Protesters stop vehicles of SJB MPs to ask why Hema met Thiru

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In a dramatic turn of events, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who resigned from the post of Deputy Speaker, after the SLFP decided to be independent in Parliament, was re-elected to the post on Thursday (5), following a vote.

Independent MP Nimal Siripala de Silva nominated Siyambalapitiya for the post and Susil Premajayantha seconded. The SLPP supported Siyambalapitiya’s nomination.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Ranjith Maddumabandara nominated Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, while Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella seconded it.

Since two names were nominated, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that a vote would have to be taken. The Speaker said, the MPs have to put their signature on the ballot paper.

At this juncture, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said if the MPs have to sign the ballot paper, the secrecy of the vote would be lost.

“Many Government MPs are ready to vote for our candidate. This would not be a secret vote, if the MPs have to sign the ballot paper,” he said.

However, the Speaker said MPs should sign the ballot paper according to Standing Orders.

Siyambalapitiya received 148 votes while Bakeer Marker received only 65 votes. Three votes were rejected while eight MPs, including Independent MP Wimal Weerawansa, Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) MP R. Sampanthan, SJB MP Mayantha Dissanayake and Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK) MP C.V. Wigneswaran  were absent during the vote.

After the results were announced, UNP MP Ranil Wickremesinghe said Siyambalapitiya’s re-election shows the divisions in Parliament.

Wickremsinghe urged the House to work together and solve the pressing issues in the country, warning that otherwise the public will reject Parliament in its entirety.

Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena said that it does not matter which party Siyambalapitiya belongs to.

“Siyambalapitiya’s re-election can be accepted by everyone despite their parties. The people today request us to get united for the sake of the country. So do we. We have proven that by re-electing Siyambalapitiya, who can be accepted by everyone despite party differences,” he said.

There are both wins and losses in Parliament. If we accept the democracy of an election, we have to accept both victory and defeat. Therefore, if the consent of the majority is sought, the consent of the majority will be won. Those who have fewer people on their side will be defeated, whether we like it or not, he noted.

Siyambalapitiya announced he resigned from Deputy Speaker post in early April following the SLFP’s decision to be independent in Parliament. However, delivering a special statement in the House on 8 April, Siyambalapitiya said he would remain in his position only until 30 April as per the President’s request. The President had accepted his resignation on 3 May.

Did the SJB bungle in their attempt to defeat the Government by bringing two NCMs or it backfire, is a frequent question now asked by anti-government factions, with the election of Siyambalapitiya as the Deputy Speaker.

It is reported that the SJB had initially consented to propose Siyambalapitiya’s name for the post, they changed it at the 11th hour and mooted MP Imthiaz Bakeer Markar’s name.

SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekera alleged that the actions of the SJB smacks of political betrayal. He stated that the SJB initially consented to nominate Siyambalapitiya but alleged that around 10.00 a.m. on 5 May they informed the independent group they should nominate someone else to the post other than Siyambalapitiya.

Hence, he charged that the SJB had struck an underhand deal with the SLPP.

SJB has a ‘contract’ with the Government?

NFF Leader MP Wimal Weerawansa charged that the SJB was carrying out a political contract at the behest of the Rajapaksa family.

He questioned the logic behind the Sajith Premadasa’s efforts to divide the Opposition rather than attempting to get everyone united.

He also challenged the SJB Leader to refute the charges directed at him with regard to squandering of funds from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs during his tenure as the subject Minister during the previous Yahapalana Government.

Weerawansa challenged the SJB Leader to come for a live TV debate on it if possible.

Meeting between Hema Premadasa and Thiru Nadesan

NFF MP Mohomad Muzammil claimed in Parliament on 5 May, 24 hours before the secret ballot to elect a new Deputy Speaker, that Premadasa’s mother, former First Lady Hema Premadasa, met Thiru Nadesan at the latter’s residence. The MP wanted to know the reasons behind the former First Lady meeting Nadesan. He charged there had been a deal struck on the sly and questioned the tactics behind the SJB refusing to back Siyambalapitiya’s nomination.

Ranil’s wisdom

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that had the SLPP proposed a name for the Deputy Speaker post they could have gauged whether the Government had the majority in the House or not.

It was clear from the remarks made by Wickremrsinghe that had the Government proposed a candidate to the post of Deputy Speaker, he or she would have lost it via the secret Ballot.

The moves made by the independent group to nominate Ranjith Simyambalapitiya and Imthiaz Bakeer Markar by the SJB were discussed at length with MPs by the UNP Leader on last Wednesday and Thursday.

The UNP Leader said if the SLPP decides to back Siyambalapitiya then it would be apt for the SJB-led Opposition to nominate a candidate of their choice.

Wickremesinghe said that the modus operandi of the SLPP is to keep the independent group under their control. He argued that if the SLPP backs Siyambalapitiya the SJB should do well not to nominate a candidate.

Siyamablapitiya’s remorse

Siyambalapitiya said that his aim was to make access for the Opposition to show their might during the secret ballot. But, he was quick to note that the SJB-led Opposition had failed to grab that opportunity.

During the secret ballot the Opposition Leader displayed his ballot paper to the House, while the three NPP MPs had reportedly spoilt their ballot papers before placing them in the ballot box.

Fate of the SJB

The SJB General Secretary told the House that they decided to propose Markar’s name after the Government announced it backed Siyambalapitiya.

Amidst widespread criticism being directed at the SJB, the party held a media briefing at the Opposition Leader’s Office.

The SJB General Secretary continued to insist that the independent group agreed to propose a common candidate from the Opposition and SJB agreed.

“However, we never struck any deals with the SLPP. We will always be ready and open to form an interim Government that is devoid of the Rajapaksa family,” he said.          

The drama unfolds

The May Day rally of the SJB was held at Independence Square with the participation of a massive crowd. The march which kicked off from Campbell Park, Borella proceeded up to Independence Square and it was around 3.00 p.m.

The event commenced, under the patronage of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. The Opposition Leader, who took part in the SJB protest march from Kandy up to Colombo, then appeared through the people and stepped onto the podium.

SJB MP Harin Fernando had been entrusted with the task of carrying out the operational activities of the event. Premadasa took to the stage in the company of MPs Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando. As there were a large number of speakers who were waiting their turn to address the rally, the organisers were forced to curtail their time. Especially, party’s General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara decided to curtail his speech by two and a half minutes. Even Premadasa acknowledged the commitment of Maddumabandara to give space for the other speakers.

Premadasa then went to Harin Fernando and thanked him personally for having done a great job in organising the rally and the 6-day anti-Government protest march from Kandy to Colombo. He also commended the work done by Manusha Nanayakkara.

After Deputy Speaker Ranjith Siyambalapitiya decided to resign from his post, the SJB decided to hand over the task of selecting a new Deputy Speaker to the independent group in the House following discussions.

During the discussions Maddumabandara conveyed to the independent group that they will not be getting involved with Government activities and requested to nominate a candidate of their choice to the Deputy Speaker post.

However, moments before the nomination SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam told the House that they would support Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, nominated by the independent group.

The SJB then proposed the name of MP Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar to the post.

Afterwards MP Buddhika Pathirana went up to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and urged the latter to support Markar. An incensed UNP Leader then told Pathirana to mind his own business as he had already decided to back the nomination of Siyambalapitiya.

Pathirana then bumped into TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran. Wickremesinghe then came up to them and advised Sumanthiran not to back the candidate nominated by the SJB and instead to do so for Siyambalapitiya.

But, Sumanthiran took umbrage at the suggestion of the UNP Leader. He asked what was so wrong in backing the SJB candidate and informed Wickremesinghe that they were not, so stupid as the UNP Leader.

Afterwards the UNP Leader went up to chat to a few other Opposition MPs and mentioned that they should all back the nomination of Siyambalapitiya. When the SJB proposed Markar to the post Wickremesinghe dashed off to talk to MPs Mahinda Amaraweera and Nimal Siripala de Silva of the independent group.

He then explained that he had decided to support the nomination of Siyambalapitiya to the Deputy Speaker post.

When the result of the secret ballot was announced it was the UNP Leader who congratulated Siyambalapitiya first. MP Sumanthiran then went up to Markar and informed him that as a senior MP Markar’s decision to contest the Deputy Speaker post is praiseworthy.

As soon as the secret ballot was concluded an orchestrated mud-slinging campaign was launched targeting the SJB Leader. That task was entrusted to independent group MP Wimal Weerawansa. It was as part of that campaign that MP Weerawansa revealed via a media conference that the SJB Leader’s mother Hema Premadasa had met controversial businessman Thiru Nadesan at the latter’s residence.

A group of SJB MPs then inquired from Premadasa whether there was any truth in Weerawasa’s allegation.

Premadasa, in response noted that it was all a part of a well-coordinated mudslinging campaign targeting him and his family members and advised them not to be duped by such spurious allegations.

Ranjith Maddumabandara charged that the so-called independent group had begun to sling mud at an 86-year-old former First Lady notwithstanding her age and instructed the party MPs not to fall prey to the hoodwinking.

MP Marikkar then charged that it was the UNP Leader who had struck deals with people such as Thiru Nadesan and alleged that Wickremesinghe struck deals to protect the Rajapaksa clan in the past. MP Hesha Vithanage too agreed with the views expressed by MP Marikkar and pointed out how the UNP Leader had maintained close links with Thiru Nadesan and the Rajapaksa family over the years.

In the meantime, the media conference convened by Wimal Weerawansa was broadcast live. The SJB MPs watched the press conference from the Opposition Leader’s Office at the Parliament Complex.

MP Gayantha Karunatileka then recalled the political history of Weerawansa and explained how the MP was forced out of the JVP before he formed a new party.

Karunatileka alleged that out of 16 NFF MPs who had been present at its inception only MP Mohomad Muzammil was now languishing in that party alongside Weerawansa.

MP Mujibur Rahman too criticized the behaviour of Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila. He charged that both MPs having directed vituperative remarks at SLPP MP Basil Rajapaksa had struck deals with the latter secretly.

He alleged that it was due to the deal struck with Basil Rajapaksa that the SLPP decided to back Siyambalapitiya’s nomination. Harin Fernando then opined that the SJB had been able to expose the political nudity of the so-called independent group. MP Thushara Indunil also said it was sickening to find such despicable politicians masquerading as squeaky clean representatives of the masses. He said attending Parliament in the company of such shady characters is tantamount to going to the washroom or the toilet as it is such an unpleasant experience.

During the media conference Wimal Weerawansa stated that before long the public will be forced to declare open a new protest village titled ‘SajithGoGama’.

The SJB Leader said he has no time to waste responding to fabricated charges levelled at him and his family members.

Maddumabandara said that the Opposition Leader had become the latest target of the mudslinging campaign launched by the independent group and noted that the public could not be deceived by such gallery talk anymore.

MP J.C. Alawathuwala charged that the SLPP has entrusted the task of dividing the SJB to Weerawansa but insisted that it will be a futile endeavour.

 MP Buddhika Pathirana too agreed with the comments made by MP Alawathuwala.

Premadasa said that the charges directed at him by the JVP Leader were unsubstantiated and termed it as pure character assassination. He challenged the JVP Leader to file legal action against him if possible. If not he warned he will institute legal action against the JVP Leader.

Both MPs Ashok Abeysinghe and Manusha Nanayakkara then wanted the SJB to expedite the process of tabling the NCM against the Government.

Meanwhile, SJB legislators stormed the Speaker’s office on Friday (6) afternoon to complain to the Speaker about alleged Police attacks on protesters gathered outside the Parliament Complex and urged him to take up the no-confidence motion against the Government.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was heard responding that a decision should be taken following protocol after a meeting with party leaders. This was when SJB MPs Harin Fernando, Manusha Nanayakkara, Rohini Wijeratne, Hector Appuhami and Mujibur Rahuman and others were seen inside the Speaker’s office, pleading with him to allocate a date for the no -confidence motion to be taken up.

MP Fernando replied that the Speaker could declare a date for a no confidence motion and he didn’t have the authority to do only in the event of an impeachment motion against the President.

Meanwhile, a group of protesters who blocked the vehicles of SJB MPs Manusha, Harin and Hector Appuhami, when they were exiting from Pinniyara entrance road of Parliament, started questioning them, “Why did Hema Premadasa go to meet Thiru Nadesan?’’  leading to the MPs turning their vehicles and going back.