctance to recognise the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil People of the North and East as the main opposition party when such is clearly the case can only be reflective of an unwillingness to honour this commitment,” the statement added.