Removal of People’s Representatives
By Sugeeswara Senadhira
The most likely behavioural pattern of a politician is to shout hoarse ‘political victimisation’ the moment he or she is detained, convicted or imprisoned. The charges leveled and the Court verdicts are immaterial, and the politician is sure to describe the decision as ‘political vendetta’.
The cine star-turned-politician Gampaha District Member of Parliament Ranjan Ramanayake, who was sentenced to four-year rigorous imprisonment last week is not an exception. However, his claim of innocence and political victimisation was coupled with the surprising outburst that he would not withdraw his condemnation of Judges, the very reason for his imprisonment and loss of Parliamentary seat within eight months from getting re-elected.
Contempt of Court is a serious offence. Although the fact remains that Judges are also humans and there could be very rare cases of erroneous judgments, the Judiciary is the supreme authority that should be respected by every citizen, especially the people’s representatives who should display exceptionally good behaviour for the masses to emulate.
Parliamentarian S.B. Dissanayake told the Media that Ramanayake was advised by him to make a public apology before the Supreme Court hearing was concluded as it was a serious offense definitely resulting in a prison sentence. But Ramanayake ‘foolishly’ refused to apologise, SB said. SB should know better than any other Parliamentarian as he also served a jail sentence for contempt of Court after his ill-advised pronouncement about a judgement.
Scores of members of State Council and Parliament were unseated since the democratic system of electing people’s representatives through adult franchise was introduced in 1931. The reasons for convictions were due to reasons ranging from corruption, malpractices during Elections, Election expenses exceeding legal limits, loss of civic rights, and contempt of Court. The only reasons outside the Court conviction were Court Martial and Dual Citizenship.
During the first-past-the-post Election system, several members were unseated due to Election petitions and none of them cried foul and accepted the Court decisions gracefully. This happened during the first two State Councils (1931 & 1936) as well as in the Parliaments from 1947 to 1977.
First-ever member to be unseated
The first-ever member to be unseated in the first State Council was Ratnasothy Saravanamuttu (Member for Colombo North). He was unseated after being found guilty of corrupt practices by an Election Judge. His wife Naysum Saravanamuttu was elected in the ensuing by-Election, thus, she became the first women member in house of representatives in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. Incidentally, these two Sarvanamuttus were great grandparents of newly elected New Zealand Parliamentarian Vanushi Walters, who proudly began her maiden address recently, speaking few lines in Sinhala and Tamil.
The first member to be unseated in the second State Council was E. R. Tambimuttu (Member for Trincomalee-Batticaloa). In 1943 he was found guilty by the Bribery Commission of accepting bribes but as he refused to resign he was expelled from the State Council. The next member of State Council to get sacked simply for leading the patriotic forces in the country was Philip Gunawardena (Member for Avissawella).
In the second Parliament, Sinhala nationalist, JVP leader K.M.P. Rajaratne lost his seat following a verdict given by the District Court of Badulla and in the subsequent by-Election, his wife Kusuma won his Welimada seat.
Most shocking unseating
The most shocking unseating of a Parliamentarian was the removal of civic rights of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1980. That was described by impartial analysts as an act of political expediency. President J R Jayewardene appointed a commission of inquiry with the obvious intention of removing Sirimavo, who was slated to be the strongest opponent who could defeat him at the Presidential Election in 1982.
President Jayewardene appointed a Special Presidential Commission in March 1978 to inquire into and report on the matters specified in the said Warrant covering the period May 1970 to July 1977 and the Commission found her guilty on several charges. Her civic rights were withdrawn for 7 years debarring her from contesting in any Election or campaigning in any Election for that period. The SLFP was handicapped because of Sirimavo’s inability to contest in the Presidential Election and she could not even participate in the Election campaign of the SLFP nominee Hector Kobbekaduwa in 1982. That gave an undue advantage to the winner, UNP candidate Jayewardene.
The largest expulsion of MPs took place in 1983 when during the riots, the 6th Amendment to the Constitution was passed and Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam and 15 other members of his Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) were unseated from Parliament for refusal to take the mandatory oath against separation.
Among others to be expelled included General Sarath Fonseka, who lost his Parliamentary Membership as a result of a verdict given by the second Court Martial indicting him, S. B. Dissanayake, who lost his seat due to a contempt of Court verdict given by the Supreme Court and Geetha Kumarasinghe due to her dual citizenship. All three of them have returned to Parliament in August 2020 General Elections with constitutional pardons received by the first two and Kumarasinghe due as a result of the 20th Amendment which allowed dual citizens to enter Parliament.
It is evident that while most of the above people’s representatives have lost their seats due to valid legal reasons, the two persons – Phillip Gunawardena in 1942 and Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1980 – were expelled purely for unreasonable political expediencies. Phillip Gunawardena was expelled by the Colonial Government as they saw him as an enemy of the British Imperial Government, but Sirimavo Bandaranaike was removed by the Government of the first Executive President of Sri Lanka.