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Heated debate over Opposition Leader post; Speaker postpones final verdict



After hours spent debating on the post of the Opposition Leader, in the House and separately at the Party leaders’ meeting, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday (7) promised to inform the House of his final verdict on the matter during the next Parliament sitting week.
He said that he needed to look into two matters, which he did not specify, before coming to a decision.
The Speaker said so after Parliamentarians of both sides spoke on whether the post of the Opposition Leader should be given to the Joint Opposition (JO) or not.
Soon after the questions round was over, JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena demanded to know who would be appointed to the post of the Opposition Leader. “We are the true and genuine Opposition in the Parliament. We have 70 members in our group and we vote against the Government. Our group is led by MP Mahinda Rajapaksa. Millions voted for us. This is not an issue with incumbent Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan.”
Gunawardena: All Speakers before you gave the Opposition Leader post to the group which had highest number of MPs in the Opposition. The Speaker should not give priority to a letter given to him by a Secretary of a Party. The Parliament is supreme and should not be misled on the basis of a letter given by a Party Secretary.
Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella: There are six Parties in the Parliament. The JO is not a party recognized by the Parliament. It is a clique.
The Speaker: When Gunawardena made that request I asked for it in writing. I told him that if he gives me the request in writing, I would give my decision on 7 July. But he delayed to give the request in writing. When the letter was given to me, I told him that I would not be able to give my determination on 7 July. You all have been elected from a Party and I am bound to inquire from that Party to know its official position. I need to consult legal experts.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran: A Party which has MPs in the Cabinet cannot hold the Opposition Leader post because that Party is represented in the Executive. There are 23 UPFA MPs in the Cabinet. Under such a situation selecting the Opposition Leader from the UPFA would be a joke.
JO MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Do you know the position of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) on the matter.
The Speaker: Yes they contacted me and spoke on the matter.
Nanayakkara: The IPU recognizes this as an issue and advises that it should be solved following Latimar House principles.
JO MP Wimal Weerawansa: The Speaker is not here to protect the interests of the parties but of the MPs.
JVP MP Bimal Ratunayake: What we have is a national Government, as per the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. As per the 19th Amendment, there are six recognized Parties in the Parliament. If the UPFA needs to break alliances with the Government and become an Opposition Party, they could do so. You have been elected on the UPFA ticket. There are UPFA Ministers. Your leader Rajapaksa had not voted at least once against this Government in the Parliament.
JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake: The Opposition has 23 MPs. There is another group of 70 MPs in the Opposition from the UPFA. That same Party has 26 MPs in the Government. You have a President from your Party. You could get together and form the Government, so why ask for the Opposition Leader post.
Speaker: I have acted democratically. I will give my determination within this week.

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