Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q : In the first place, how did this issue arise?
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) contested at the last Parliamentary Election against the United National Party (UNP) to form a Government. To the credit of the UNP they got more seats. We failed. We also rejected the idea of a national Government. Afterwards, some of our MPs, from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) decided to join the Government at the instigation of Chairman of the Party, President Maithripala Sirisena. Neither Sirisena nor these MPs received a mandate from the people to do so. We were never part of this. We never received an invitation and neither would we have requested for or accepted such a premise.
The majority of the UPFA is in the Opposition. We functioned as an independent group. We worked as a collective. We were against the move to increase the number of MPs and we were against the budget. As per Parliamentary tradition, we acted as one cohesive group.
Q : What do you make of the stance made clear by the Speaker?
The UPFA’s rules regarding such were not violated because we contested against the UNP. We opposed the UNP at the General Election. Not once was the Executive Committee of the UPFA summoned during this period following the Election. Again we were never invited to form a joint Government and we did not want to either and we also would not do so. Therefore the Speaker should treat us accordingly. The Speaker says that the SLFP joined the Government and also that he does not want to be a part of what he calls the destruction of the UPFA. This is neither his business nor concern. The Speaker is the custodian-cum-guardian of the Parliament and the MPs, and therefore must protect the oppression of the minority Opposition or a minority group in the Opposition from the Government which uses the fact that they possess the majority in order to do so.
Q : At a time when proposed electoral reforms are seeking to halt crossovers, how do you think this move will fair in that light?
There are no political parties inside and within the Parliament. Political parties are found only outside the Parliament. To the right hand side of the Speaker, sits the Government and to the left hand side of the Speaker, sits the Opposition and in between there is a well. If someone crosses over, this means that there is a changing of the sides. Anybody can crossover at anytime. In the Parliament, there are only two groups – the Government and the Opposition.
Q : What are the motivations behind this effort?
In functioning, we have and are genuinely working against the Government. When the Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan voted in favour of the budget, we not only voted against it on all occasions but also pointed out the weaknesses of it. We have clearly established ourselves enough to be recognized as one group. We need us to be recognized as this would allow us to get due representation at the party leaders meeting in Parliament and also get more time to speak in Parliament. We have 53 MPs.
During the budget, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) with only six MPs got one hour to present the case and we with the 53, also got only one hour. This is unfair. We have made the request to be recognized as a separate independent group of the Opposition, to the Speaker, 13 times, and it was only following such efforts that we had to become aggressive and protest and in order to show our desperation regarding this situation and the way we are being treated.
Q : What are the precedents available for such a move?
As far as precedents are concerned, the JVP back in 2004 contested under the UPFA. The following year they decided to leave to the Opposition as an independent group and received all due rights and privileges afforded. In 2008, MP Wimal Weerawansa left the JVP with 15 others. They were duly recognized. In the last Parliament, there were six Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs, and four other different groups, with one made up of three JVP MPs, elsewhere MPs, Tiran Alles and Arjuna Ranatunga in another group, MP Jayantha Ketagoda in yet another, and finally MP Ajith Kumara representing the Frontline Socialist Party independently. Therefore, there is ample precedent and the Speaker should not waste time looking for precedents in the British and Indian Parliaments. During the 100 days programme, Leader of the Opposition Nimal Siripala De Silva was a Member of the SLFP. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is the only Speaker in the history who is denying such. We are the biggest single group in the Opposition. The TNA has 16 MPs and the JVP has six. We have 53 MPs, which is therefore more than adequate. Yet, due to political reasons like the Government having agreements with the JVP and the TNA, we are being denied this.