THE ROLE of the OPPOSITION in a PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM 
Posted on September 19th, 2015

By Neville Ladduwahetty

The Preamble to Sri Lanka’s 1978 Constitution states that Sri Lanka is a DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC whilst ratifying the immutable republican principle of REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, and assuring to all peoples FREEDOM, EQUALITY, JUSTICE, FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS and the INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY”.

Continuing, the Preamble states: WE, THE FREELY ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA, in pursuance of such Mandate, humbly acknowledge our obligations to our People…”

In keeping with these immutable republican principles” the elected representatives are obligated to represent the interests of the Sri Lankan People.  In a Democracy the structural arrangement that enables these obligations to be fulfilled is through a majority of the elected representatives forming a Government and the rest forming the Opposition.  Both branches are equally important, because while the Government formulates and implements policies for which they received a mandate from the People, the Opposition should exercise due diligence to ensure that both the policies and the implementation processes the Government carries out are scrutinized and reviewed in order to protect the interests of the People whom the Opposition represents.

ROLE of the OPPOSITION

According to a publication by the World Bank Institute Professional Development program for Parliamentarians Unit 7 titled The Role of the Opposition” states:

  • Members of the opposition must accept that opportunities for their work as initiators of legislation will be limited but their role as representatives is undiminished and greater burdens devolve on opposition Members than on government backbenches in regard to scrutiny and oversight.
  • At the same time, the opposition has a duty to themselves and to other voters to play the role of an alternative government and indeed, the role of a government in waiting.
  • The major challenge for the opposition is its need to be seen as credible in its role. In order to do that it must be as responsible, respected and united as a political party and it must create policies that are relevant to the day-to-day lives of the people.
  • One of the main functions of the opposition is its work in scrutinizing the operations of the executive, that is, exercising oversight of the implementation of the law from the angle of performance and accountability and, especially, the use of the finances granted to the executive for its work.

(www.parliamentarystrengthening.org/…/Commonwealth%20unit%207)

According to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), 2010, the functions of the Opposition are:

  • To offer political alternatives
  • To articulate and promote the interests of their voters
  • To offer alternatives to the decisions proposed by the government and the majority representatives
  • To improve parliamentary decision-making procedures by ensuring debate, reflection and contradiction
  • To scrutinize the legislative and budgetary proposals of the government
  • To supervise and oversee the government and the administration
  • To enhance stability, legitimacy, accountability and transparency in the political processes.

(CDL-AD(2010)025)

CURRENT FORMATION of the OPPOSITION in SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister during his address to the UNHRC in Geneva explained the current political formation of the Government as: Traditional rivals in Sri Lankan politics – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) thus came together, heralding a new culture of consensual politics in the country and creating much needed political and policy stability”. (The Island, September, 14, 2015).

How legitimate is it for the UNP and the SLFP to come together” and form a Government considering that the electorate did not vote either for the UNP or for the SLFP?  A political arrangement for the sake of consensual politics without a mandate from the People has no validity or legitimacy.  What would legitimize the franchise of the overwhelming majority that voted for either of these two coalitions would be if the UNFGG and the UPFA had come together”.  In the absence of such a coming together, all that the Government has achieved is a trivialization of the franchise of the People for the sake of political and policy stability”.  However, since franchise is a key component of the Sovereignty (Article 3 of the Constitution) of the People, trifling with it could have dire consequences for the stability of a Government.

The coming together of the UNP and the SLFP has created ambiguity as far as the role of the UPFA coalition is concerned.  Since only a minority of the UPFA is with the Government there is uncertainty as to the role of the rest of the UPFA members.  Would they be a constituent member of a credible Opposition with all the rights and privileges that are assigned to members of a functioning Opposition in a Democracy, or would they be denied such entitlements?  If the role assigned to them is that of a non-functioning backbencher it would demean and trivialize the sanctity of the franchise of a section of the People.  Such an outcome would discourage the elected representatives who are not with the Government from any motivation to enthusiastically represent the interests of their electors.  This would dent the immutable principle of representative Democracy.  Furthermore, it would prevent them from exercising their responsibilities as legitimate and credible stakeholders in a functioning Democracy.

CONCLUSION

Sri Lanka is meant to be a functioning Democratic Socialist Republic in which immutable principles of REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY” are expected to operate.  To qualify that Sri Lanka is such a Democracy, elected representatives of the People should either constitute themselves into a Government/Opposition formation or in the alternative come together to form a National Government as per the 19th Amendment, if they are to fulfill their obligations to the People.  Until January 8th the former formation prevailed.  Thereafter, a minority formed the Government while the majority formed the Opposition.  Although the UPFA secured 95 seats in Parliament at the August 17th election there is uncertainty as to their numbers and their role because a minority is with the UNFGG-led Government, while the majority is with the Opposition.

The lack of acknowledgement that this UPFA majority is a constituent of the official Opposition means that the People who voted for them do not have a recognized voice in Parliament to represent their interests.  Consequently, their franchise has been violated to the extent of disenfranchising them.  This violation discriminates them and their representatives in Parliament.  Furthermore, they are no longer are as sovereign as the rest.  This inequality is a violation of a Fundamental Right.

Despite the political uncertainty in Sri Lanka, the International Community and the US in particular are reported to be upbeat” about developments in Sri Lanka.  They are prepared to overlook the shortfalls in the way representative Democracy currently operates in Sri Lanka for the greater price of engaging with this Government in the pursuit of their vital interests which is to contain the increasing hegemony of China in the Indian Ocean.  However, the manner in which Democracy operates should matter to both the US and the Sri Lankan Government because it impacts on the stability of the Government which the US wishes to engage with.  Therefore, if the Government does not revisit the state of Democracy as it currently exists and adopt measures to restore the role of how a credible Opposition should operate in a functioning Democracy, the initiative should be taken by the People in order to protect their interests and that of the country.

 

Neville Ladduwahetty

September 15, 2015

5 Responses to “THE ROLE of the OPPOSITION in a PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM ”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    SL is a gone case. As long as democrazy continues, SL will be without hope.

    Democrazy failed SL.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks to Mr Ladduwahetty for clarifying the role of a Democratic Opposition.

    We agree that the People must take matters into their own hands and act as the law allows to protect the country through a properly functioning Opposition.

    ——–

    The present TNA Opposition seems to us to be a ‘govt in waiting’ for some type of Eelam ?

    The two cheated elections (to please whom ?) has brought to the forefront a seemingly dud GoSL – silent whilst the Law of the Land is broken many times over. To please whom ? Certainly not the People of Lanka.

    What a princely price to pay for Peace for the People of Lanka !

  3. Cerberus Says:

    Dear Mr. Ladduwahetty, You have hit the bull eye and identified the problem in the Parliament today very clearly as always. The President and Ranil W have committed many illegal and unconstitutional acts.
    1. My3 installed Ranil W as Prime Minister from the minorty party stating that he was forced to do so by India and Britain. This was done while there was already a Prime Minister in Parliament.
    2. He installed Shirani Bandaranaiyaka as Chief Justice for a day by passing all normal procedures while we already had a Chief Justice. She then resigned after one day and he installed another one without any due procedure.
    3. Ranil W installed a Catholic/Christian Cabinet which proceeded to remove all the appointments done by MR from Govt Depts and Corporations. After complaining bitterly about MR having family members in Govt, MY3 installed his brother as Head of Telecom Dept, while Ravi Karunanaike (Karupaiah) decided to install his BIL who was a Police Sergeant as the head of the insurance corporation.
    4. Ranil W brought the Ministry of Finance under him and installed Arjun Mahendran as head of Central Bank and Paskaralingam as head of Treasury. Arjun then pulled a bond scam on which much as been written which is supposed to have cost the country $5000 million. It was a clear case of insider trading. For a similar crime Raj Rajaratnam LTTE financier is in jail in USA.
    5. The COPE report which was produced was not published since My3 decided to dissolve the parliament to save Ranil W because there was a no confidence motion against him and also to prevent the COPE report being published. My3 has told reporters that he had asked Ranil W to remove Arjun M. To date noting has been done.
    6. My3 took a court injunction to prevent Central Committee of UPFA from meeting, sacked the two General secretaries. He got information from National Intelligence that UPFA is going to win 113 seats. To prevent his own party from winning and to ensure that UNP wins he wrote a 5 page letter to MR telling him that he will not be appointed as Prime Minister under any circumstances. He then went on tv and read his 5 page letter to reinforce it and sacked 13 members of the CC and appointed his own. All these activities were completely illegal and may be the reason why UPFA lost by a narrow margin. The Election Commissioner or the Supreme Court has grounds to annul the election based on My3’s actions.
    7. As you have pointed out My3 then along with Ranil W have made a mockery of the Parliament and has manipulated it to create a 2/3 majority for themselves.

  4. L Perera Says:

    In a democracy, they say – “The voters get a government they deserve”.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    That is right L Perera.

    But there is NO democracy in SL now!!

    1. Voters never wanted TNA to be the opposition leader!! They wanted MR to be the opposition leader. NO democracy so it is not happening.

    2. Voters NEVER mandated a NATIONAL GOVT.!! NO democracy so crazy things happen.

    3. Voters NEVER voted for a 130 minister cabinet. Constitution changed said 30 ministers!!

    So NO democracy in SL today. Only a TAMIL NADU PROXY DICTATORSHIP. It must be brought down by ANY means.

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