Little business on three days of protests and uproar
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
A beleaguered Speaker entering Parliament’s Chamber through the back door, the Sergeant-At-Arms running the gauntlet with the Mace in hand to get it to its rightful place, a band of unruly MPs surrounding the Speaker’s table drowning his words with their shouts of protests, one MP even briefly occupying the Speaker’s Chair.

All this will sound familiar to the average Sri Lankan by now, given the appalling depths to which behaviour of parliamentarians has dropped in the past few years.

But despite the familiarity of these happenings, for the first time in the country’s recent Parliamentary history, three consecutive days of sittings had to be limited to a few minutes on each day because of scenes such as these. It was the MPs of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who dominated whatever little time the House managed to meet, coming early on Tuesday, placards in hands to protest at the slaying of Batticaloa district MP Joseph Pararajasingham and the alleged injustices against Tamil civilians.

If Speaker W.J.M.Lokubandara was hoping to enter the Chamber ceremonially in the New Year led by the Sergeant-At-Arms, he could not have been more wrong. With at least 20 TNA MPs, a few MPs of the CWC and the Up-Country People’s Front blocking the main entrance to the Chamber, all that the Speaker could do was sneak in through the rear door.
The Sergeant-At-Arms carried the Mace through the government benches and managed to place it on the Speaker’s table unable to get the legislature’s symbol of authority to its rightful place.

The Speaker’s repeated calls to the MPs to return to their seats fell on deaf ears as they continued to shout slogans such as, “We want justice,” “Stop state terrorism.” The Speaker suspended sittings shortly after 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday and called a meeting of party leaders but when sittings started nearly an hour later, there was no let up in the protest forcing the Speaker to adjourn sittings.

Wednesday was no different and similar scenes began unfolding almost from the commencement of sittings. However, amidst the confusing scenes, the government pushed through four Bills including an amendment to the Local Government Elections Act to enable fresh nominations to be called in respect of the local bodies in the north and east of the country after cancelling the nominations that had been accepted for them in 2002.
During the short 20 minutes of sessions that day, TNA Jaffna district MP M.K. Sivajilingam briefly occupied the Speaker’s chair and had to be forced out of it while another MP Suresh Premachandra occupied the Chair of the Secretary General as other MPs huddled around the Speaker’s table.
A frustrated Speaker eventually pleaded with the MPs to stop insulting Mr.Pararajasingham by this kind of behaviour and called their actions “real terrorism.”

The repeat performance by the TNA MPs angered both MPs of the JVP and the JHU who remained silent during the protests but held separate news conferences to voice their anger about the incidents.

The JHU directed most of their anger at the Speaker who they charged did not use the powers vested in him under the Standing Orders of Parliament and asked that he step down if he cannot do his job. : “If the Standing Orders are a mere book which is not implemented, it is better to burn it.

The Speaker has enough powers that he can use without consulting anyone,” JHU Parliamentary group leader Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera said. JVP Parliamentary Group leader Wimal Weerawansa told a separate news conference that even though the party accepted that MPs should be allowed to protest in the house, the TNA protest was not justifiable and asked the Speaker to act firmly.

Their words had little impact because the next day, Thursday, there were more such scenes. It was the day the government had set aside to debate the extension of the emergency but it was not to be. Instead the emergency was passed amidst chaotic scenes and this time sittings were confined to five minutes. Sittings scheduled for the following day were cancelled and the House was adjourned till February 1.

TNA MPs occupied the Chambers for several minutes longer after the House was adjourned. In a mock funeral they carried national list MP M.K.Eelaventhan, who was covered in a white cloth, placed him in the Well of the House and moaned over his body. At this point both government and the JVP MPs began shouting “We don’t want terrorism,” to counter the antics of the TNA MPs before they dispersed.

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