Democratic revolt: UNF MP in anti-Tiger tirade
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
It's surprising how openly Members of Parliament express their views when their party leaders tell them they can speak according to their conscience without toeing a party line on a given subject. The rare opportunity to cut across party lines came their way on Thursday when the adjourned debate on the re-imposition of the death penalty took place in Parliament.

It almost sounded as if some of the legislators had broken free from the shackles that had forced them to speak in favour of something they objected to or vice versa. Some of the outspoken MPs of the past who many thought had succumbed to party pressures managed to bring back some of the lost vigour back into the debate.

This was particularly true of Minister Hemakumara Nanayakkara who used the chance to let off a lot of steam and took the debate further than expected by launching a scathing attack on the LTTE and questioned how the government could keep silent in the face of blatant acts of thuggery being committed by the members of the group.

"Their pistol gangs are killing intelligence officers. Then they threaten Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero who went to Ampara to copy some stone inscriptions. How are we going to keep quiet in the face of all this," he asked.

Although his remarks received applause from the opposition benches, one of his colleagues on the other side of the House seemed concerned about his future in the government. "Can you remain in the UNF after speaking this way here today," asked Gampaha district PA parliamentarian Felix Perera.

"Yes," replied Mr. Nanayakkara defiantly. "Our lips have not been sealed by locks, but even if there were such locks, we would break them open and speak out," he said.
Mr. Nanayakkara also spoke strongly in favour of imposing the death penalty, saying there were many people to speak on behalf of perpetrators of crimes but none on behalf of the victims. "Ther crime rate is soaring. It is the responsibility of the government to tackle this issue. The death penalty would deter these criminals," he said.

However Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne did not agree. He said hanging a person was the easy thing to do but the real challenge was to rehabilitate criminals and try and absorb them back into the mainstream.

"Today many crimes are committed and army deserters are behind most of them. If we are to hang all of them, we will be hanging the youth of this country. What we have to do is address the economic and political issues that lead them to commit these crimes."

Of course there were MPs who didn't think that it was only the youth who would qualify for the gallows. PA Anuradhapura district MP Tissa Karalliyadde said there may be MPs themselves who are involved in crime and may have to face the hangman.

Another PA MP, Gampaha district parliamentarian Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said the streets were so unsafe that it was impossible for a girl to walk alone on the roads without fear of being raped or abducted. "If the death penalty was in place, the crime rate would be much less. Are we to look at the rights of the murderers or the victims?" he asked.

He said the best solution would be to hold a referendum and let the people decide whether the death penalty should be imposed or not. Education Minister Karunasena Kodituwakku held a similar view. He said what was needed was maximum punishment that could be handed down by the courts to be implemented. "The death penalty is in the statute books for the most serious crimes. It should be implemented where necessary," he said.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister A.H.M. Azwer who spoke in favour of the death penalty cited Islamic law which says capital punishment is needed to punish wrong doers in order to cleanse the society.

Chandrasena Wijesinghe, Galle district JVP MP said it wasn't the lack of laws that was causing the increasing rate of lawlessness in the country but the failure to strictly implement them.

He cited a case that came up before the Udugama courts where a school principal was accused of sexually abusing four ten year old girls and all except one lawyer had refused to appear on behalf of the victims as the accused's brother was a lawyer.
"Where is the justice in this? It is the victims who are finally victimized," he said.
The debate was adjourned for another day.

On Wednesday, an adjournment debate on the recovery of loans given by state banks was debated in parliament. The motion was moved by Kandy district PA MP Thilina Bandara Tennekoon who urged the government to take whatever steps necessary to stop those who have taken loans running into millions of rupees from state banks and have defaulted.

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