I am surprised that many citizens, all those who craved for a ‘Yahapalanaya’, have showed utter dismay over the attack carried out by some Members of Parliament on their colleagues. Various civil societies and other organizations pleaded with the public, delivered graphic sermons to the voters and published advertisements, spending millions of rupees, which they [...]

Sunday Times 2

Yasapalanists’ Parliament


I am surprised that many citizens, all those who craved for a ‘Yahapalanaya’, have showed utter dismay over the attack carried out by some Members of Parliament on their colleagues.

Various civil societies and other organizations pleaded with the public, delivered graphic sermons to the voters and published advertisements, spending millions of rupees, which they had received from foreign funding agencies, to ensure that all corrupt elements would be voted out. But, what did the voters do? They just threw back the mud and allegations at the preachers and other pious puritans, and instead, carried on their shoulders Members of Parliament accused of corruption, bribery and other offences. At the last elections, only three failed to get elected. That is not because the voters did not vote for them, but, because the voters did not have a choice, as they failed to get nominations.

The recent brawl in Parliament. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended two members for a week.

So why cry; rejoice that the majority of law makers do not have the minimum educational qualification to become street cleaners. They voted, danced in the aisles after allegedly imbibing hooch distributed freely to the voters. The purists pocketed a large slice of filthy lucre and went in search of other causes to make dollars. Others, embraced their new heroes with new outfits and the Parliament was the same.

To elect Parliamentarians devoid of thuggery, hooliganism, underworld connections and ethanol dealers, is a stupendous task; what S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike said in the 1930s, soon after he returned from England, “we are not ready for universal franchise,” proves that, that was the only politically mature statement he ever made.

Even the so called messiahs of ‘Yahapalanaya’ are fighting for the most expensive limousines and a number of back up vehicles, though, not even a petty thief wants to harm them. Why should the off shoot of the LTTE harm them as they are very happy with the progress they are making to prove a statement made by an astute Tamil lawyer Shanthi Crosette Thambiah “with the mess we are in since independence, what right have the Sinhalese to rule over us?” The evil that was exorcised by the public is holding a tight grip on the Yahapalanist and committing the same cardinal sin the Rajapaksas committed.

No one, not even the fiercest advocate of good governance, would deprive such creatures nominations as they themselves feel they cannot win without the evil that has become synonymous with Sri Lankan democracy.

So, what had been uttered by the leaders, to please leaders like Rev. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, who innocently believed the Yahapalanists, would usher in a utopian state where the ‘rule of law’, would be the force to reckon with. Soon it dawned that Sobitha was an illusionist and was astonished that certain members rejected by the government were appointed and brought to Parliament. This could happen even in a banana republic. Maduluwawe Sobitha died as a person who had lost all future hopes for Sri Lanka.

So the brawl inside the Parliament was nothing to worry or talk about. It was much ado about nothing; Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker, understood that it would not be possible to take any serious action against any one of them. Even the suspension of the two members for one week, was thought to be a severe punishment, as the maximum punishment the Parliament could impose was suspension of one month, so one may argue that to a minor incident where one member was injured and was sent to hospital to impose a sentence on ¼ the maximum could be considered in the present context severe.

But, there was a time when Members of Parliament were known to be honourable and learned. They displayed an exceptional ability to speak on any matter. They were all very conversant with the procedures, standing orders and powers and privileges of members. Though there were one or two exceptions, they were few and far between. But, when Rev. Sumangala Thera’s testicles were squeezed by a Member of Parliament, which eventually made the Rev. Thera resign from Parliament, it was never even discussed, the footage was not shown to the public and everyone got together and swept the matter under the carpet.

But, when Sir Albert F. Peiris was the Speaker, in the 1950s, where most Members of Parliament spoke in the Queen’s language without offending her or her husband, we were considered exceptional Parliamentarians. We had S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, whose repartee was considered the best in South Asia, and Dr. Colvin R. De Silva and many others like them.

One day, Mr. Somaweera Chandrasiri, representing the Moratuwa electorate, was continually disturbing the Speaker. After several admonishments the Speaker had no other alternative but to adjourn the proceedings and retire to his chambers. In this unusual scenario the Speaker and the Sergeant-at-arms had not removed the mace. The Speaker vacated the chair, the mace remained on the Speaker’s table and the Speaker ordered the Sergeant-at-arms to remove the member from the house and suspended the sittings of the house. Before Somaweera Chandrasiri could be removed from the house as the Sergeant-at -Arms had to obtain police assistance, W. Dahanayake from Galle, who was known for his antics and his attitude of castigating the establishment, proposed that Mr. Edmund Samarakkody, Member of Parliament for Dehiowita, take the chair and another member seconded the motion. At that time, members observed that neither the Deputy Speaker, nor the Deputy Chairman of Committees, who under normal circumstance, would occupy the Speaker’s chair, were present.

When Dahanayake’s motion was seconded, no one objected and in the milieu, Edmund Samarakkody took the chair. Thereafter, Somaweera Chandrasiri, MP for Moratuwa, who had been named by the Speaker and was to be removed from the Parliament, continued to speak until the Sergeant-at-Arms, came along with the police officers to remove him.

As soon as Samarakkody observed the police entering the Chambers, he vacated the Speaker’s chair. There were no brawls, there was no one crossing the line, no converging near the Speaker’s table, no shouting, or utterance of foul words and no inclination to bring another’s mother into the scene and casting foul remarks disparaging her. And, absolutely there was no question of anyone raising their hands and assaulting another Member of the Parliament.

But, yet, Sir Albert Peiris, as the custodian of the Parliamentary privileges and standing orders, decided that this behaviour was appalling and should be nipped in the bud. Therefore, he used his powers and reported the members to the A.G. and requested him to bring the matter to the Supreme Court.

When the matter was referred to the Attorney General, by the Speaker, the Attorney General filed papers in the Supreme Court under the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act and requested the Court to deal with the two members under the powers vested with the Supreme Court. This matter came before Justice H.N.G. Fernando.

It was a very well known fact that Justice H.N.G. Fernando was a close friend of the United National Party political hierarchy. People even today discuss the fact that H.N.G. Fernando’s pastime was to play bridge at the Orient Club during the weekend. His partners were top Cabinet Ministers of the United National Party. The decision of the Supreme Court would show what a great independent judge, Justice H.N.G. Fernando was. He never permitted his private, political preferences to dilute his sturdy independence. Edmund Samarakkody, Member for Dehiowita, who was elected from the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, was acknowledged as the first Sinhala politician to support the right of self determination of the Tamils. Wijayananda Dahanayake, who was elected from Galle, was another maverick who has the record for making the longest speech in Parliament. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva who appeared for Edmund Samarakkody, pointed out that the Speaker had inadvertently forgotten to set the time for suspension of sittings, as required by the standing orders. Therefore, when in fact he suspended the sittings, he had failed to mention the time and date for the resumption of sittings as required by the standing orders.

Further, S. Nadesan, who appeared for Dahanayake, said that paragraph 7, part [b] of the Parliament Privileges Act covers only disrespectful conduct in the precincts of the House and not during sittings. Justice H.N.G. Fernando held that even if the conduct of the respondents was disrespectful, the proper forum to impeach such conduct was not the Supreme Court, but the Parliament itself.

Chief Justice H.N.G. Fernando had suggested that an Amendment to Part [b], the word “precincts” of Parliament would convey the meaning to include sittings in Parliament.

The recent incident that took place in Parliament, where a member was seriously injured, comes within the ambit, a part of schedule (A) of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act and is punishable only by the Supreme Court. So when a person is assaulted in Parliament, or in any Committee, only the Supreme Court has the power to punish the Members of Parliament.
Therefore, it is pertinent to discuss whether the punishment imposed, by Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker of Parliament, is valid in law, in view of the provisions of the Schedule of offences which is in the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

(The writer is a Senior Lawyer)

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