by Saman Indrajith
Parliament sittings came to an abrupt end around 11.50 am yesterday when the Leader of the House and government MPs walked out, protesting against what they called Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s failure to take action against Opposition MPs who disrupted proceedings.
Sources said it was the first time in parliamentary history of Sri Lanka that government members had boycotted the sessions in protest against the Speaker.
Government members took exception to the Speaker allowing the Opposition MPs to speak on the issue of National Freedom Front MPs, who are demanding permission to function as a separate group in Parliament, permission granted to the Joint Opposition MPs to appoint one of their colleagues as acting leader during the absence of MP Dinesh Guanwardena and allocating more time to the Opposition MPs in debates.
The Leader of the House kept asking for time to speak on behalf of the government, but the Chair did not give him the opportunity to speak, Leader of the House and Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella left the chamber signalling his MPs to follow him. All government MPs walked out and.
Opposition MPs clapped and thumped their desk in glee.
The Speaker adjourned sittings till March 21.
Leader of the House Minister Kiriella came back to the Chamber. Then Opposition MPs asked him whether he had brought the proceedings to an end with the intention of going for a cricket match. Some tried to take selfies with the minister, who went off smiling.
Accordingly, yesterday’s sitting lasted only for one hour and 20 minutes from 10.30 am to 11.50 am.When the House commenced sittings, former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa with the permission of the Chair said: I regret what we have witnessed last two days here in this chamber. The MPs in the Opposition has more numbers than the officially recognized Opposition. I, too, am a member of that group. There are several parties in this group. We are from the SLFP. A section of the SLFP is with the government while others parties oppose it. It is the duty of the Speaker to permit all opinions to be heard in this Chamber. If not, that would cause for the disruption of sessions every day.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya: We, too, suffered same when we were in the Opposition. I have discussed this issue with the President, UPFA Ministers. After all those discussions we gave the opportunity to MP Dinesh Gunawardena to lead the Joint Opposition. Some problems have cropped up because of the differences within the alliance group.
MP Dullas Alahpperuma: We are only demanding the appointment of deputy leader of the Joint Opposition to act for MP Dinesh Gunawardena. Is it the Liccavi policy? Two years have lapsed since the postponing of local government elections. The Opposition does not raise that issue here. This is not a personal problem. We are representing the views of 4.8 million people. We should be permitted to function as the opposition.
Speaker Jayasuriya: I do not hold any position of the UNP. I have not visited party headquarters Sirikotha since the last election. I try to be impartial always. We suffered while we were in the Opposition. I regret the decision against Dinesh Gunawardena. If we have to appoint an MP to work in absence of MP Gunawardena, then we need to get the UPFA consent first. The UPFA told me that permission could not be given. There are things that I can do and I cannot do.
MP Alahapperuma: We need the signature of MP Gunawardena to get a committee room to hold a press conference or to hold a meeting of MPs in our group. When he is not here, who would sign for it? It is not the task of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to accept one of our MPs as acting leader in the absence of MP Gunawardena. It is the duty of the Speaker. Do not shirk your duties.
Speaker Jayasuriya: We discussed this issue. I, too, hold the opinion that we should appoint another. But, I need to consult the opinion of the Alliance.
NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa: We have been calling for this for some time now. One of our MPs gets only 10 minutes a day to speak. The official Opposition is silent on the issues such as the UNHRC sessions and incarceration of miliary intelligence unit members. Part of the Opposition joined forces with the government to suspend MP Gunawardena and other keep silent. The national government was formed by the UNP and the SLFP. UPFA did not join the government. Please recognise our right to dissent. You, as the Speaker, should respect the precedence set by your predecessors without being influenced by the letters and opinions of Nimal Siripala de Silva or Mahinda Amaraweera. Please accept our right to act as an Opposition party. Otherwise, this problem will prevail and the task of conducting the business of this House will be difficult.
UNP MP Hector Appuhamy: MP Weerawansa is threatening that they will not let us conduct proceedings.
Speaker Jayasuriya: I, too, need to conduct the sessions in just and fair manner. I will discuss the issue of MP Weerawansa.
MP Weerawansa: Please see that our position is looked at fairly. Please don’t be swayed by the opinions of others.
MP Keheliya Rambukwella: Even the President has accepted that we can function as the Opposition.
Leader of the House Higher Education Minister Kiriella: We have so many businesses to complete. You have given a ruling with regard to this issue. (Shouting) How are we going to conduct the businesses of the House when we allocate two hours of every morning for this problem?
Speaker Jayasuriya: I have promised to let them speak today.
Leader of the House: How can we move to the businesses of the day when the Speaker decides to give time to Opposition in this manner?
At this point the Speaker ordered the leader of the house to stop his speech and move to the next item. As the Speaker refused to allocate time for the government, the UNP MPs walked out in protest amidst clapping from the Opposition ranks.