Joint Opposition becomes official
By Dharisha Bastians
A joint Opposition movement led by the main Opposition United National Party formally got off the ground yesterday, with several parties signing a Memorandum of Understanding and pledging to work together to overthrow the Rajapaksa regime.
Based on seven key common objectives and the singular goal of toppling the incumbent regime, leaders of several political parties placed their signatures on the MoU amid much fanfare at the New Town Hall Auditorium on Green Path last afternoon.
The Vipakshaye Virodhaya also includes the second biggest Opposition party in Parliament, the Tamil National Alliance, and a host of other smaller political parties and civil society groups.
“This is the beginning of a revolution,” charged Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who said that the members of the joint Opposition had cast aside their ideological differences and come together to raise a unified voice against the Rajapaksa Government. “We have commenced a journey towards good governance,” Wickremesinghe said.
“We are on our way – come forward and join us,” the Opposition Leader said.
He said that the Vipakshaye Virodhaya would form the cornerstone of the battle against the incumbent regime and issued an invitation to all political parties and groups that stood against the policies of the Government to join the common platform.
“We are all different. We stand here, Left and Right, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, civil society and citizens, fully cognisant of our differences and our common purpose. We represent the multi-party pluralistic society that we aspire to bring about. We may have different ideas about how to fix things – but we agree on the basics: rule of law, an independent Judiciary, reconciliation, and fundamental rights for all of Sri Lanka’s citizens,” Wickremesinghe said, explaining the premise upon which the joint Opposition movement was founded.
Wickremesinghe said that the Rajapaksa Government would not go just because the Opposition asked them to. “We have to chase them away. We have to fight this battle on the street, and we must start in the smallest village,” he charged.
The Vipakshaye Virodhaya joint Opposition also includes the Wickremabahu Karunaratne-led NSSP, the Mano Ganeshan-led Democratic People’s Front, the Hemakumara Nanayakkara-led Mawbima People’s Party, the Azath Sally-led Muslim-Tamil Alliance, the Ruhunu People’s Party, the United People’s Front, the Nawa Sihala Urumaya, and the civil society organisation the Platform for Freedom.
TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran said that while they had all come together to defeat the Rajapaksa regime, it was important to note that it was only the districts of the north and east which the TNA represents that had rejected President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last election. “We hope that other parts of the country too will reach this realisation soon,” the TNA legislator said.
Sumanthiran said that while there were a multitude of critical issues facing the country, the one issue that has plagued Sri Lanka’s progress since independence is a resolution to the Tamil National question. “Until that issue is equitably, justly resolved, affording political freedom and power to all communities, this country cannot move forward,” the Opposition MP said.
He said the TNA had joined the Vipakshaye Virodhaya in order to see those aspirations met.
Sumanthiran also acknowledged that UNP Leader Wickremesinghe had paid a heavy political price for taking a stand about how he believed Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict had to be resolved.
He explained that his party had not had sufficient time to pass a resolution approving the signing of the MoU since many of its leaders were overseas. “But we have been involved in the Vipakshaye Virodhaya discourse from its inception,” Sumanthiran said.
The United Socialist Party also did not sign the MoU because its Leader Siritunge Jayasuriya was overseas receiving treatment.
The joint Opposition movement is founded on seven common objectives, namely, the strengthening of democracy, national reconciliation, ensuring equality of law and fundamental rights, social justice, eradication of bribery and corruption, international vision and rebuilding the domestic economy.
NSSP Leader Wickremabahu Karunaratne told the crowd that the Government was helping extremist groups to hunt the Muslims, now that the Tamils were no longer a threat. “Suddenly Halal is a heinous crime. What is Halal? It is just a clean way of slaying meat for consumption,” Karunaratne said.
He charged that the religious extremists group Bodu Bala Sena was setting up its office in front of Temple Trees. “I don’t know what force this is, but this is no force of the Gautama Buddha,” Karunaratne said about the monk-led extremist group.
Mawbima People’s Party Leader Hemakumara Nanayakkara said that the people had been waiting for years for the Opposition to unite. “It has happened today. This is a historic day, we have an enormous journey to embark on,” he said.
“Today, here we have just fired the first salvo to bring down the Rajapaksa regime,” Muslim-Tamil Alliance Leader Azath Sally said, also addressing the crowd.