Focus/Spotlight

Vacant National List slots in Parliament: When history repeats

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP is yet undecided on who will fill their National List seat in the Ninth Parliament

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka was convened last week. This Parliament is special, as only 223 members out of the total 225 members gathered on its inaugural day, with the United National Party (UNP), the oldest political party in the country, and Our People’s Power Party (OPPP), one of the newest political parties, failing to nominate a member from their National List allotments.

The confusion created by the Ninth Parliament raised myriad questions among the public, as some started to question whether it was possible to convene Parliament with 223 members, and others questioned as to how long the two parties could take to nominate members and what would happen if they fail to make the nominations.

On the other hand, some also raised questions of the legality of the Ninth Parliament and some asked whether the two vacant seats would be automatically cancelled if the two political parties failed to nominate their National List MPs.

To clear the present confusion, The Sunday Morning contacted Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, who said the two parties could take their time to nominate the National List MPs.

Accepting nominations for National List seats in Parliament concluded on 14 August.

Seven political parties were eligible for National List seats in accordance with the results of the general election.

Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB), Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), and Ahila Ilankai Thamil Congress (AITC) submitted their list of nominees for the National List seats they had secured.

The names of the National List MPs of the SLPP, ITAK, and AITC have already been gazetted by the EC.

OPPP’s failure

Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, who is preferred by the OPPP to fill their National List seat in the Ninth Parliament

The OPPP conducted a unique campaign at the freshly concluded general election to win a National List slot for one of its co-leaders, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera.

The party urged the electorate to help Ven. Gnanasara Thera enter Parliament to save the nation from what it called an “extremist invasion” – a reference to those behind the Easter Sunday carnage.

The OPPP contested the general election under the flag symbol.

Earlier, OPPP’s General Secretary Ven. Wedinigama Wimalatissa Thera had submitted his name to the EC, claiming that he had been nominated to enter Parliament from the National List. But another group, including the Chairman of the party, disputed his nomination, saying the party had decided on Ven. Gnanasara Thera.

Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera said they were going to courts as there was a dispute over the nominations that were sent to the EC earlier.

Defeated Gampaha District candidate Ven. Rathana Thera told the media in Colombo that he had the power to decide on the National List seat for the OPPP. He said the party constitution had vested in him the powers to do so.

However, the best way to solve the problem was to take it to court, he said.

Ven. Gnanasara Thera sought countrywide support to secure a National List slot after their Kurunegala nominations were rejected on technical grounds. Ven. Gnanasara was on that list.

Nevertheless, the EC decided not to gazette a name from the OPPP until a thorough study has been done to evaluate the legality of the current situation.

In a letter written to Wedinigama Wimalatissa Thera, EC Chairman Deshapriya stressed that the decision had been made by considering the two nominations received for one National List seat obtained by the OPPP.

UNP crisis

Meanwhile, the embattled party led by Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to secure only 249,435 votes (2.15%) against the SLPP’s hefty 6,853,693 (59.09%) and the SJB’s 2,771,984 (23.90%) at the polls.

The UNP, which was routed even in its one-time stronghold of Colombo, was entitled only to a single National List seat. However, there was no word on who would be nominated by the party, though speculation was rife that either veteran UNP stalwart John Amaratunga or Prof. Dr. Ashu Marasinghe may be asked to step in.

The defeat suffered by the UNP also saw the exit of the party’s leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, a seasoned politician, who was first elected as a Member of Parliament for Biyagama in 1977.

After taking over the party leadership in November 1994, he served as the prime minister three times. The last time he served as premier was when Maithripala Sirisena was elected President in 2015.

However, UNP sources told The Sunday Morning that the matter regarding who will represent the party in Parliament using the National List seat would be decided in the near future. Once the name is finalised, the party will inform the EC and Parliament. The UNP held a number of Working Committee (WC) meetings in the lead up to the presidential election of 2019, where the issue of leadership was hotly debated.

However, the issue remains unresolved up to date.

History repeating

As to clear the confusion whether this happened for the first time in the history, The Sunday Morning contacted the Director General of Elections Saman Rathnayake, who said there was one such incident which occurred in the past.

“This is not the first time that such a situation occurred. In 1989, the United Socialist Alliance had one National List slot vacant after the death of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and the coalition partners failed to reach a consensus as to who should be appointed as their National List member. As a result, that parliamentary seat was vacant for two years. After ending half of the parliamentary term, they appointed Raja Collure to fill that vacancy. So, this is not unprecedented,” he added.

Rathnayake also noted that there was no legal issue with regard to not appointing a National List MP.

“This is not the first time that such a situation occurred. In 1989, the United Socialist Alliance had one National List slot vacant after the death of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and the coalition partners failed to reach a consensu. As a result, that parliamentary seat was vacant for two years” – Director General of Elections Saman Rathnayake.