it was a hard-fought contest - now the vote is over and you
belong to this House. It is your duty to ensure that the
sovereignty of the people is safeguarded and upheld."
Wickremesinghe to W.J.M. Lokubandara (CDN April 23, 2004)
D. B. S. Jeyaraj
W. J. M. Lokubandara
J. M. Lokubandara has become independent Sri Lanka's 16th Speaker
after a bitter and closely contested election. He won with one
vote (110-109) in a tussle that will go down as ashameful episode
in the parliamentary history of this country. So disgraceful was
the conduct of several legislators that an English newspaper
observed in its editorial that all the waters of Diyawanna Oya
cannot wash the black mark off.
ignoble conduct of ministers, deputy ministers and
parliamentarians hit an all-time low in the Speaker election. The
sanctity and supremacy of parliament cannot be maintained by
written law or procedure alone. It also depends on the behavioural
norms of legislators. Constitutional conventions have contributed
greatly to enhance and preserve the dignity of the Speaker's
was a time when a newly elected Speaker upon assuming office would
resign party membership promptly. This was to ensure his or her
impartiality without being fettered by party affiliation or
loyalty. Likewise there was also a tradition of letting an
incumbent Speaker being uncontested in a parliamentary election.
From such commendable heights of political decency we have reached
disappointing depths now.
such tradition being followed even now is that of the proposer and
seconder of the winner escorting the newly elected Speaker to his
chair. So we saw Joseph Michael Perera and Rauf Hakeem escorting
Speaker walked with his escorts promptly. He did not keep up the
traditional 'pretence' of seeming to be reluctant in accepting
office and being 'forced' to do so as is the custom in some
one thing Lokubandara is no hypocrite and that particular
tradition died a natural death after the second parliament. In any
case, how could he even 'pretend' after such a hard fought
contest! The history behind such a tradition is an honorable one
and speaks volumes about the speaker's role in the past.
speaker is in a sense the official parliamentary spokesperson.
Thecustom of electing a speaker began in the British parliament
during the 14th Century. The earlier speakers were those who
conveyed the monarch's commands to parliament and parliament's
wishes to the sovereign.
speaker's role was hazardous in those days. Nine speakers lost
their lives in the early days because of the emerging conflict
between monarch and parliament. Several speakers were beheaded for
bringing " bad news' from parliament to the monarch. Thus
many speakers had to be forced in taking office.
there is no such danger but newly elected speakers in some Western
legislatures commemorate this tragic yet proud aspect of
institutional history by pretending to struggle as they are led
'reluctantly' to the speaker's chair .
Sri Lanka we still maintain the tradition of proposer and seconder
'escorting' the new speaker. With every hallowed tradition being
eroded and electoral stakes to the speaker post becoming so
intense the time may come when aspirants could race to the
speaker's chair lest a pretender usurp it!
speaker's role has evolved over the centuries in the mother of all
parliaments. Though the monarch's servants in the earlier stages,
the role of the speaker got transformed as a result of the power
struggle between sovereign and legislature. The defining moment
came in 1642 during Charles the first's reign.
Charles entered parliament demanding the arrest of five
parliamentarians opposing him. The Speaker William Lenthall knelt
before the monarch respectfully but firmly refused to hand them
over. He said that he was only the House's servant and would only
follow its direction.
speakers face no danger as in those times. Their role has changed
too. They remain at the centre of debate between opposing sides
but are more like umpires. Their chief role is to enforce the
rules of parliamentary procedure and oversee parliamentary
administration. Speakers are also guardians and defenders of
parliamentary privileges and the rights of parliamentarians.
Lanka or Ceylon as it was known earlier has had Speakers from the
time we got universal franchise and territorial representation in
1931. The first Speaker of the State Council in colonial Ceylon
was Sir Alexander Francis Molamure. He was also the first speaker
of independent Ceylon too.
was a dashing personality first elected uncontested to Dedigama in
1931. It is said that he captivated many a damsel's and dame's
heart through his delightfully witty conversation. He is reported
to have inquired once from the
British Governors'wife thus;
I light my cigarette with the light in my ladies eye?"
Excellency was not amused and banned Molamure from all Governor's
Molamure from July 1931 to December 1934 was F.A. Obeyesekerawho
functioned as speaker of the state council from December 1934 to
December 1935. The new state council elected in March 1936 saw Sir
Waithilingam Duraiswamy become speaker. He served as speaker of
the second state council throughout its duration from 1936 to
March to July 1847.
is the only Tamil to have served as speaker before or after
independence. His election as speaker had an ulterior purpose. It
was in 1936 that D.S. Senanayake and Sir Baron Jayatilleke
mathematically manipulated the executive committee election system
through a permutation - combination formula and got a pan
Sinhala board of ministers elected. Duraiswamy's stature entitled
him to a ministry and appointing him speaker was the way to keep
Molamure reentered the state council in 1943 through Balangoda. He
won the same in 1947 and became the first speaker of independent
Ceylon's elected parliament. Molamure died in January 1951 and Sir
Albert Peiris of Nattandiya became speaker in February 1951 and
continued till April 1952. He became speaker again in June 1952
after the second election and continued till 1956.
1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike rode the crest of a 'Sinhala only' wave
to power. H.S. Ismail the independent MP from Puttalam became
speaker and functioned as such during the Bandaranaike and
1960 elections saw the UNP getting 50 and SLFP 46 seats. Dudley
Senanayake became prime minister of a minority government in a
situation somewhat similar to the present.
speaker election was the first trial of parliamentary strength.
Sir Alfred Peiris of the UNP got only 60 votes in a parliament of
157. Independent leftist MP from Katugampola T.B. Subasinghe was
the united opposition candidate. After the speaker's election came
the throne speech where the UNP was defeated with 85 votes to 61.
1960 saw the Kandyan stalwart R.S.Pelpola become speaker. In
January 1964 he became cabinet minister in Mrs. Bandaranaike's
government. He was succeeded by Hugh Fernando of Wennappuwa. The
liberal Hugh Fernando who crossed over later to the UNP aroused
the ire of the Bandaranaike government
during the last days of that government.
issue arose when the speaker had to rule whether the sponsorship
of a particular bill sent down to parliament from the senate was
procedurally correct. After adjourning House on account of its
unruliness Hugh Fernando convened parliament and ruled that it was
Bandaranaike's government was irritated and proceeded to move a
resolution that the speaker's ruling was wrong. Dr. N.M. Perera
then finance minister, even threatened Hugh Fernando with a no
confidence motion. Ministers Michael Siriwardene and D.S.
Goonesekera invaded the speaker's chambers and tried to
intimiidate Fernando. When Opposition Leader Dudley Senanayake
raised a point of order the speaker ruled from his chair that a
speaker's decision cannot be questioned.
Hugh Fernando was to say that this crisis period made him subject
to the severest strain in his life. Hugh Fernando later crossed
over to the UNP and contested the Nattandiya by election after
Albert Peiris died. Fernando won and became a minister.
saw Sir Albert Peiris become speaker again. After his death in
1967 Shirley Corea of Chilaw became speaker. The 1970 United Front
government saw Stanley Tillekaratnerepresenting Kotte become
speaker. It was rather ironic because Stanley though in the SLFP
then had earlier been a Communist Party MP with a reputation for
heckling. Now he had to maintain decorum in the House.
Tillekaratne too was subjected to government bullying in 1973 when
Dr. Colvin R .De. Silva warned him publicly that parliament could
remove him for "some reason, any reason or no reason at
all." Stanley too remained firm and gave his ruling on the
press take over issue without fear or favour.
saw Anandatissa de Alwis also representing Kotte become speaker.
This was another first
time achievement as Anandatissa Alwis had never been elected to
the legislature before. Earlier in 1965, he had become the first
non-civil servant to be permanent secretary of a ministry under
then state minister J.R. Jayewardene.
Alwis was the darling of the media but it was during his period as
speaker that the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act was given
new teeth. To demonstrate the power of the law two senior editors
were summoned to the House over a mix up of a photo caption
allegedly affecting then Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hameed, grilled
exhaustively and fined.
Alwis assumed duties as state minister after the new constitution
came into effect in 1978. Beruwela MP Abdul Bakeer Markar then
became speaker. In 1983 sections of the Buddhist clergy exerted
pressure on J.R. that a Sinhala Buddhist, E.L. Senanayake of Kandy
should replace the Muslim Speaker. This was acceded to and the old
trooper E.L. served as speaker from 1983 to 1988. Bakeer was made
was during Bakeer's tenure that the no confidence motion against
opposition leader of the time, Appapillai Amirthalingam was moved
by government MPs. Such a development was unheard of in
parliamentary history. Not only did Bakeer allow it but also
failed to restrain the "criminal" remarks made by MP's
against an absent Amirthalingam. Bakeer also failed to check the
vituperatively racist outpourings of Cyril Mathew on more than one
1989 to 1994 parliament saw veteran Muslim leader from Colombo,M.
Haniffa Mohamed function as speaker. MH Mohamed's crisis hour came
during the impeachment motion moves against Ranasinghe Premadasa
by Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and G.M. Premachandra.
After being initially favourable to the rebels Mohamed changed
track and switched loyalties in favour of the President.
1994 it was the turn of Rajarata's
K.B. Ratnayake to be speaker. The former Anuradhapura MP was an
old student of Hartley College, Point Pedro and spoke Tamil well.
K.B. was perhaps the first Sinhala speaker to speak all three
languages fluently. The Muslim speakers too were trilingual.
2000 witnessed the rare spectacle of both government and
opposition electing a consensus candidate as speaker. That
singular honour went to President Kumaratunga's brother and Ranil
Wickremesinghe's old school chum Anura Bandaranaike.
Anura was then in the UNP and therefore the opposition, Chandrika
and Ranil agreed to make Anura the speaker, much against the
wishes of party stalwarts on both sides. A crisis arose when
Kumaratunga prorogued parliament after she lost her majority.
Efforts were on to impeach her and the Chief Justice. Bandaranaike
was hesitant in asserting the rights of parliament. Later Anura
crossed over to the PA after parliament was dissolved.
2001 saw the UNF win again. Former Ja Ela and present Gampaha
District MP, Joseph Michael Perera was speaker. Though he could
have been fielded as speaker candidate, a change was necessitated
due to political exigencies. Perera is a Catholic. Given the
rising tide of anti-Christian feeling among sections of the
Buddhist clergy and laity a man like Lokubandara with full fledged
Sinhala Buddhist credentials was seen as more suitable.
phenomenon of nine Buddhist priest MPs holding the power balance
in a hung parliament saw the need for an avowed nationalist like
Lokubandara as candidate. He could win Jathika Hela Urumaya
support or at least ensure their neutrality. The election and
results indicate that the stratagem has succeeded to some extent.
is perceived as an ardent Sinhala Buddhist nationalist. He is very
much a son of the rural Uva soil. He first entered parliament in
1977 when he defeated former health minister W.P.G. Ariyadasa who
was returned in successive elections to Haputale from 1956 to
1970. It is said that J.R. picked him as candidate after listening
to him speak on Sinhala culture and Sigiriya frescoes.
known as Wije to his friends was born on August 5, 1941. An old
student of Bandarawela Maha Vidyalaya, Lokubandara is a Peradeniya
University arts graduate. He also has an external Bachelor's
degree in arts from the University of London. He was in government
service initially then became a lawyer and worked as assistant
was initially appointed Minister of Indigenous Medicine,
considered a non cabinet portfolio. He was later appointed
Cultural Affairs, Education and Media Minister in the President
Ranasinghe Premadasa cabinet of 1989.
the UNP being defeated in the 1994 general elections, he was
appointed the chief opposition whip. With the return of the UNP in
2001, he was appointed Leader of the House and Minister of
Justice, Law Reforms, National Integration and Buddha Sasana.
is a Sinhala scholar and staunch Buddhist but is not a rabid
communalist as some try to portray him. He speaks in Sinhala
generally, though fluent in English and adheres to simple
rural values. His lack of an elitist background has made him like
Premadasa, endure severe slander and ridicule.
a canard was spread that Lokubandara was an ex-Buddhist priest who
had discarded his robes. Though a devout Buddhist akin to an
anagarika, Lokubandara was never a priest and it was left to his
wife to write to newspapers refuting the canard in a dignified
his image of being a Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist, Lokubandara has
been pragmatic and fair in racial and religious issues. Few people
know that it was Lokubandara who advised President Premadasa to
resolve the "Sri" sign in vehicle number plates issue
satisfactorily by introducing numerals and a dash sign. The sri
issue had been a cruelly divisive one and paved the way for the
Lokubandara was required to engage in some delicate crisis
management after the death of Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero when
there was much agitation for anti-conversion legislation.
Lokubandara had to tread carefully in containing the ferocity of
a true Buddhist he does not subscribe to the 'political Buddhism'
ideology seeking to victimise and discriminate against minorities.
At the same time he will not let the Sinhala language or Buddhism
be deprived of their rightful place in the country He is somewhat
like Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in this respect.
a closely contested election, Lokubandara has obtained the support
of not only the UNF and sections of the Buddhist clergy but also
of the minority communities. The TNA, SLMC, CWC and UCPF have all
supported him. It could be truly said that Lokubandara has a
mandate from all the communities in his election as Speaker.
Lokubandara has to hold the scales evenly and above all restore
the dignity and respect of the speaker's office to the level
maintained decades ago.
the difficult political climate prevailing in the country, the
Speaker will be called upon to discharge his duties efficiently,
courageously and impartially in the future. Lokubandara will have
to face fierce challenges in carrying out his duties without
favour. There is no doubt that this sturdy Sri Lankan patriot will
overcome those challenges effectively.