ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 18
Front Page Columns
The Lobby

Tamils’ plight: TNA satyagraha makes no impact on parliament sittings

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

Sharp exchanges at last week’s parliament sessions, about alleged political links to a recently raided house of ill fame and other arguments between the major political parties dampened the effect of the “satyagraha” staged by the TNA parliamentarians to draw attention to the plight of Tamil civilians in the north.

Tamil MPs sat on the red carpeted floor of the Well of the House in front of the Speaker’s Chair for hours on three successive days during parliament sittings. But the MPs on both sides of the House continued with their business as usual with the government not bothering to come up with any kind of response to TNA Jaffna district MP Mavai Senathirajah who demanded that the government lift the economic embargo on the north and the A 9 road be opened to facilitate the provision of relief to the people in Jaffna.

TNA Jaffna district MP Mavai Senathirajah

The demands seemed to fall on deaf ears with only SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem making any reference to the concerns raised by Mr. Senathirajah.

Mr. Hakeem said the government was sending the wrong signals by not listening to the views expressed by the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil people. The ‘satyagraha’ continued from Wednesday to Friday with no government assurances coming their way, this was despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself visiting the parliament complex on Thursday mainly to check on the attendance of UPFA MPs in parliament. He left after spending some time on his regular public relations exercise by chatting to MPs including those of the Opposition at the parliament lunch room.

Plenty of noise was generated in the House by the UNP MP from the Ratnapura District, Mahinda Ratnatilleke, who could not resist bringing up the issue of parliamentary privilege regarding a newspaper item which reported a raid on a brothel in Battaramulla which was allegedly run by a political party leader’s sister. He was of the view that by referring to ‘a leader of a political party’, the newspaper had done injustice to the leaders of all political parties including his own party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

What followed was a heated exchange of words which broke out between Mr. Ratnatilleke and JVP parliamentary leader Wimal Weerawansa. Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara who shared the views held by Mr. Ratnatilleke said the media needed to be more specific when referring to party leaders so as to avoid casting aspersions on other leaders. But not all the exchanges between the UNP and speaker were that affable. The House had to be suspended for nearly 40 minutes on Wednesday because the UNP said the Speaker had failed to follow the day’s agenda as set out in the order book.

The election of the Deputy Chairman of Committees had been scheduled as the number one item for the day but the Speaker bypassed it to take up the next item in the agenda. This prompted the UNP Kandy district MP Lakshman Kiriella to raise objections and ask why the election was not being held that day.

The Speaker responded by saying that JVP MP Piyasiri Wijenaike, the MP who is presently holding the post was yet to hand over his resignation letter to the President. Mr. Wijenaike said he had gone to the President’s House but was unable to meet the President and hence could not hand over the letter.

Mr. Wijenaike was appointed to the post as a stop-gap measure some three weeks ago, until such time his party colleague Ramalingam Chandrasekhar returned to the country from a trip abroad.

The Speaker’s explanation was not good enough for the UNP with Mr. Kiriella insisting that as far as the he was aware the letter was handed over and as such the Speaker must hold the election that day.

UNP MPs even produced a copy of what they claimed was Mr. Wijenaike’s resignation letter. With several heated arguments taking place between government and opposition benches the Speaker was left with no alternative but to suspend sittings. A settlement was reached at the party leaders’ meeting that followed.

The Speaker admitted that he had made a mistake by not announcing to the House that the election had to be postponed in view of the delay in handing over the resignation letter and said in future, the President’s Office would be asked to notify the Speaker’s office as soon as such a letter was received so as to prevent any such confusion.

The TNA MPs continued to sit patiently through all this drama but it was a welcome change from the usual noisy protests the Tamils MPs had staging in the recent past. But with the indifferent attitude of the government towards their passive resistance, the TNA might soon revert back to its usual method of protesting. The Tamil MPs might feel that only violent and vociferous protests would bring any worthwhile response from this government.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.