Legislators Lose Their Cool As Ranjan’s Journey As An MP Comes to An End
The Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Defence met under the patronage of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Parliamentary Complex on Thursday (8).
This was the first meeting of the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Defence after the election of the present Parliament. The President, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Defence, participated in the meeting.
At the Committee, President Rajapaksa stressed that the Ggovernment is committed to create a peaceful situation in the country for all citizens to live without fear or suspicion and will take many steps to maintain law and order and ensure national security.
He also said, 196 new Police Stations will be established and 10,000 men and women will be recruited to increase the number of Police personnel. He added that the national policy to eliminate drugs has already been formulated and will be launched soon.
A number of topics including national security, promotion of law and order, salaries of War Heroes, drug prevention, annual reports of institutions under the Ministry of Defence and several other issues and proposals were discussed. Government MPs, Ministers and Opposition MPs were present at the meeting.
The President said that a Cabinet Memorandum has been submitted to the Cabinet to seek approval to pay the salaries and allowances of disabled war heroes until their deaths and afterwards to their dependents for lifetime. This will also provide an opportunity for the dependents of the fallen war heroes to receive these salaries and allowances for life.
He said the request of the families of war heroes will be fulfilled and there is no need to agitate for the demands of the families of war heroes and pointed out that there was different motive behind the agitations.
Both the President and the Defence Secretary said that the present Government had not harassed the protesters as it had been done in the past.
Responding to a discussion on drug prevention, the President said that the new National Policy on Drug Prevention has also now been formulated and it will be made public soon. He pointed out the importance of using religious counselling in rehabilitation of drug addicts.
Responding to a question on banning books containing religious extremism, the President said that the decision was not aimed at a specific religion but aimed at eradicating all forms of religious extremism in general.
President Rajapaksa stressed the need to cultivate coconut or other suitable crops on unused lands belonging to the Security Forces and instructed the Security Forces Chiefs to identify lands that could be used for this purpose.
State Minister of Defence Chamal Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence Retired General Kamal Gunaratne, Commanders of the three Armed Forces and heads of security units led by the IGP were also present at the discussion.
Speaker comes under fire
Chaos erupted in Parliament on Wednesday (7) when Opposition MPs staged a strong protest alleging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena of being biased and favouring the Government side.
The Speaker, commencing the sitting, announced that Ranjan Ramanayake who is imprisoned for contempt of court, ceased to be a Member of Parliament and accordingly there’s a vacant seat in Parliament with respect to the electoral district of Gampaha in terms of Article 66 (d) of the Constitution.
He said Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake had informed the Chairman of the Elections Commission as well. Notice has been issued by the Secretary General of Parliament in terms of Section 64 (1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 01 of 1981.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, speaking after the Oral Question Round said:
“The Speaker announced that Ramanayake will lose his seat in Parliament under Article 66 (f) of the Constitution. You have taken this decision based on the fact that Ramanayake did not attend Sittings for three months. If you remember, we presented a Motion to approve leave for him in March but you refused to accept it saying that you could not do so, as there was a Court case pertaining to the matter. But now, you announce that Ramanayake’s seat will be vacant for the same reason. Also, Ramanayake’s writ petition was rejected by the Appeal Court. It means he has a chance to make an appeal in the Supreme Court. You know it very well too. We request you to give him that chance too.”
Speaker: I received a copy of the Appeal Court verdict on the matter. This decision was taken based on the court verdict, not only due to his absence. I will give you a copy of that. You have to read it.
The Speaker at that moment was informed by a staff member that Ramanayake’s seat fell vacant not because of his absence from Sittings.
Premadasa: “This is what you said. I will read your announcement. In the letter you sent to the EC Chairman you clearly say that the seat falls vacant under Article 66(f) of the Constitution. Then why did you reject the Motion when we presented it requesting leave for Ramanayake? At that time you said as a court case is going on, you cannot accept that. Now you are using the same Section of the Constitution for Ramanayake to lose his seat. How fair is this? Ramanayake still has a chance to go to the Supreme Court. Without considering that, you make this announcement. This is not fair.”
Speaker: “You have misunderstood this. Please read the entire court verdict and you will understand. The verdict clearly says that his seat fell vacant following a Supreme Court judgment.”
Premadasa: “Then answer me. Ramanayake has a right to challenge this in the Supreme Court, hasn’t he?”
Speaker: “Yes he has. Ask him to do that.”
Premadasa then said, “You sent a letter to the EC arbitration even without consulting the House about it. It is not ethical. Why are you behaving like this? This is very unfair.”
Minister Namal Rajapaksa intervening at this point, accused Premadasa claiming that the latter insulted the Judiciary inside Parliament.
“Why is he even speaking about it? There is a clear verdict. Ramanayake insulted the Judiciary outside Parliament. These people do the same inside Parliament. Do not let them behave like that.”
State Minister Nimal Lanza: “This Opposition is behaving like kindergarten kids. They do not know the legal provisions. The Speaker should not tolerate this. Why does this Opposition Leader speak on behalf of a womaniser?”
SJB’s Nalin Bandara: “The Speaker said Ramanayake’s seat fell vacant under Article 66 (d) of the Constitution. It means he lost his seat because he was absent for Sittings.”
The Speaker: “That is not correct.”
When Bandara tried to speak further, his microphone was taken away. The MP requested for the microphone several times repeatedly but the Speaker was heard saying he would not give the microphone.
The SJB MPs then started to shout angrily questioning as to why the Speaker did not allow them to talk. The Government MPs also hooted at the SJB MPs.
Then a group of MPs including Bandara went near the Speaker’s chair and started to question them. The Speaker made it clear that as he had already given the microphone to Bandara to raise his Point of Order, he would not give the microphone again.
A group of Government MPs including Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage also came into the Well. Opposition MPs and Government MPs were seen arguing for several minutes.
When State Minister Arundika Fernando tried to go into the Well, Leader of the House Dinesh Guanwardena stopped him and said, “Your statement is the next item. Go and read it.”
Fernando was seen going back to his seat.
Gunawardena then requested the Speaker to move the floor for the next item. However, the SJB MPs continued to argue and question the Speaker.
While the SJB was alleging that the Speaker was being biased, Aluthgamage was heard saying that the Speaker was too flexible towards the SJB.
Several staff members came near the Speaker and surrounded him while the MPs continued arguing in a heated manner.
Then the Speaker was heard requesting Bandara to go back to his seat.
“Go back to your seat. There is no point in shouting here.”
He then asked Arundika Fernando to make his statement. However, Nalin Bandara repeatedly requested for a Point of Order. He was finally given the chance.
“You all are acting biased. The Speaker gives more time to Government members like Lanza.”
Bandara stressed that the Speaker should take back the letter sent to the EC.
Although Arundika Fernando tried to speak, the SJB MPs continued to raise a Point of Order.
The Leader of the House moved the next item amidst the shouting.
Dinesh vs Kiriella
Dinesh Gunawardena and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella also locked horns later in the day, when the Kiriella queried about the items scheduled to be taken up on Thursday (8) and Friday (9).
The Speaker replied that a decision regarding that, would be taken during the Party Leaders’ Meeting on Thursday (8) morning. But Kiriella did not agree with that.
Kiriella: “Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into Political Victimisation report was scheduled to be taken up on these two days. We are prepared for that.”
Gunawardena, intervening at this point said,
“A decision was taken during the Party leaders’ meeting that PCoI report on Easter Sunday terror attacks would be taken up today (7). Let us adjourn the sitting now and finish that debate first.”
Kiriella said that they needed to know about Thursday’s programme on Wednesday. However, when he was speaking he accidently used the term ‘PCoI report on Easter Sunday Attacks’ instead of ‘PCoI report on Political Victimisation.’
“PCoI Report on Easter Attacks was scheduled to be taken up for Thursday and Friday. We can’t prepare for another debate.”
Gunawardena: “That is what I said. We have already given the debate for Easter Sunday report. What do you want more?”
Noticing that Gunawardena and Kiriella were in a misunderstanding, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando was seen clapping and laughing loudly.
Gunawardena: “That is what I said. We agree with the Easter Sunday Attack report debate. What are you saying now?”
Chamal vs SF
The Government and the Opposition clashed again over Ramanayake’s lost parliamentary seat on Thursday (8) following a heated exchange between Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.
The two MPs were heard name-calling and using un-parliamentary language against each other, while their colleagues supported them by shouting slogans, hooting, wearing black arm bands, and providing background scores. The hullabaloo led Speaker Abeywardena to adjourn the Sitting for a short time.
Tensions rose as the Speaker told the House at the commencement of the Sitting that the Secretary General of Parliament had acted in accordance with the Constitution when he informed the National Election Commission on the previous day (7) about Ramanayake’s seat.
Responding to the Speaker’s statement, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa apologised for misinterpreting a part of the Speaker’s announcement made the previous day (7).
However, Premadasa said Ramanayake will challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision, to reject his Writ Petition, in the Supreme Court.
“He has a right to do that. Therefore, I request the Speaker to recognise that right, until a final verdict is provided by the Supreme Court. It is sad that you all are in a hurry to send a letter to the EC Chairman when we even presented a motion to approve leave for Ramanayake. At that time, you told us that you cannot accept that because a Court case was going on. But now you are very quick to send letters to the EC, when Ramanayake still has a chance,” he said.
The Speaker said, “There is a way. You can try to get an injunction order against the EC, instead of wasting time here by arguing. You have that chance.”
Premadasa: “A person who has been convicted for a murder can attend the Sitting (Premalal Jayasekara). I believe he has a right to appeal. But why cannot the same method apply for Ramanayake? You maintain that my argument is baseless. If you support the agenda of the Government, of course you would see things that way.”
Speaker: “Jayasekara has an appeal pending in Court.”
Premadasa: “You can accept Jayasekara’s appeal, but not Ramanayake’s. You are denying his right to the parliamentary seat. It is a violation of human rights.”
Speaker: “You are misleading the country now. Don’t do that.”
Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, intervening in the argument said, “According to democracy, we have to obey the Courts whether we like it or not.”
Premadasa went on saying that there is a conspiracy against Ramanayake, as he is notorious for making controversial statements in Parliament. That is why people try to prevent him from entering Parliament.
At this juncture, Fonseka stressed, “I remember the way the former Government treated me. They treated me very badly. The then Speaker (Chamal Rajapaksa) is sitting here today. They did not allow me to enter Parliament during the eight months I was in jail, despite filing three appeals in different Courts.”
Rajapaksa at this point requested a microphone from the Speaker. Fonseka told the Speaker to give Rajapaksa a microphone.
Rajapaksa, who was enraged, then started firing a salvo at Fonseka.
“I did not do such a thing. It was I who allowed you to come to Parliament. In your case, we followed a proper procedure. We took actions based on that.”
The Opposition MPs started to hoot at Rajapaksa.
“Didn’t I allow you to enter Parliament? You are just trying to show your dominance. I will punch you. Why don’t you come out and see? Just come outside and I will show you.”
When Rajapaksa’s voice became louder, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who seemed to be dozing off, was seen opening his eyes and looking around.
Afterwards, a series of un-parliamentary words were exchanged between the Government and Opposition MPs.
After several failed attempts, the Speaker announced that the Sitting would be adjourned for five minutes. However, he did not leave the Chamber and the Mace was not taken away by the Serjeant-at-Arms.
While the Speaker was still in the Chamber, the Opposition MPs started to wear black arm bands and started to wave placards protesting the conduct of the Government. A few SJB MPs started to sing late politician Vijaya Kumaratunga’s famous song ‘Danga Gei Danduwam Siyumeli Wedi Nam.’
Rajapaksa and Fonseka continued to exchange words, although microphones were taken away from them.
The Speaker left the Chamber at this juncture.
Then a group of Government MPs came into the Well and started to argue with the Opposition MPs. Un-parliamentary words and hand gestures were exchanged between two parties.
After sittings resumed, Rajapaksa said, “It is said that, no matter how much good you do for ungrateful persons, they will not acknowledge it (kopamana gunakalath, dudano nowethi yahapath). However, I would like to apologise if I hurt anyone by what I said earlier.”
On Friday (9) Ajith Mannapperuma was sworn in as a MP to fill Ramanayake’s seat.
Who misled Ranjan?
The past week turned out to be hectic for UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe with many professionals seeking an audience with him. Hence the party leader had set aside dates and times to meet doctors, lawyers and engineers separately. Wickeremesinghe was joined in these discussions by party Chairman Vajira Abeywardene.
They first met a group of doctors serving at district hospitals. They held talks while having dinner at the residence of a close friend of Wickremesinghe.
A doctor said that the absence of Wickremesinghe’s leadership was being felt by them and predicted that before long even the public too would feel it. The latter responded by saying that the services rendered by the doctors with minimum facilities have to be commended and praised them for striving to save as many lives as possible. Most of the doctors were of the view that the UNP Leader should enter Parliament forthwith and give leadership to the present bankrupt and rudderless Opposition.
They were firmly of the opinion that the present Opposition was flagging for want of a seasoned politician of Wickremesinghe’s calibre. Upon meeting the doctors the leader held talks with other professionals such as lawyers and engineers as well. They were all of the view that the present regime does not have the solutions for most of the socio-political issues felt by the society.
Wickremesinghe left for Sirikotha in the afternoon of Tuesday to attend the Working Committee (WC) meeting. Former Deputy Leader Ravi Karunanayake was also in attendance. First of all talks were held on the need to fill up the existing vacancies of the WC.
After a few new appointments were made to the WC they discussed at length on the need to reorganise the party. Also eight policies were formulated with regard to carrying out reorganisation work at village level. It was decided to set up committees encompassing all electorates and districts. Views were exchanged at length regarding the destruction caused to the environment and the state of the economy.
General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara inquired as to how the party should strive to mark the forthcoming May Day. Wickremesinghe said that the party should look to commemorate the May Day in a sombre manner without striving to conduct processions or rallies due to the threat yet posed to the society by COVID-19. He advised the party to think of the safety of the public at all times. In the end it was decided not to conduct any May Day processions this year.
All were of the view that the party should conduct a minor rally with the participation of a limited number of party activists. It was then decided to beam the rally through the Internet. Abeywardena then made a new proposal to the WC. He proposed to grant a common grace period for party’s LG reps to re-join the party after they had left the UNP in the recent past. He called for their re-joining the party rather than attempting to carry out disciplinary inquiries against them. He also submitted a letter and an affidavit to the WC in this regard and his proposal was unanimously approved by the WC.
The leader then instructed the party to fill up the vacancies that had emerged in the organiser posts urgently. The letter for which approval of the WC had been received was posted on the following day by the Party Chairman.
And it had been received by all UNP Local Government reps by the weekend. Depending on the response received from them further action in this connection is due to be taken after the Sinhala-Tamil New Year festive period. On the morning of last Thursday a few party activists arrived at the leader’s residence to discuss the present political situation.
Ashu Marasinghe said that the UNP should join forces with civil society groups to hold the Government accountable for their actions of importing coconut oil mixed with carcinogens. He said he had even sought details in this regard from the SLSI as well.
A legal officer said that Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Parliamentary seat could be termed as a crime and noted that the former MP had been popular among the masses as a politician who always had stood for the truth.
The leader then said it was questionable as to who had given instructions to Ranjan to resolve his case as soon as possible. He said if Ranjan had summoned witnesses to his trial he could well have dragged the case for at least a year and during that time he would have been able to serve in his MP post. Wickremesinghe then expressed his deep remorse over the predicament experienced by the actor turned politician. The leader is now planning to visit his relatives flanked by his spouse to mark the New Year.