By Chandani Kirinde
Forty-two MPs yesterday decided to break away from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuma (SLPP) and function as independent Members of Parliament as the Government fights for survival amidst growing public protests against its mismanagement of the economy, corruption and nepotism.
The Government which enjoyed the support of 156 MPs or over two-thirds of the members in Parliament is now down to 114, just one more than the 113 required to have a simple majority.
Among those who broke ranks with the SLPP yesterday were 16 MPs of the 11-party alliance led by Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, 14 members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former President Maithripala Sirisena, nine MPs of the SLPP, two members of the Ceylon Workers Congress and one from the All-Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC).
Weerawansa announced that the 11-party alliance would no longer be part of the SLPP while former President Sirisena too announced that they would function as an independent group in the House.
SLPP MP Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said he and eight others too would form a separate group in the House while CWC MPs Jeevan Thondaman and Marudapandi Rameshwaran and MP S.M.M. Muszhaaraff of the ACMC announced they too will function as independent MPs.
The shake-up within the ruling party came as Parliament met for the first time since the start of the public protests calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa attended yesterday’s sittings but did not address the House. With just four Cabinet ministers appointed so far, Parliament deviated from the business at hand and MPs expressed views on the ongoing situation in the country.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and NPP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake both rejected the invitation by the President for them to join an interim arrangement to address the economic woes faced by the country while Government MPs appealed to the Opposition to consider the President’s request.
“Why should we take responsibility for the current situation of the country? This mess was created by the Government and now it wants our support to tide over it,” SJB MP Sarath Fonseka said.
He also extended his support to the ongoing people’s protests saying the corrupt Government must go home.
Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena said all MPs are bound to work within the framework of the Constitution whichever side they are on. ”We are open to discussions with all political parties and civil society groups. There is no hindrance to any peaceful , democratic protests,” he said.
Government MPs also warned that the public anger directed at them could extend to those on the Opposition side, and said the spate of attacks on houses of ruling party lawmakers is a dangerous precedent.
“If anyone says the President and Government must go home, that change must happen within the democratic framework. We are the only country in South Asia which has successively changed governments electorally since independence. We cannot set a bad precedent because in the future no one will be able to rule if we go to change governments under pressure from public protests,” he said.
Several MPs also urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to take the lead in bringing about a consensus among all parties in Parliament to calm the situation and address the urgent demands of the public.
Sajith says Executive Presidency must be abolished now
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa yesterday called on all parliamentarians to seize the opportunity at hand andsupport legislation to abolish the Executive Presidency.
“The time has come to abolish the Executive Presidency. Let us use this opportunity to change this system and introduce one with checks and balances.
Let us use all the available emergency constitutional tools available and within this week bring laws to abolish the Executive Presidency,” Premadasa said in Parliament.
He said Parliament must reflect the voice of the 22 million people of the country whose pain, fears and hopes are now being voiced on the streets.
“There can be no voice that runs counter to that voice heard on the streets. We are here to represent the people,” he said.
Premadasa said the message from the people is loud and clear and they are calling in unison for the President and the Government to go home.
“The Government needs to change. This entire Government needs to resign from the President downwards. Today thousands of people are saying in one voice that you cannot carry on as usual. Those who are in power have failed to discharge their duties. We have to have a plan that addresses the demands of the people,” the Opposition Leader said.
He added the SJB would not be party to the game of musical chairs that the Government plays to stay in power.
President revokes emergency regulations
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has revoked the emergency regulations he promulgated on 1 April under Section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance.
The Public Security Ordinance (Chapter 40) Proclamation Under Section 2, the Proclamation issued on 1 April was revoked with effect from yesterday, according to a new Gazette notification.
The emergency regulations gave additional powers to members of the armed forces to arrest and detain persons violating the law.
The President would have needed parliamentary approval within 14 days of the proclamation, failing which it would have lapsed.