Rajavarothayam Sampanthan,the Tamil lawmaker becomes Sri Lanka’s opposition leader

Highlights: 

  • Sri Lanka's Parliament  has recognized an ethnic Tamil lawmaker as the opposition leader for the first time in decades.
  • It is a positive step toward postwar reconciliation with the minority community.
  • Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance, was the official opposition leader.
  • It is the second time an ethnic Tamil has been opposition leader.
  • Appapillai Amirthalingam became opposition leader in 1977 but resigned five years later after refusing to swear that he would not promote a separate state for Tamils.
  • A separatist civil war broke out soon after and continued until it was crushed by the island nation's military in 2009.
  • According to a conservative estimate by the United Nations about 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the conflict, but the actual toll is thought to be much higher.
  • The TNA emerged as the third-largest party in the 225-member Parliament in last month's election but a decision by the first two parties led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena, respectively, to form a consensus government made the TNA the largest opposition party.
  • The TNA was earlier backed by the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels and was accused of being their mouthpiece in Parliament.
  • However, since the rebel's defeat the party has renounced separatism and said it would accept regional autonomy based on a federal model.
  • Sampanthan's appointment despite early opposition by some ethnic Sinhalese leaders is seen a reassurance to the Tamil community of their place in national politics.
  • Tamils have long complained of discrimination in education, government jobs and governance.
  • The steps have helped improve Sri Lanka's image internationally.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council will release a report on war crimes allegations later this month.