Colombo: Sri Lanka's largest Tamil party TNA was today declared the main Opposition in the parliament with its chief R Sampanthan becoming the leader of the Opposition, the first lawmaker from the minority community to hold the position in 32 years.
"As the UPFA did not make any claim for the opposition leader's post, I (would) like to inform the house that Mr Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, has been recognised as the leader of the Opposition," Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told parliament today.
The TNA, which fought election under the symbol of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), won 16 seats in the August 17 parliamentary polls.
82-year-old Sampanthan becomes only the second Tamil to lead the opposition in the history of the country. In 1977 then main Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader Appapillai Amirthalingam became the opposition leader.
The TULF in 1983 walked out of parliament as they failed to take oaths upholding the unitary constitution in the face of the demand for secession to create a separate Tamil homeland.
A civil war broke out soon after and continued until it was crushed by the military in 2009, with the killing of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran and his top aides.
Earlier this week, Sampanthan had said that his party would push for justice and greater autonomy for the ethnic minority, who say they suffer widespread discrimination on the Sinhalese-majority island.
The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which previously made up the main Opposition, has joined Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) in a national unity government.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has emerged as the third largest party in the August 17 polls, had staked claim for the status of main Opposition following an arrangement between Wickremesinghe's UNP and President Maithripala Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form the national unity government.