ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 14, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 20
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Molamure is elected Speaker of First Parliament

Speaker A. F. Molamure

The first business in the first session of a new Parliament is the election of Mr. Speaker to preside over the meetings.

Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) first elected a Speaker during the days of the State Council which preceded the introduction of a parliamentary system of government. The first meeting of the House of Representatives under the Soulbury Constitution was held on October 14, 1947. (In the twin- chamber of Parliament, the House of Representatives which comprised elected representatives formed the lower house while the Senate with 15 members elected by the lower house and another 15 nominated by the Governor General, functioned as the upper house).

Although it is ideal for the Speaker to be elected without a contest with the concurrence of the government and the opposition, it did not happen when the first Parliament met.
The name of A. F. Molamure (later Sir Francis),
MP for Balangoda was proposed by Minister of Post & Telecommunications,
C. Sittampalam and seconded by MP for Padirippu,
S. U. Edirimanasingham.

The Opposition also put forward a candidate. He was H. Sri Nissanka, MP for Kurunegala whose name was proposed by the MP for Matugama,
Wilmot A. Perera and seconded by MP for Kayts,
A. L. Thambiayah.
In the contest that followed,
A. F. Molamure secured 58 votes as against his opponent's 41 and was elected Speaker. He had been the country's first Speaker having been elected to the post in the first State Council in 1931.
The Deputy Speaker's post was also contested.

R. A. de Mel (Colombo South MP) got 52 votes against Wilmot A. Perera (Matugama MP) who received 47 votes – six more than the Opposition candidate for the post of Speaker. Nominated MP J. A. Martensz was elected to the post of Deputy Chairman of Committees who presides over meetings in the absence of the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker.

Incidentally, Sir Francis Molamure could not complete his term of office as Speaker. On January 24, 1951, he collapsed and died while presiding over the sessions. Albert F. Peiris, MP for Nattandiya who was Deputy Speaker became Speaker amidst protests by the Opposition who walked out when he was elected. (Earlier, Deputy Speaker R. A.

de Mel was unseated and H. W. Amarasuriya was elected Deputy Speaker. He in turn was appointed Minister of Commerce & Trade and Albert F. Peiris then became Deputy Speaker).


The post of Speaker

H. Sri Nissana – Opposition
candidate for post of Speaker

As for the functions of Mr. Speaker, he is not a mere presiding officer. He is the repository of the powers, dignities, privileges and liberties of the representatives of the people – the Members of Parliament – and through them the public at large. His powers derive from the Standing Orders as well as from convention and practice.

It is a tradition that Mr. Speaker maintains strict political impartiality shedding all party affiliations once he is elected to the exalted office. It is a British tradition not to contest his seat at future general elections so that he is elected uncontested to Parliament. As a result the Speaker continues in that office and generally in Britain a Speaker would continue to hold office for a long period of time – say 20 years. This has not happened in Sri Lanka.


Handling a political crisis

Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott

Among the British Governors in Sri Lanka, a name well remembered is Sir Andrew Caldecott who came here on October 16, 1937 and spent virtually the whole period of World War II – an eventful time in recent history.

Caldecott was sent here at the time when there was a political deadlock. The State Council had decided, by a majority vote, to put an end to the Donoughmore Constitution as soon as possible. The minorities led by the Tamil lawyer-politician G. G. Ponnambalam was demanding 'fifty-fifty' which meant half the number of seats in the Legislature should be allotted to the majority community, the Sinhalese, and the other half to the minorities who comprised a third of the population. The skillful Governor was able to sort out the issues giving more responsibility to the Ceylonese ministers and rejecting the 'fifty-fifty' demand. With the outbreak of the war in 1939, everything else took a back seat. When an invasion of Ceylon by the Japanese seemed a possibility after the fall of Malaya, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton arrived as Commander-in-Chief and a War Council was formed. Things eased gradually.

By the time Caldecott left in October 1944, Ceylon was well on her way to gaining self-government.

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