JO ready to accept group of 16, no special status

The Joint Opposition (JO)/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) expect 16 SLFP members of parliament who crossed over to the Opposition on May 8 to join the genuine Opposition without further delay.

Authoritative JO/SLPP sources told The Island that there was consensus among JO and SLPP heavyweights that the group of 16 could join JO led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.MEP leader and Colombo District MP Dinesh Gunawardena functions as the JO parliamentary group leader.

Sources ruled out a separate agreement between the JO/SLPP and the group of 16 under any circumstances. The group comprised Susil Premajayantha, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Dilan Perera, John Seneviratne, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Dr Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tharanath Basnayake, Susantha Punchinilame, Anura Yapa, S B Dissanayake, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Chandima Weerakkody, Anuradha Jayaratne, T. B. Ekanayake and Sumedha Jayasena.

Responding to a query, a senior SLPP official emphasised that there hadn’t been structured talks between the JO/SLPP and the group of 16 since the split in the 41 member UPFA parliamentary group loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena on April 4 over the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against PM Wickremesinghe.

Of the 41 MPs comprising 39 SLFP and 2 CWC, 16 voted against PM Wickremesinghe while the rest abstained.

Former Petroleum Resources Minister attorney-at-law Chandima Weerakkody yesterday told The Island that it would be pertinent to mention that none of those 41 members voted against the NCM moved by the JO against Wickremesinghe over his alleged involvement in treasury bond scams in 2015 and 2016 and the failure on his part as the then Minister of Law and Order to contain recent ethnic violence in Ampara and Kandy.

Acknowledging the group of 16 hadn’t formally joined the JO yet, Galle District MP Weerakkody said that the outfit wouldn’t help the UNP-led government in anyway. Weerakkody said that their group would seek consensus with the SLFP group still in the government and the JO members as regards crucial matters such as the proposed 20 Amendment to the Constitution meant to further clip presidential powers.

Weerakkody compared their current efforts with all members elected and appointed on the UPFA ticket, except retired Rear Admiral, voting for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015. The MP assured that the group wouldn’t under any circumstances come to the rescue of the government though a section of the elected and appointed SLFP members remained in the administration.

Responding to a query, Weerakkody said that the public detested the government as since coming to power in January 2015 it had failed to halt the rapid deterioration of the national economy. Weerakkody said that irreparable damage had been caused to key sectors with them in turmoil.

Weerakkody said that of those 23 members in the government at present, perhaps six or seven were likely to switch their allegiance to the UNP.

Asked whether they had chosen a leader for their 16-member parliamentary group, Weerakkody said ‘No.’

“We’ll work closely with the JO on all critical matters. We are constantly in touch with them,” Weerakkody said.

Commenting on the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) role in parliament post-NCM moved against PM Wickremesinghe, Weerakkody said that veteran politician R. Sampanthan, MP, should decide on his outfit’s stand.

He said that having voted against the NCM, thereby coming to the rescue of PM Wickremesinghe, the TNA had no moral right to sit in the Opposition. Wouldn’t it be better if the TNA joined the government and secured at least one cabinet portfolio for an MP representing northern or an eastern district. Those who had insisted that SLFPers who voted for the NCM shouldn’t remain in the government didn’t find fault with the TNA for blatantly betraying the people.

Weerakkody emphasized that President Sirisena remained the leader of the UPFA as well as the SLFP. Therefore, President Sirisena as the leader of the UPFA parliamentary group was the leader of MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, too.

Responding to another query, Weerakkody alleged that the UNP leadership was hell-bent on paving the way for Chinese take-over of the Hambantota port. The SLFPer said that the UNP warned of catastrophic economic problem unless the government allowed the 99-year-old lease of the Hambantota port and the privatization of two major state-owned banks. “We were told the Rupee could depreciate to 160 per USD unless the Hambantota port was leased and the two state-owned banks privatized.”

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