By Chathuri Dissanayake and Ashwin Hemmathagama
Amidst scenes of pandemonium, a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Government was rushed through Parliament last morning, with several political parties jointly supporting the motion.
A motion was passed with a voice vote with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announcing that the vote carried in favour of the “ayes” as his voice became almost inaudible with members of the UPFA hurling abuse at the Chair.
The Serjeant-at-Arms moved the Mace out of its bracket and held it in his arms and stood close to the Speaker’s chair as the situation became more boisterous.
United National Party Parliamentarians attended the session which convened yesterday at 10 a.m. following the Supreme Court’s interim order to suspend the gazette notice dissolving Parliament wearing black sashes printed with ‘For Democracy’ in all three languages around their necks, hoping to see an end to the ongoing constitutional crisis.
Adding to the drama of the day was the crossover by five MPs, all to the UNP camp. Three of the MPs – A.H.M. Fowzie, Manusha Nanayakkara and Piyasena Gamage – crossed over while the House was in session while Suresh Vadivel and Wasantha Senanayake too pledged support to the side later in the day.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya struggled to maintain order in the House as Rajapaksa camp resorted to yelling in protest when TNA Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran moved a motion to seek approval of the House to suspend Standing Orders of Parliament. A division was moved for suspending the Standing Orders, which received House approval despite the disturbances from the UPFA Joint Opposition.
Amidst protests by supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who descended to the well of the House, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake moved the controversial motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Government for House approval. The motion was immediately seconded by JVP MP Vijitha Herath, who maintained that the division should be held before the end of the business of the day.
Struggling to call the House to order amidst chaos, the Speaker then called for a vote by division. Failing to do so despite threats to adjourn the House, Jayasuriya then moved to take a vote by voice, and declared the “Ayes” had it. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was seen leaving the Chamber before the vote was taken. The House was immediately adjourned till 10 a.m. today.
Defending their stand in moving the no confidence motion which supports the position of the UNP, JVP Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake later told reporters that his party would always side with democracy.
“We have faced State terrorism twice in his country, and if there is ever a threat to democracy in the country we will always stand up to protect democracy. As a political party we will always speak against any attempt to suppress democracy,” he said.
Earlier, the party leaders were unable to reach an agreement on taking the no confidence for a vote as concerns in relation to suitability moving it in Parliament and how voting may take place were raised. However, Speaker Jayasuriya held the House should decide the fate of the motion and acted upon this pledge by passing the burden of the motion for House approval.
Soon after the House was adjourned, the United National Party submitted the no confidence motion with 122 signatures.
Meanwhile, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at a press conference held at the Parliamentary complex invited any lawmaker to challenge the decision of Parliament to remove the Rajapaksa Government by moving a resolution in the morning, which too would be put to another vote.
“Today is a historic day. The Parliament voted that these three gazettes, which have been in question, are illegal and the purported Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa does not have the confidence of the House. This is what is required under Article 42 of the Constitution. This has been fulfilled. Yesterday was a historic decision, which was a stay order confirming the superiority of the Constitution. And today in the Parliament we showed the purported Government does not have the majority,” said Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe also asked all Government servants and Police not to carry out illegal orders from the purported Government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people.
“The Courts issued a stay order and Parliament was summoned by the virtue of the gazette of the President, not by the order of the Speaker. When we met today, the President did not make the statement of Government policy and the Parliament continued with decided business. There was disturbance but no speakers. So the Speaker put it to vote and declared it passed by a voice vote. The he offered to take the vote by name but was prevented from doing so and the Speaker was compelled to state the motion was carried by voice vote,” he explained, saying that it was incorrect to say that Parliament broke up without a decision.
Wickremesinghe also said that 122 members of Parliament had informed the Speaker that they voted in favour of the resolution. Noting that it was the majority of the House, he said that if anyone wanted to challenge this, a resolution could be moved challenging the Speaker’s decision when the Parliament convenes today.
“But I can tell you it will be defeated,” he said confidently. “We can even pass another decision to say the Speaker’s decision is correct; it is incorrect to say the Parliament adjourned without a decision,” Wickremesinghe said.
However, the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp, holding a media conference immediately after Parliament adjourned, claimed the passing of the no confidence motion was against Standing Orders of Parliament. Accusing the Speaker of conspiring, Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena claimed that the vote held yesterday was not valid as it did not follow proper Standing Orders and Parliament convention.
“The vote in our Parliament is valid only if taken electronically and when the numbers are declared; this did not happen today,” he claimed.
Refusing to accept the results of the no confidence motion passed in Parliament yesterday, President Maithripala Sirisena is set to meet senior leaders of the United National Party this morning while Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to address Parliament today.
Following a number of crisis meetings in both camps, Sirisena finally conceded to meet UNP members to discuss the situation, a UNP Spokesperson told Daily FT.
A special delegation of party leaders of the United National Front, including Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader Mano Ganesan, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem and All Ceylon Makkal Congress Leader Rishad Bathiudeen met the President to urge him not to prorogue Parliament again and to request a meeting with the UNP leadership.
The UNP rushed to collect signatures of 113 members last night to show it holds the majority after Sirisena insisted on the matter.
“He insisted on the number 113 to show our majority, saying that we only had 102 during the Parliament session. We will have the signatures ready for the meeting,” a senior UNP source told Daily FT.
The President has refused to accept the no confidence motion, claiming that it was not passed following Parliamentary Standing Orders, however the UNP insists that the motion was passed after Standing Orders were suspended as outlined in regulations.