The Opposition’s role in challenging times | Sunday Observer

The Opposition’s role in challenging times

20 August, 2023

Since 1948, Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary Opposition has consistently aimed to overthrow the incumbent Government, regardless of whether the Government has a viable agenda or not.

This recurrent pattern of prioritising political change over national stability has hindered cooperation among political parties during crucial times. Despite potential benefits of collaboration, the prevailing mentality often undermines progress. Shifting this narrative towards unity and cooperation is essential for a stronger, more resilient future for Sri Lanka.

Following the establishment of the United Socialist Republic by V. I. Lenin in 1922, Marxism gained global prominence. This led many nations to explore diverse Marxist models. Karl Marx’s core principles advocated communal ownership of production factors like land, labour, capital, and enterprise.

Several countries attempted to implement this doctrine, experiencing both success and eventual failure. One common pitfall was the swift shift of these production elements from public control to bureaucratic ownership, diverging from Marx’s ideals.

Communist nations following Marxism often featured a single ruling party, with the Opposition either dissolved or suppressed. In some cases, the Opposition was outlawed, while in others, it was met with harsh measures. This ensured a comfortable position for the Communist rulers, who conducted Presidential Elections within a seemingly democratic process.

Ballots presented voters with two options: affirm the incumbent ruler with a tick in the first box, or express dissent with a tick in the second box. Regardless of odds, the ruler consistently emerged victorious. Transitions in leadership typically occurred only upon the death of the sitting President. This status quo persisted in the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991.

The political landscape has witnessed contrasting trajectories in various nations, with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s M. Gaddafi ruling for decades under the banner of Communism, only to meet very tragic ends.

Their autocratic reigns marked an era of one-party rule without Opposition, ultimately coming to an end. The global stage post-creation of the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics) was marked by a profound ideological division between socialism and capitalism, leading to geopolitical tensions and conflicts. Emerging from this divide, democracy assumed the political facade of capitalism, introducing a more flexible form of governance. From that point onwards, democracy was the mask worn by capitalism.


Within the realm of democracy lies a distinctive feature - the presence of a Parliament comprising two essential components: the ruling party and the Opposition. Unlike the rigid structure of socialism, democracy offers a more adaptable and flexible form of governance. The wisdom of leaders like former British Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill highlighted the significance of the Opposition’s role in maintaining Government integrity, rather than prioritising its overthrow. Churchill, who led Britain to victory against Hitler in World War II, emphasised the harm caused by Governmental upheavals and underscored the value of a constructive Opposition. Notwithstanding this fact, he was defeated in the next General Election, with Clement Atlee becoming the Prime Minister, showcasing the unpredictability of democracy.

A delicate equilibrium defines a thriving democracy, where the vitality of three critical components - the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary - is paramount. We witness that when these pillars falter, a power vacuum emerges, often paving the way for the ascendancy of Armed Forces and militias. A stark illustration of this ever-present peril is currently unfolding in Niger, Africa. A recent military coup there has fractured alliances and sparked fears of protracted conflict. The situation serves as a reminder of the perils when the balance of power tips awry.


In the backdrop of such insights, Sri Lanka’s political history sheds light on the role of the Opposition in governance. Since 1948, successive Oppositions in the country have exhibited a tendency to focus on toppling incumbent Governments rather than facilitating cooperation during challenging times. This gamble of overthrowing the Government has often overshadowed the nation’s progress.

Recent shifts in leadership and governance offer an insightful narrative. After the intense countrywide struggle (Aragalaya), Ranil Wickremesinghe emerged as the new President, fulfilling one of the activists’ objectives. The subsequent demands included the formation of a new Government, a feat that faced Opposition disruption. The transition marked a critical point in the nation’s economy, with President Wickremesinghe inheriting challenges from his predecessor’s (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) tenure.

Amidst multiple crises, the Opposition’s role in Sri Lanka’s journey towards emancipation and progress holds significance. The initial scepticism surrounding President Wickremesinghe’s ability to address pressing issues, including fuel and power shortages, was soon countered as he took bold steps to stabilise the nation. Swift resolutions to energy crises demonstrated the power of constructive governance.

As the country looked towards international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for recovery, the Opposition remained critical but uncertain of the outcome(s). President Wickremesinghe’s negotiation skills secured crucial loans from the IMF, the World Bank and several other multilateral organisations, enabling the nation’s resurgence and challenging the pessimism of naysayers. The debt restructuring process is also underway successfully.

Despite these varied accomplishments, an undercurrent of scepticism persists, with some in the Opposition predicting doom and gloom for the Government and the country.

This mindset poses a challenge to rebuilding the nation and fostering unity during these trying times. The journey from a struggling nation to one on the path of progress is far from over.


President Wickremesinghe’s astute leadership, marked by pragmatism and determination, has played a pivotal role in this remarkable transformation. It would not be wrong to say that the country was akin to an empty plate when he took over as the Prime Minister initially and then as the President last year.

Now the plate is almost full. But the Opposition too has a major role to play in this process, rising above partisan politics to extricate the country from its present predicament. Indeed, the country’s future rests on its ability to harness collective will, rise above divisive mentalities, and focus on shared progress. The power to shape Sri Lanka’s fate lies in the hands of those who wish to see the nation rise and shine.