By W. K. Prasad Manju
It was a special opportunity, a chance to visit a place where one had to dress in a particular manner and with no freedom to spend the night as one wished; certainly it would arouse the curiosity of all.
For the first time in the history of Parliament, a protest by a group of parliamentarians lasted for 23 hours and ended on Tuesday (21) at 9.30 a.m. when Parliament re-commenced its sessions and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa guaranteed their request.
They go home and bring clothing and return
The protest commenced at about 10.30 a.m. on the Monday (20) within the Parliament Chamber. The dissent was a protest against the Director General of the Bribery Commission, for summoning the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Commission to question him, and to prevent the DG from acting in a manner that would harm the honour of the members of the legislature.
Although Parliament was adjourned at 10.30 a.m., the Members of Parliament did not allow that to hinder their protest. They got down bottles of water into the Chamber, and left for lunch on a shift basis, in ones and twos to the Parliamentarians Restaurant, making themselves comfortable.
Gradually night fell, and it was also raining heavily on Monday (20) night, notwithstanding, as around 80 MP’s of the opposition had decided to spend the night in Parliament, the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa instructed the Sergeant- at -Arms Anil Samarasekera and his officials to spend the night on Parliament premises.
Designated employees from all sections of Parliament had to remain on the premises. The Parliament Police was also informed to implement a special security procedure.
At about 7.00 p.m. on Monday (20), a group left for their homes on a shift basis while another group were engaged in the protest within the Parliament. Those parliamentarians, who left the protest, returned to their homes, and returned after dinner attired in casual clothing. The MP’s who engaged in the protest continuously had brought a change of clothing, and had come prepared to stay the night in Parliament.
Fried Rice and Devilled Chicken from Parliament Restaurant
The Parliamentarians who remained in the Chamber had their dinner at the Parliament Restaurant. They went in ones and twos, on a shift basis, while a group remained within the Chamber. The Sergeant-at-Arms and other Parliament Staff had already focused special attention on providing the required refreshments to the MP’s. Dinner comprised of, Fried Rice, Devilled Chicken, Noodles, String-hoppers, Kirihodi, Fish, Bread, Pol Sambol, was available to the MP’s to make their choice.
Those Members of Parliament, who did not go home, went to the MPs section and had their dinner. More than 90 parliamentarians were present by 9.00 p.m. in the Chamber and many of them were dressed in casual clothing. It was of special significance that MPs who generally attend Parliament in national dress or suits and sarees were all attired in casual clothes.
Pabha and Malini in trousers: Pavithra and Sumedha in saree
Many in the group including Rohitha Abeygunawardena, T. B. Ekanayake, Kumara Welgama, Wimal Weerawansa, Johnston Fernando and C. B. Ratnayake were in sarongs and t-shirts. Minister C. B. Ratnayaka was sporting a blue shawl (similar to what the former President wears) and many queried it.
Young Members of Parliament, Namal Rajapaksa and Uditha Lokubandara were in casual t-shirts. MP Upeksha Swarnamali was in slacks t-shirt.
Queen of the silver screen Malani Fonseka was also attired in slacks and t-shirt. However, Kamala Ranatunga, Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Sumedha G. Jayasena were in sarees.
Many of the MPs were seen gathered in small groups within the Chamber and engaged in general conversation.
By about 11 p.m. the number of parliamentarians increased and the number exceeded 110. It was significant that several Ministers of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of the present Government also remained on the premises until about midnight.
Elderly MPs’ recall their first love
General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance, Susil Premajayanth and General Secretary of the SLFP, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa came to Parliament and did not forget to inquire into the welfare of the Parliamentarians engaged in the protest.
At about 10.00 p.m., Parliament staff came to the Chamber and served milk coffee and short eats to the protesting MP’s.
A certain group were talking about the good old days and some middle aged Members of Parliament were discussing their school days and love affairs during that time as well as broken love affairs.
When some of them laughed out loud, the sound echoed through the Chambers. Rohitha Abeygunawardena attempted to bring about decorum calling out “Order Please, Order Please.” Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody, was seen, watching this scenario in amusement.
A group of MPs including Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Wimal Weerawansa, Dulles Alahapperuma, C. B. Ratnayake and T. B. Ekanayake began singing HelaJathika Abhimaane.
They then sang a number of patriotic songs of various artistes including those of H. R. Jothipala, Gundasa Kapuge, Karunaratne Divulgane and others. MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena made the event in to an evening of music.
Rohitha imitates Cooray while Wimal and Mahindananda imitate Prime Minister Ranil
The most popular item of the evening was imitating politicians. MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena imitated Minister Reginald Cooray.
The MP’s were in stitches when the Prime Minister’s role was being played by parliamentarians Wimal Weerawansa and Mahindananda Aluthgamage.
Janaka-Ranjith-Pabha play cards
A pack of cards had been brought in by an Member of Parliament and a crowd of MP’s were seen instructing Janaka Wakkumbura, Ranjith Soyza, Shehan Semasinghe, Upeksha Swarnamali; the group who were playing cards. MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage engaged in a dance act while singing the song Oh Thushara…Oh Thushara from the film Thushara in which Malini Fonseka had starred gesturing towards her; there was a great response to this song from other parliamentarians. ParliamentariansT. B. Ekanayake and Tissa Karaliyadde were seen peacefully engaged in meditation.
Milk Coffee at 1.00 a.m. Everyone is asleep by 2.30 a.m.
At about 1.00 a.m. everyone was served milk coffee and by 2.30 a.m. all the parliamentarians were fast asleep. Most of the parliamentarians lay on the red carpet within the Parliament Chambers while some of them lay asleep on the stairs near the Speaker’s seat, forgetting for a moment the comfort and facilities of proper sleep.
Prior to sleeping, the MPs watched a television programme which featured former leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Somawansa Amarasinghe and it was Wimal Weerawansa who showed the most interest in it. MP Ranjith Soyza was in charge of obtaining signatures for the letter requesting the removal of the Director General from the Bribery Commission.
By the time he went to sleep, he had obtained signatures from 116 parliamentarians and he was so very much aware of his responsibility that he slept with the file containing the letter with signatures on his head, to ensure it was safe.
The award for the best snorer goes to MP Rohana Pushpakumara
The parliamentarian, who snored the most, was MP Rohana Pushpakumara. A number of persons who were disturbed by it said that, a saw mill from Maligawatte had been brought to Parliament Chambers. Certain MPs who were dressed in shorts got two coverlets each from the parliament staff, as they found it too cold in the Chambers.
Some of the parliamentarians awoke at about 5.30 a.m. and hurriedly left for their home to wash and change and eat breakfast and return by 8.00 a.m.. The others washed and dressed within the Parliament premises itself, taking turns, had breakfast at the MPs Restaurant prior to returning to the Chamber.
Subsequent to the Order of the Speaker which was delivered on Tuesday (21) at 9.30 a.m., the parliamentarians who were engaged in the continuous protest for 23 hours ended marking a record in the history of Sri Lankan Parliament.