By Chathuri Dissanayake
With President Sirisena remaining non-committal on reconvening Parliament before 16 November despite assurances given, the constitutional crisis, now in its eighth day, remains in deadlock in spite of repeated requests to immediately call the House to session.
The United National Party (UNP) yesterday made a great show of numbers at the Party Representatives meeting held in Parliamentary Committee rooms called by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.
As Sirisena drags his heels on making an official announcement on reconvening the Parliament before 16 November, pressure is now mounting on Speaker Jayasuriya to act immediately.
Speaking at the Party representatives meeting, Leader of the House UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella called on the Speaker to represent the voice of the majority members of the Parliament to reconvene immediately.
Party leaders who met the Speaker unofficially in the afternoon has insisted that Parliament be summoned on the 7 November with or without, the approval of President Maithripala Sirisena.
“The Speaker has inherent powers to do so in the standing orders. And according to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act we have to follow British customs and Practices, and when the Parliament is prorogued the Queen consults the Speaker and the Leader of the House reads that in the House. When Prorogation is done arbitrarily the Speaker has the power to reconvene,” Leader of the House, UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella told Daily FT.
Drawing on Parliamentary traditions from Great Britain, Kiriella said that the Speaker is not bound by the king’s rulings. “In 1646, when King Charles I came to arrest Parliament, the Speaker said, ‘I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here. You have no reason to fear the king’. There are 115 who have come here; 115 members have come, including TNA, Rauff Hakeem and his group, Rishad Bathiudeen and his group, Thigambaram and his party group, the JVP and Jathika Hela Urumaya is also here with independent MPs,” Kiriella said amidst cheers from those present.
The Leader of the Opposition seated next to the Speaker, stressing on the need to solve the constitutional crisis faced by the country, called for the Parliament to be reconvened as soon as possible. Sampanthan maintained that sacking of the sitting Prime Minister and installing another is unconstitutional, while stressing that they were not interested in supporting any individual or party.
“The country is facing a great constitutional crisis which must come to an end soon. Parliament must be convened early, and Parliament must retain its supremacy. The purported removal of the Prime Minister by the President has no constitutional sanctions. It is unconstitutional. If the incumbent Prime Minister could not be removed by the President, then appointment of a Prime Minister in his place is illegal and unconstitutional. We do not approve of either design, but eventually, this must be determined by Parliament,” he said, adding that the sanctity of the Constitution should be upheld.
The JVP representatives, too, upheld that Parliament should be reconvened immediately, and noted that no official announcement has been made to date by the President as they cannot accept “an unofficial announcement made by MP Mahinda Rajapaksa.”
MP Vijitha Herath, in a strongly worded speech, said that their party does not recognise the appointments made by the President, and called on the Speaker to reconvene the Parliament if the President is not willing to do so, noting that it was unconstitutional to prorogate Parliament without first consulting the Speaker.
“What has happened is unconstitutional and is against all accepted norms. Therefore, as a political party, the JVP MPs will work against this move. Prorogation of Parliament is also wrong. The move should have been taken after consultation with the Speaker and the President has not done this. Therefore, we are requesting you to please reconvene Parliament immediately,” he said, speaking at the meeting.
Jayasuriya flanked by Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan on one side and Leader of the House Kiriella on the other, claimed that the President had given an undertaking to reconvene Parliament on 7 November.
“The President spoke to me on Thursday morning around 10.30 a.m. and told me that he will reconvene the Parliament on 7 November instead of 16 November. The Gazette has not been issued yet, but he has time till tomorrow,” Jayasuriya said at the meeting.
Warning of civil unrest if the ongoing political crisis is not addressed soon, Jayasuriya said that he will evaluate what course of action needs to be taken if the current attempts made by him to solve the issue are not successful.
However, by afternoon, the Sirisena-Mahinda camp denied any decision by the President to reconvene Parliament.
In a media briefing held at the Flower Road Prime Minister’s Office by four members of the newly formed Joint Opposition-United People’s Freedom Alliance camp, Wimal Weerawansa, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Keheliya Rambukwella and Dilan Perera created more confusion by contradicting each other on the date Parliament will be reconvened.
MP Wimal Weerawansa said that although the newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the President’s decision to reconvene Parliament on 5 November, the decision was later changed, while MP Aluthgamage said there was never a decision to reconvene either on 5 or 7 November. Newly appointed Government Spokesperson of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa Cabinet, Rambukwella said that “as it stands, the date for reconvening Parliament remains as gazetted; 16 November, which may be advanced in the future”.
Comparing the meeting held in Parliament to a “conspiracy against the Government” which moved motions to not recognise the Gazette notifications issued removing the sitting Prime Minister and subsequent appointment of the new one, Dilan Perera ridiculed the meeting chaired by the Speaker as a “weak attempt” by the UNP to show numbers.