COLOMBO:The appointment of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) chief R.Sampanthan as Leader of Opposition in the Sri Lankan parliament on Thursday, has helped President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe checkmate former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts to come back to the political center-stage.
Although 55 MPs of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had handed over to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and UPFA Chairman Maithripala Sirisena, a signed petition requesting them to appoint Kumara Welgama as Leader of Opposition, Sampanthan, heading only a 16-member group, was declared Leader of Opposition.
This happened after Sirisena had told UPFA MPs that they could sit in the opposition and fight for the post of Opposition Leader.
When Sampanthan was declared elected, UPFA MPs were furious and gave vent to it, but they could do little as the ruling United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) and the Sirisena faction of the UPFA together had more MPs.
According to political circles, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe propped up Sampanthan to keep Rajapaksa at bay. There was an apprehension that if UPFA (Rajapaksa group) was recognized as the official opposition, and Kumara Welgama got elected and then resigned to give place to Rajapaksa, the former President would become a major political irritant. As Leader of Opposition, Rajapaksa might be able to rally the UPFA and its main constituent, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), around him, posing a major threat to Sirisena.
Rajapaksa loyalists Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpilla and Vasudeva Nanayakkara are openly saying that Sampanthan could be a Trojan Horse of the LTTE and Western interventionists, and could destroy the country. But this is unlikely to pass muster because there is a widespread feeling that Sampanthan’s appointment is a gesture of goodwill to the long neglected Tamil minority.
But as the state-owned Daily News warned, Sampanthan could weaken his supporters in the majority Sinhalese community if he continues to be rhetorical in presenting the Tamils’ demands. High strung Tamil rhetoric will only add grist to Rajapaksa’s communal and ultra-nationalistic mill, thus weakening the liberal Sirisena.