- Officially assumes duties as Opposition Leader
- Says economic challenges and shrinking democratic space key issues facing public
- Contends TNA has failed to represent interests of entire SL population
- Pledges to build broad coalition against Govt.
By Nuwan Senarathna
Officially taking up duties as Opposition Leader yesterday, Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa said he would drive the Government to prioritise the resolving of economic challenges, particularly problems faced by farmers, and strive to improve what he termed as the shrinking democratic space in the country.
He expressed these views after assuming duties at the Opposition Leader’s office at No. 30, Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7. Rajapaksa participated in religious activities prior to taking up duties at his office.
Parliamentarians Keheliya Rambukwella, Dinesh Gunawardena, Gamini Lokuge, Mahinda Amaraweera, C.B. Ratnayake, Dulip Wijesekera and Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris were also present at the event.
Rajapaksa speaking to reporters obliquely referred to his predecessor Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan stating that since 2015 the interests of the general public had been superseded by the concerns of one group of people. He inferred that the duty of the Opposition Leader was to represent the problems of the entire Sri Lankan population.
“After four years we have been able to open the Opposition Leader’s office to the entire country. We will raise our voice on behalf of everyone in the county. We will leave aside Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim differences and represent issues of the entire country,” he said.
According to Rajapaksa, Sri Lankans are facing two significant challenges. He noted that on one hand the masses were living in an environment where democratic space was shrinking rapidly and individual rights were being eroded, while on the other hand the public was also suffering under increased economic hardship.
“At present democratic values in Sri Lanka are reducing and at the same time the people are facing increasing economic problems. Farmers are especially suffering significantly, but the Government has not taken any steps to address these concerns. Even though problems have been presented to the Government many times, it has done nothing to present permanent solutions to issues,” he added.
During his short speech, Rajapaksa also specifically highlighted the crop damage being caused by the spread of the “Sena” caterpillar in maize farming areas with the possibility of it spreading to rice producing regions as well. He charged that the Government was yet to take action in this regard.
“I expect to move forward by uniting all forces, including political parties, trade unions, civil society and other organisations, against the Government.”