BY Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne
The Joint Opposition is currently engaged in a desperate campaign to be recognized as an independent party of the opposition with the backing of former President and Kurunegala MP, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Leader of the Joint Opposition, MP Dinesh Gunawardena in an interview with Ceylon Today said, they would continue the struggle to be recognized as an independent group in Parliament.
Excerpts:?Why is the Joint Opposition asking for recognition as an independent group in Parliament?
A: The MPs who represent the Joint Opposition are acting as the true opposition in Parliament. The duty undertaken by the Joint Opposition is to closely examine the bills tabled by the government and highlight the points to be reconsidered. People did not vote the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidates to join hands with a United National Party (UNP) Government. The members of the Joint Opposition are directing the government on to the correct path. Though the Joint Opposition is the true Opposition in Parliament, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is trying to imply that the Joint Opposition is a minor group participating in Parliament sessions. The Speaker appointed an Opposition Leader who has only 16 seats in Parliament, who never speaks a word against the actions of the government. The Joint Opposition alone acts as the true opposing power in and outside of Parliament. We direct this issue to the Speaker continuously, but a proper response has not received even after five months.
An ineffectual Opposition poses a severe threat to democracy. Thus, the recognition of the Joint Opposition as an independent group is a measure that should be taken on behalf of democracy, Parliament, and the country as well.
The Speaker promised to have a discussion with the leaders of the Joint Opposition on Tuesday.
?What is the next step if the discussions with the Speaker fail?
A: The future steps would be discussed by the Members of Parliament who are representing the Joint Opposition soon after the discussion with the Speaker.
?Do you think that the Joint Opposition is able to gain recognition as an independent group, and how positive are you about a favourable decision by the Speaker?
A: If Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is free to take decisions as a Speaker who has the power to take impartial decisions when it comes to safeguarding democracy in Parliament, we would gladly look forward for an answer from him. But, there is a Sinhalese proverb ‘trying to drink the porridge without ruining the beard’. The Speaker has no choice.
For an example, Parliament of India holds the record for the largest Parliament in the world. A group that cannot secure at least 10% of representation in Parliament cannot lay claim to the seat of Opposition Leader. Sonia Gandhi lost the opportunity to be the Opposition Leader even though she represents the biggest party of India. But, in Sri Lanka, a minority representation holds the position of Opposition Leader, which is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). So I question why a group of 50 members representing the Joint Opposition are not allowed to hold the position of Opposition Leader. Members who crossed over to the Opposition can be recognized as independent members by the Speaker.
?Do you believe there should be a change in the post of Opposition Leader, in case the Joint Opposition is granted recognition as an independent group?
A: The Speaker has the power to appoint the Leader of the Opposition.
? The Joint Opposition organized a coconut dashing ritual at the Seenigama Devale urging the government to dissolve the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) and a few other demands. The FCID is supposed to investigate financial crimes. Why is the Joint Opposition against the FCID?
A: A massive crowd rallied around the Joint Opposition to join the walk and the ritual at Seenigama Devale. The foremost reason to organize this ritual is to show our opposition to the betrayal of the country in Geneva, taking our war heroes to military court as per the promises given in Geneva and betraying the honour and sovereignty of the country.
The FCID is a ‘new law’ founded and headed by the Prime Minister while there are already enough laws to investigate and punish financial criminals. The FCID was established by way of a Gazette Notification on 13 February 2015 under the Police Ordinance on a request of the Prime Minister. What is the necessity of a separate division to investigate financial crimes when there are already enough laws to investigate? And why is the Prime Minister handling the FCID if the true intention of the FCID is to investigate financial crimes? It is a clear fact that the FCID was introduced to take political revenge, not to investigate financial crimes. If the law enforcement authorities, the Judiciary, and the investigations are independent, what is the necessity for a separate division headed by a political leader to investigate crimes? This is the true definition of politicizing the Judiciary.
Therefore, judicial measures were taken against the FCID. The Joint Opposition has the right to oppose this situation.
The third fact is to urge the government to hold the LG polls, or to reinstate the former LG bodies. The local governing is malfunctioning due to the delay in conducting the polls.
?Why do you resort to religious rituals when it comes to winning political demands, whereas there is a proper process to achieve them?
A: We know that the Prime Minister felt the impact of our ritual because he dedicated 15 minutes of his speech that evening to our event. Our intention was to make our demands successful. It is wrong to say that the coconut dashing ritual of the Joint Opposition is the only ritual of that kind performed by a political group in the history of this country. It has been done by many politicians or political groups before. If you go to Kataragama Devale during an election time, or after an election, you will be able to see how the Sri Lankan politicians are bound by such religious rituals. These rituals and the religion hold a major place in our traditions and culture. Belief is our strength.
? Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave his consent to form a new party to face LG polls. But, statistics show that LG poll results always favour the incumbent Central Government. In such a context, is it a good idea to split the vote base of the SLFP to face a challenge?
A: The government is heading towards an utter failure in every aspect. If they think they can win the LG polls why don’t they hold the polls and win? It is a clear fact that the people are rallying around the Joint Opposition due to the dissatisfaction about the government they established seeking yahapalanaya. Former President Rajapaksa is the most popular leader of the nation. We cannot stop people from rallying around him. Victory is a clear outcome.
The Elections Commission was established to act independently, thus they don’t need approval from any quarter to hold LG polls next March. It seems the Elections Commission is transforming into an ‘Elections Department,’ which acts according to the needs of the government.
?The Joint Opposition seems to be following the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Is this an outcome of not letting any alternative leadership to rise under his rule during his regime?
A: As I said before, former President Rajapaksa is the most popular national leader as he was the leader who defeated terrorism. He was the leader who developed the country. There may be faults, but still he is the hope of the nation towards a secure future. The blessing of former President is essential when it comes to ensuring a prosperous future for the country. Thus the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa still plays a vital role in Sri Lankan politics.
?Is it true that you lost your wallet during the coconut dashing ritual?
A: Yes, it is true. But we found it along with the important documents somewhere near a shop close to the Devale. But, the point is, picking my wallet is not a big deal at a time when the government is pick-pocketing the country.
The Joint Opposition is always on alert regarding what is happening in the country, on behalf of the people, to ensure a secure future for them. We are passing a very critical turning point in the political history of the country, and the Joint Opposition is an independent group dedicated to the nation.