11th February 2001

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PA, JVP screeching match rocks House

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

imageT he ceremonial opening of the new Parliamentary complex in 1979 was a significant event in Sri Lankan parliamentary history. The nation's fervent wish for an exemplary parliamentary tradition was couched in the words of President J. R. Jayawardene :

" In this temple of Democracy let us conduct ourselves for the welfare of the many generations yet unborn, so they may say that within this chamber our words and conduct represented our finest hours."

President Jayawardene for all his political acumen may never have foreseen what was in store for the House, that it would resemble the Pettah fish market with trading insults gaining precedence under cover of Parliamentary privilege.

The week dawned with the UNP busy emulating the Jayawardene example and hitting the streets with its " Jana Balameheyuma". But the UNP's conspicuous absence in the House did nothing to deter the PA, which unleashed a venomous attack on the JVP instead, with the likes of deputy minister Mervyn Silva, opting to screech than speak.

The general belief was that the UNP, with or without its marches should have also fulfilled its parliamentary duty by thrashing out issues at the all-important extension of the emergency debate.

As the UNPers were concentrating on getting tans and exercising vocal chords, the JVP had a field day playing the "main opposition."

JVP group leader Wimal Weerawansa's argument that the PA was using the war as a political shield drew a fiery response from Mervyn Silva, who suddenly launched himself into a chorus of 'murderers'.

But, Mr.Weerawansa being a master in the game of thrust and parry navigated the debate and accused Mr. Silva of paying 300 rupees to youths to appear at Army recruitment venues.

"You take orders from Erik Solheim on our national question, and mislead rural youth with offers of money and medals to wage a politicized war."

Up jumped Mr. Silva in hot denial, screaming that Mr. Weerawansa was being unpatriotic by insulting valiant youths.

"The Army is the only employment you can offer.

It is a case of marketing the war and sacrificing youths for political gain."

Mr. Weerawansa then took up the infamous body armour purchase by the Army. He charged that a questionable process had been adopted to disqualify other samples while ensuring samples submitted by the Access International passed the suitability test. And that too, to pump oxygen to the folding mother company of Access, RBR. "Tell us, is this country for sale, " he thundered, and up jumped Mervyn Silva with flaying arms to heap accusations on the JVP.

"Clothes don't make a man civilized, but if you wish to demonstrate indiscipline, I'd rather have your display than make my speech," snipped Weerawansa gleefully.

But JVP's Wijitha Herath and Sunil Handunnetti were at the end of their tether and Mr. Herath said if senior members could not lead by example, they should be removed from the House. Mr. Handunnetti overstepped the boundary and asked whether the 'dog' unsuitable to the House could be removed forthwith, and all hell broke with several vociferous government legislators shouting themselves hoarse and accusing the JVP of insurmountable sins.

Though the deputy chairman of committees Lalith Dissanayake was satisfied with mild appeals for good behaviour, deputy minister Ediriweera Premaratne of the tumbler-hurling fame demanded the immediate withdrawal of the unparliamentary word.

In the midst of this chaos, opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe coolly proposed that there was no reason for excitement as no names were mentioned!

Soon, the debate changed gear and became a JVP-bashing effort with the government fielding Ampara member Wimalaweera Dissanayake to lambast the JVP.

"Here are the patriotic defenders and democrats. In 1989, the slogan was 'first the country, then the degree' with which they ruined the universities.

Having vowed to kill all Indian peace keeping soldiers for intervening in the domestic conflict, you opted to kill Siripalas and Rosalines from the villages who were pro- UNP or SLFP."

Accusing the JVP of being sinfully amnesiac, he charged that things were done at gunpoint and it was a rule by the sword.

"You talk of democracy and at the same time you expelled me for questioning the party's conduct and extorted money from my brother at gun point,"he charged.

The anti-JVP feeling ran high among government legislators with deputy highways minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage also heaping scorn on the party. The fiery legislator charged there was no internal democracy in the JVP and that the party's remote control leader in England was directing it by proxy.

"We have no stained hands, but yours are stained with blood, robberies and destruction. What you have is what was stolen, and you have no credibility anymore as you are hand in glove with the very UNP that didn't even issue death certificates to alleged JVPers after their brutal murders.

A visibly angry Bimal Ratnayake invited Aluthgamage to mention something original and that opened Aluthgamage's verbal floodgates that went on non stop for 15 minutes.

Barring the warfare involving the JVP, the sessions proved a drag- with only three speakers from the UNP.

The evening saw JVP's Bimal Ratnayake accusing the government of sending thugs into universities to wrest control of student unions- a charge vehemently denied by Minister Leslie Gunewardene, himself a former Vice Chancellor of the Peradeniya University.

"It is the JVP unions that wreak havoc, disrupt education and administration," shrieked Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, and the cub legislator condescendingly invited "Suryakanda Madam" not to remind the House of fish vendors.

The home and home battle erupted much later- with TULF Secretary General Anandasangari accusing the PA- coalition partner EPDP of playing a dual role. With EPDP members screaming their protest and defending the government- in stark contrast to their role a few months back- Anandasangari noted that the EPDP was a threat to normalcy in the North.

With interruptions galore, the lawyer turned legislator claimed that after 18 years he had returned to Parliament with full knowledge of what was in store for him.

"We don't do politics by proxy, or depend on government money. I face threat from an armed Tamil party and not the LTTE," he said. This brought on a biting reply from EPDP's S. Thawarasa.

"Your party plotted Alfred Duraiappa's assassination. Your biggest contribution has been providing employment on the Colombo bound night mail train.

We even looked after family members of slain TULF members," he said and up jumped Anandasangari, claiming that the TULF had no money as they didn't burgle or auction jobs. Amidst jubilant government applause, Thawarasa insisted that the TULF actually represented LTTE interest, manifested by its appeal to England not to ban the LTTE .

"You have been agitating for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. You called for constitutional amendment and when the government introduced it, you backed out," he charged. After the war of words between the two Tamil parties, deputy minister Shantha Premaratne criticized the UNP's protest march.

"You lack cohesion or purpose. When we hit the streets, there was no humane ruler to discuss matters with. Then it was atrocity and democracy was a prohibited word. We held a paada yatra to democratise the land."

Mr. Premaratne challenged the UNP_JVP coalition to prove how protests could help reduce the cost of living.

"When you have nothing to say, even a straw becomes vital, and the UNP which lacks a platform today is busy clutching at the last straws," he said to a largely empty UNP bench.

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