Democratic National Alliance (DNA) MP Sarath Fonseka may no longer be a four-star general after being stripped of his rank following the guilty verdict by a military court but his plight helped galvanize the lacklustre opposition in Parliament to make some noise and show some solidarity last week.
Both DNA and UNP members walked to the Well of the House protesting against the sentencing of the former Army Commander and chanting “shame, shame” while the government members present looked on in silence. The unruly scenes prompted Deputy Chairman of Committees Murugesu Chandrakumar who was having his first taste of such unruly behaviour within the Chamber to suspend sittings for ten minutes.
The situation turned calmer when Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa took the Chair and assured that the opposition’s demands would be looked into.
Prior to the protest, Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe criticized the manner in which evidence was led before the Court Martial hearing and in particular the conduct of the prosecuting counsel whom he accused of “deliberately misleading” the inquiry. “What are the ingredients of this offence? Without telling the ingredients of the offence, how can you convict a person? What has happened is that a Member of Parliament has lost his rights,” Mr. Wickremesinghe told the House.DNA members came down harder on the court martial ruling with MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka calling it a “fraudulently” constituted body.
“He (Mr. Fonseka) earned his pension after 40 years of serving in the army. Similarly all the medals he was awarded were for the services he rendered. No one can take them away from him,” Mr. Dissanayake said.
The opposition leader’s criticism of the military court’s conduct drew a sharp response from External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris who called it a gross violation of the Constitution and Parliament Standing Orders which forbid criticism of judges or others engaged in the administration of justice except by way of a substantive motion in the House.
“It is entirely unsatisfactory for decisions of judicial tribunals to be attacked in this manner in the House. There is a way of protesting and that protest must not inflict irreparable damage on institutions administering justice in this country,” he said.
|Parliamentarian Fonseka flanked by DNA MPs arriving for the news conference on Thursday. Pic by Sanka Vidanagama
Mr. Wickremesinghe, however, defended his position, saying that members of a court martial could not be regarded as persons administering justice.
While all these arguments and counter arguments were traded across the divide, the former Army Chief who was in the Chamber on Tuesday afternoon chose to remain silent.
However, on Thursday he addressed a news conference where he said he expected the government to imprison him and he would lose his Parliament seat as well. “I have worked closely with these people (President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa) for three years and I know how they think. So I know what to expect,” he said.
Ironically, the very people whom he referred to were also at the Parliament complex the same day with the President attending the consultative committee meetings of the ministries of Defence and Ports and Aviation, both of which come under his purview. The Defence Secretary was also there along with the three armed forces commanders to attend the consultative committee meetings of the Defence Ministry.
However their paths did not cross although the former Army Commander was a member of the Defence Ministry Consultative Committee as the DNA’s representative. He alleged the next day that he was brought to Parliament late so that he would not be able to attend the committee meeting chaired by the President.
The President though bumped into another of his harshest critics, a former cabinet minister in his government and now UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera. The two men shook hands and exchanged a few words at the canteen of the parliament complex.
Meanwhile Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa showed last week he means to get tough with MPs and maintain discipline in the House when he warned MP Mervyn Silva who was disturbing proceedings of the house.
“The door is behind you,” he told the errant member who has been relegated to a rear seat after being removed from his post of Deputy Minister by the President two weeks ago.
Mr. Silva made no protest but left the chamber.