Speaker Karu Jayasuriya resisted ordering police into parliament on Friday, but changed his mind 42 minutes after being denied entry into the chamber by an aggressive mob of MPs who occupied his desk and chair.
Official sources said the 78-year-old Jayasuriya was offered a specialized Special Task Force unit trained in anti-hijacking and hostage rescue operations to clear the way for his entry into the House accompanied by the mace.
But Jayasuriya refused the offer, hoping that over 40 legislators of the Joint Opposition supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa would end their agitation and allow the assembly to go ahead with an amended no-confidence motion against the former president.
“The IGP (Inspector-General of Police) telephoned the Speaker and offered the STF units as he had been instructed by the President,” an official said. “But the Speaker would not hear of it.”
After discussions Jayasuriya had with President Sirisena on Thursday night, there was consensus on bringing back an amended motion to topple Rajapaksa who was described by a majority of MPs in the 225-member House as heading a “purported government.”
Sirisena had wanted parliament to get the motion passed as it was evident that Rajapaksa had failed to muster a majority in the assembly in the past three weeks.
With pressure from Sirisena to ensure a fresh vote, Jayasuriya was faced with the prospect of a physical confrontation and his own security staff advised him not to enter the chamber as JO members appeared to be extremely hostile.
“For the speaker, sending in commandos was out of the question, but after over 40 minutes, he had to make a decision,” an official said. “He finally agreed to send unarmed constables to clear a path for him to enter the chamber.”
By this time, the JO MPs had ripped off the Speaker’s public address system and also occupied the desk of parliament secretary general and other staff. Rajapaksa family members were in the House, but watched the spectacle without getting near the Speaker’s now invaded space.
Two parliament employees walked ahead of a posse of policeman making a human chain. Behind a dozen of them walked Speaker Jayasuriya in his black and gold robes and carrying a wireless microphone, a pair of headphones and some papers. He was ringed by the serjeant-at-arms and his staff as well as more unarmed police.
The authorities decided on the number of police to enter the chamber after taking a headcount of the belligerent MPs. TRhe constables included a few women too.
“The protesting MPs were matched one-for-one by constables,” a source involved in the process said.
“Due to the unrest in the chamber, I hereby inform you that I have granted permission to the police to enter the chamber,” Jayasuriya said even as rioting MPs were throwing projectiles at him.
Kurunegala MP Johnston Fernando grabbed the normal office chair two parliament staffers carried for the speaker to sit on. Johnston broke the chair by dashing it on the ground and used the broken pieces to attack the speaker and the police.
A constable was wounded in the neck when a nail from the broken chair hit him. The seat and the backrest of the chair came apart, but police quickly grabbed those two pieces and used them as make-shift shield to protect themselves and the speaker from further missiles.
Another JO MP was seen throwing water mixed with chillie powder at the police. Later the constables were treated at the parliament’s medical clinic. UNP MP Gamini Jayawickrema Perera too had chillie water thrown at his face.
JVP legislator Vijitha Herath suffered a forehead injury after he was hit with a hard-cover copy of the constitution that was on speaker’s table. A copy of the standing orders were also ripped by rioting MPs.
A former serjeant-at-arm Wijaya Palliyaguruge said there had never been an incident like what was seen in the chamber on Friday.
He said the police had been called into the chamber to remove MPs named by the Speaker, but that had always happened after the Speaker walked out and the mace was removed.
On Friday, the serjeant-at-arms could not place the mace in its designated location and was forced to hold onto it while the Speaker conducted the business of the house and had an amended no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa passed.
Even before the 1.30 p.m starting time, JO members had entered the chamber and were occupying the speaker’s chair and his area preventing Jayasuriya from commencing the day’s business.
A senior JO member Kumar Welgama denounced the violent behaviour of his party colleagues.
“This is a disgrace and a black mark for all. This is not something that Mahinda Rajapaksa will endorse.”