By Chandani Kirinde
A month after the shock appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena after sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government, the new appointee has failed to show he commands the confidence of the majority in the House.
Instead the UPFA group has shied away from facing a vote in the House on numerous occasions, the latest being on Friday, during the vote to confirm the nominees to the Committee of Selection. The UPFA lawmakers staged a walkout before the vote was taken. With only MPs of the UNP/UNF, the TNA and the JVP remaining in the House, all 121 members present voted to support the Speaker’s nominees with no one left to oppose it.
This week’s two sittings days were rather restrained compared to the previous week when Speaker Karu Jayasuirya had to enter the Chamber under police protection to conduct sittings. Probably, the adverse publicity has dampened the over enthusiasm of the UPFA MPs, and even though their enemy number-one is the Speaker, those present in the House remained subdued.
The UPFA had demanded seven slots in the 12-member Committee of Selection, but this was opposed by all the other parties on the grounds that without a majority in the House, the UPFA could not get the majority of seats on this all-important committee. It is this Committee which nominates members to committees such as the Committee on Parliamentary Business which decides on the agenda of the House, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Committee on Public Account (COPA) and Consultative Committees.
The Secretary General of Parliament was handed in 16 nominees for the key Committee. The UPFA submitted seven names, the UNP/UNF five and the TNA and the JVP two each. As there was no agreement at the Party Leaders’ meeting on Friday morning to decide on the composition of the Committee, the Speaker used the power vested in him under Standing Orders to name five members each from the UPFA and UNP/UNF group and one each from the TNA and the JVP. The Speaker chairs the Committee and its members include leaders of political parties represented in Parliament or their nominees.
The UPFA MPs appointed to the Committee are Dinesh Gunawardena, S.B. Dissanayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Wimal Weerawansa. The UNP/UNF members are Lakshman Kiriella, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, Mano Ganesan and Patali Champika Ranawaka. The TNA’s Mavai S. Senathirajah and the JVP’s Vijitha Herath are the other members.
Dinesh Gunawardena, the UPFA-appointed Leader of the House, said they had no confidence in the Speaker and did not accept the composition of the Committee of Selection as decided by him. Later at a news conference, the UPFA announced that it would boycott Parliament sittings and some of its members had threatened action against the Speaker. But, without a majority in the House, the UPFA is in no position to remove the Speaker.
UPFA members walk out
This week also saw the release of the two Hansards, the official record of parliamentary proceedings. The Hansards have recorded November 14 and November 16 proceedings during the passing of two No-Confidence Motions against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister appointed by President Sirisena on October 26. According to the Hansards, in both instances, the Speaker is on record as saying that, “I am ordering that Ayes will have it” after a voice vote was taken amidst unruly scenes in the Chamber. The Speaker has since announced that he does not recognise anyone as Prime Minister or any Cabinet Minister in the House as after the passing of an NCM, the Cabinet stands dissolved.
After the walkout by the UPFA MPs on Friday, JVP MP Vijitha Herath moved an adjournment motion on the ongoing political crisis in the country which was seconded by JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The debate continued till 6 p.m. during which many of the MPs used the debate to vent their anger and frustration with President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Parliament will meet again on Tuesday but the agenda for the day is yet to be decided. A motion submitted by the UNP to cut funds allocated from the budget under the expenditure heads of Prime Minister and Prime Minister’s Office is to be taken up for debate on Thursday, November 29. Given the fast pace, at which political changes have been taking place in the country since October 26, it is likely that between now and the next Parliament sitting date, there could be new developments that would impact Parliament sittings next week.