Short takes on four Parliaments


Focus as I write this on Wednesday July 20 is on the Parliament of Sri Lanka where an interim president was being elected. It was a momentous event and will surely have its repercussions. Of the three contestants, though many hoped Dullas Allahaperuma would win since Sajith Premadasa withdrew to give his votes to Dullas, Ranil Wickremesinghe emerged winner. It is hoped protests won’t start in earnest again.

My article is not on politics but on parliamentary buildings; three of which I have seen and one which has been the background of a TV series I am watching these days.

First our own Parliament: the Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The building was opposite Galle Face Green beside the Beira and is now the presidential secretariat. It became well known worldwide due to the Gotagogama aragalaya, bang opposite it.

When Sir Albert F Peiris was Speaker, leaders of political parties unanimously resolved that a new parliamentary building should be constructed on the opposite side in Fort. Again when Stanley Tillekaratne was Speaker (1970-77) the idea of a new building cropped up, but nothing resulted. Then when JRJ came into power (1976) and Sri Jayewardenepura came into prominence, PM Ranasinghe Premadasa obtained sanction from Parliament for a new building off Baddegana Road. The land on which the Parliament was built belonged to E.W. Perera and was actually marshland. Geoffrey Bawa was selected as architect and the consortium of two Japanese Mitsui Group companies built it at a cost of $25.4 million. The wonderful building, designed in ‘a style of regional modernism incorporating Sri Lankan vernacular architecture’ with the Diyawanne Oya encircling it was officially opened by President J R Jayawardena on 29 April 1982. The building looks different at different times of the day – ethereal early morning shrouded in mist, sparkling in sunlight during the day, and serene when the sun sets.

Mother of Parliaments

The British Parliament on the banks of the Thames River is composed of the House of Commons and House of Lords. In 1707 it was set up in operation as the Parliament of England and Scotland. It is also named Palace of Westminster and covers 8 acres. Designed by Sir Charles and AWN Pugmin, building was started in 1837 and the complex completed in 1860. Big Ben with its boom is close by. Along with Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church, the British Parliament is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Its appearance is a mix of wonder, artistry and majesty.

At the moment, Westminster too is very much in the news, PM Boris Johnson having been forced to resign. Two of the contenders for the post of Leader of the Conservative Party, who will succeed Johnson as PM, are of Asian origin. It may very well be that Rishi Sunak, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Johnson, may well be the next PM of Britain.

The Indian Parliament

The present circular building in New Delhi was declared open in January 1950. “It is the supreme legislative body of the Republic of India and is a bicameral legislature composed of the President of India and two houses: the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.” The Rajya Sabha is the Council of States and the Lokh Sabha, seating around 550, is the House of the People.

I remember vividly walking up an incline when sight-seeing in New Delhi with my son, and seeing a domed building rising up as I climbed higher. That is Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India. Once you reach the summit of the incline, the huge Parliament building is seen close by.

Borgen in Copenhagen

At present I am avidly watching a Netflix TV series titled Borgen, recommended by my son who very recently holidayed in Copenhagen. Borgen means ‘the Castle’ a sobriquet for Christiansborg Palace which is the vast imposing building that houses Denmark’s three powers: Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office and the Supreme Court. The TV series is absorbingly interesting, more so because the leader of a political party who becomes PM of a coalition government and then Minister of External Affairs is a woman and mother of two children. Other important characters too are women like her Press Officer.