COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's main Tamil party TNA, which has emerged as the third largest party in this month's parliamentary polls, has staked claim for the status of main Opposition in the parliament, following an arrangement between the UNP and the SLFP to form a national unity government.
The claim is based on an arrangement between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) and President Maithripala Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form a national unity government.
"It has been announced that a national government has been formed and that members of parliament who contested and were elected under both the UNP and the UPFA have accepted Cabinet portfolios," TNA said.
"Accordingly, both the UNP and the UPFA bear collective Cabinet responsibility. As political parties in Parliament, they thus must publicly support all governmental decisions made in the Cabinet. This support includes voting with the government when sitting in parliament."
TNA, which fought the August 17 election under the symbol of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), won 16 seats and are the largest party in parliament after UNP and SLFP.
"In accordance with Parliamentary practice and convention, the Parliamentary Group Leader of ITAK must thus be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition," it said in a statement.
"Both President Sirisena and the government have been public in a commitment to treat the Tamil people as equal citizens of this country. However, a reluctance to recognise the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East as the main Opposition party when such is clearly the case can only be reflective of an unwillingness to honour this commitment," TNA said.
It added that a "reluctance to even recognise the elected representatives of the Tamil people as the main party in Opposition does not bode well for the readiness of the president and the government to arrive at a solution that grants meaningful powers of governance to the Tamil people."
The main Tamil party called on President Sirisena to not "waste this opportunity" to resolve the vexed ethnic issue.
"We urge both the president and the government not to waste this opportunity. If they are committed to resolving the national problem, then their actions must reflect that."
If the TNA gets the Opposition party status, this will be the second time that the minority Tamils held the position.
Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), which was the main Tamil party with 17 seats in 1977, got the position when the UNP swept the polls, reducing the SLFP to just 8 seats.
In the parliamentary polls, the UNP failed to win an absolute majority in the 225-member assembly.