By Ashwin Hemmathagama
The United National Party (UNP), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) joined forces once again to show that parliamentarians supporting MP Mahinda Rajapaksa do not command a majority in the House when the Selection Committee membership was taken up for vote yesterday.
As a result of the group backing Rajapaksa staging a walking out as the vote was called, their votes were not recorded. However, the UNP, TNA and JVP together with other constituent parties managed to show 121 votes. This resulted in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) being given five slots and the UNP five, as well as one position each for the TNA and the JVP in the Selection Committee.
Sessions began with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya explaining to the House the reasoning behind his decision to allocate an equal number of seats to both the UPFA and the UNP.
Unable to reach a final verdict at the party leaders’ meeting held in the morning, Speaker Jayasuriya proposed to include lawmakers Lakshman Kirella, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, Mano Ganesan and Patali Champika Ranawaka from the United National party (UNP); MP Mawei Senathiraja from the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK); and MP Vijitha Herath from the JVP following the provisions of Standing Orders 136 and 143. With the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) lawmakers boycotting, the vote was taken by name using the electronic system and received 121 in favour of the appointment.
“The party leaders were unable to reach an agreement in nominating MPs to the Committee of Selection. According to the Standing Orders of Parliament, 12 MPs should be appointed with my leadership to the Committee of Selection. In the absence of an agreement between the party leaders in appointing the members to the Committee of Selection, I will seek House approval to appoint MPs on par with the provisions of Standing Orders 136 and 143,” he said, setting the stage to go for the vote and to confirm the appointment of United People’s Freedom Alliance UPFA MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, S.B. Dissanayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Wimal Weerawansa. Lawmakers Thilanga Sumathipala and Udaya Gammanpila were unable to receive appointments.
Rejecting the Speaker’s move to present additional names to the Committee of Selection and reducing the UPFA nominations, UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena now seated on the Government benches held that the Speaker had no right to challenge a decision of the Executive President and should accept changes in the new Government.
“Every Parliament in the past allowed the political party with the highest majority to appoint the maximum number of MPs to Committees of Selection. The UPFA has the majority in this Parliament. On the other hand, the President has appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister and his Government, which is now in full control of the country and its business. The party the Prime Minister represents will get the majority in the Committee of Selection. This has been the tradition. We will not accept your wrong decision highlighting that there is no government in the country,” said MP Gunawardena.
UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella who was on his feet challenged the UPFA to show its majority in the House if it wanted to establish a government and function without any hindrance from the Opposition. In response UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardane held that the Speaker was violating the Constitution.
Urging the House to accept MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and his team of lawmakers as the legitimate government to continue to act as a government, MP Gunawardena warned the UNF lawmakers and State officer to follow their command. “The Speaker should provide us the right place guaranteed in the Constitution. The Speaker is addressing the Parliament as he would a UNP meeting. We demand you act impartially,” he charged.
JVP Leader Anura Dissanayake rejected UPFA claims of manning the majority in Parliament and establishing a government. Demanding a vote, MP Dissanayake said: “As per Standing Order 114, the Speaker is bound to disregard the Government and the Opposition in appointing members to the Committee of Selection. The no-confidence motion moved and approved in Parliament on 14 November proved that there is no government. You should not allow the President to appoint prime ministers under the moonlit sky. It is the law of jungle and I propose to conduct a vote by name to decide the appointing of MPs to the Committee of Selection.”
MP Dissanayake proposed that the UPFA should bring in a no-confidence motion against the Speaker in the event they found the conduct of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya unconstitutional and in violation of Standing Orders and parliamentary traditions.
On Wednesday, the lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa presented names of seven members to the Parliament Secretary-General as nominees for the Parliamentary Selection Committee. The list included UPFA MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, S.B. Dissanayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Wimal Weerawansa, Thilanga Sumathipala, and Udaya Gammanpila. However, the UNF objected the nominations, citing that the MP Mahinda Rajapaksa-led UPFA did not command the majority in the Parliament and the UNF had a proven majority of 121.
The Committee of Selection is appointed at the commencement of every session to consider the Constitution, number, functions and quorum of sectoral oversight committees and ministerial consultative committees and to report with all convenient speed their opinions thereon to Parliament, and to nominate members to serve on the 12 other important committees. The Committee of Selection consists of the Speaker as Chairman and 12 other members including the leaders of political parties or their nominees to be nominated by the Parliament at the commencement of each session.
The members to the Committee on Parliamentary Business, Committee on Standing Orders, House Committee, Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Legislative Standing Committee, Ministerial Consultative Committees, Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Enterprises, Committee on Public Finance, Committee on Public Petitions, Committee on High Posts, and Backbencher Committee are appointed by the Committee of Selection in Parliament.
With the President summoning the prorogued Parliament to meet on 14 November by virtue of the powers vested in him by paragraph (3)(i) of Article 70 of the Constitution, Parliament was unable to carry out its functions in the absence of an Order Paper and the Agenda, which should have been decided by the Committee on Parliamentary Business.
The political party composition of the eighth Parliament at the commencement stood to include 106 MPs from the United National Party (UNP), 95 from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), 16 MPs from the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), six MPs from the People’s Liberation Front (JVP), and one member each from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.