Fernandopulle’s defeat strikes blow to SLFP reunification project | Sunday Observer

Fernandopulle’s defeat strikes blow to SLFP reunification project

The secret ballot for the appointment of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, following the resignation of MP Thilanga Sumathipala was a rude wake-up call for members of the SLFP favouring reunification with the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition/Pohottuwa faction last week.

Sudharshini Fernandopulle, the candidate of the SLFP 16 who left the Government following the defeat of the No Confidence Motion against the Prime Minister, was initially backed by the JO, led by the former President. Proposed by the SLFP 16, Fernandopulle’s nomination as Deputy Speaker was seconded by JO frontliner Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Outwardly the pro-Rajapaksa faction makes overtures of welcome to the 16 former Ministers who still claim loyalty to President Maithripala Sirisena.

But, when voting time rolled around last Thursday (7), 11 JO MPs walked out of the Chamber, and were seen loitering in the Parliament canteen during the 90 minute election process.

Fernandopulle suffered a crushing defeat.

UNP Candidate for Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri obtained 97 votes, a whopping 44 votes more than the SLFP 16 candidate who supposedly had the backing of the Rajapaksa faction.

To SLFP Parliamentarians still holding positions within the Government, there was no clearer indication that the Rajapaksa faction, despite its claims, was refusing to accept the SLFP 16 as bona fide members of the Joint Opposition and potential catalysts for reunification with the SLFP faction led by President Sirisena.

A significant feature of last Thursday’s vote was that MPs Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa and Namal Rajapaksa were absent during the vote. JO members Shehan Semasinghe, Kanaka Herath, Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva, Ramesh Pathirana, Kanchana Wijesekera, D.V. Chanaka, Piyal Nishantha de Silva, Kumara Welgama, Chamal Rajapaksa, Rohitha Abeygunawardena and Tharaka Balasuriya abstained from voting by hanging out in the canteen.

Other JO members including JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena were seen casting their votes. But if the SLFP unification project was a serious venture, the JO missed a grand opportunity to display its strength in Parliament.

Fernandopulle’s loss was also precipitated by the absence of the TNA and the JVP in the chamber during the vote.

When contacted, one of the JO frontliners who was absent at the voting said there was no specific reason for the 11 JO MPs to do so. He said, earlier all JO MPs had decided to vote for SLFP candidate Fernandopulle, but in the end, they had to give up their idea as all TNA and JVP MPs walked out of the Chamber when the vote commenced. The JO was thus aware that the SLFP candidate could not win the vote.

SLFP 16 Member Group MP S.B. Dissanayake who proposed MP Fernandopulle’s name for the post of Deputy Speaker was of the view that since it was a position held by Sumathipala, an SLFPer, an SLFP MP should be appointed.

President Sirisena’s first nominee for Deputy Speaker to replace Sumathipala was Jaffna MP Angajan Ramanathan. However, the TNA vociferously opposed the nomination. However, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan told the House that the vacated post of Deputy Speaker should go to the SLFP. MP Sampanthan also said, he favoured Dr Fernandopulle for the post.

However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe rejecting the Opposition Leader’s statement, pointed out to the House that the agreement mentioned by Sampanthan was to have a UNP MP as Speaker and an SLFP MP in the Government ranks as Deputy Speaker. The Premier said, after the Deputy Speaker post was vacant, the SLFP proposed the name of one of their MPs within the Government ranks, but some parties had disagreed. The Premier maintained the view that giving the post of Deputy Speaker to an SLFP MP in the Opposition would violate the agreement.

Dr.Fernandopulle wished the newly elected Deputy Speaker and thanked all those who voted for her. She said, it was a historic occasion as it was the first occasion where the name of a woman was proposed for the Deputy Speaker post. 

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