'good' conduct became a foul word
Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent
were predicted as the 13th parliament assembled on Thursday (22) given
its number difficulties and the political manipulations, but it turned
out to be one of the most despicable demonstrations by the country's
newly elected peoples' representatives who if nothing else, showed the
flagging quality of MPs themselves, that too at the inaugural session
that dragged on for 11 hours merely to elect a speaker to the House.
was more horrifying was the ungoverned conduct of the newly elected self
congratulatory government MPs who were full of rhetoric about ushering
in a new political culture but resorted to shamelessly hurling abuse,
gesturing and flinging documents in absolute rage at the Jathika Hela
Urumaya (JHU) members, the saffron clad Maha Sangha who sat there,
stunned by the unfolding drama.
stark demonstration of absolute low conduct giving lie to their lip
service to serving the Pancha Maha Balavega that includes the Maha
Sangha, the PA-JVP collective behaved in an abominable manner that would
make any right-thinking Buddhist monk hereafter fight shy to be
associated with the lot that tried to bulldoze their way with them,
failing which they resorted to abusing those who are revered by Sri
13th parliament, it seems is a doomed one, and one that is hell bent on
setting negative records and trends. Besides the government collectively
heaping abuse on elected monks, it also took some 10 hours to elect a
speaker to the House, making many muse why 10 million voters should even
bother to go through a painful election process to elect 225 members who
cannot even elect a speaker sans political warfare.
a truly divided House, the election of a speaker was a battle royale,
but fought in the most demeaning way with the ballot having to be
conducted three times to reach a final result and four ballot papers
having to be issued.
morning began quietly enough, but it was known that 'Operation: Election
Of Speaker' was underway with the UPFA securing the support of two
bhikkus to vote for their candidate to avoid losing the very first
battle in the House.
the very divisions lent colour to the legislature as the saffron robed
monks of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) entered serenely to occupy their
opposition seats, while 22 verti-clad parliamentarians of the Ilankai
Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) brought in a northeastern flavour making the
House unique, but one that has absolutely polarised in opinion.
too were packed to capacity as the battle got underway with Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse proposing Communist Party stalwart D.E.W.
Gunasekera's name while former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera proposed
former Leader of the House, W.J.M. Lokubandara for the hot seat.
what made the tussle a battle for supremacy was the government's
manoeuverings and even attempts to browbeat in order to secure the post
at any cost. It appeared that the UPFA had tried every trick in the book
to get the two rebel JHU members to support them and even been willing
to spend some money to have two SLMC members lend support.
two names cropping up, Secretary General, Priyani Wijesekera as per
standing orders called for a ballot and soon the House began to throb
with excitement with both sides showing signs of anxiety.
began when Wijesekera read out Section 4 of the Standing Orders of
Parliament specifying the manner of voting - by legibly writing the
candidate's name and placing the MP's signature.
Wimal Weerawansa, beaming from government front rows, wished to know
whether it was necessary to also write the voting MP's name to which she
answered in the negative. But MP Bandula Gunawardena sprang to his feet
and declared that the MP's name too should be included.
Weerawansa shot back, "That is only at Sussex" - the venue
where Gunawardena conducts his A/L tuition classes in economics.
the House galvanised into action, Opposition Chief Whip Mahinda
Samarasinghe insisted that the vote be taken sans delay while Consumer
Affairs Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle demanded that the ballot paper
already issued should be collected and fresh ones issued.
astounding reason given by Fernandopulle for this breach of practice was
that two MP monks having allegedly given their marked ballot papers to a
UNP MP - a remark that earned a rousing denial from UNP ranks, also
making the seven JHU monks walk out in disgust while Weerawansa,
Mahindananda Aluthgamage and debutant Sripathi Sooriaarachchi from the
government benches collectively thundered that it must be a secret
and thumping commenced with the majority of government MPs accusing the
Sangha of pandering to the UNF and perhaps the first session of the 13th
parliament would also be remembered for the UPFA's lack of respect for
the Buddhist clergy as well.
the credibility of the MPs was brought into question, the harassed
Secretary General, Priyani Wijesekera said to ensure a fair ballot she
would issue a fresh ballot paper by calling each member, when SLMC
Leader, Rauf Hakeem, angry and red in the face, alleged that serious
aspersions were cast on the Maha Sangha and to avoid further insult, to
call upon members individually.
first monk to address the new parliament, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero
stood up next to state the JHU stance of not supporting either candidate
and said that the party was not responsible for the two renegade monks.
"We don't vote and do not wish to accept ballot papers,"
declared the monk, which was greeted with government jeering while the
new Premier, Mahinda Rajapakse silently sat while the appalling
the issuing of a fresh ballot paper was Mahinda Samarasinghe, furiously
declaring that since a vote had not been conduced, there was no
provision for the issuing of a fresh one, to which Wijesekera responded
by saying her wish was only to ensure a fair poll and transparency.
legal opinions being thrown about the issuing of a fresh ballot paper,
there stood Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero who had no chance to express
that the party would accept the position if unanimously offered while a
group of vociferous UPFA members including Dilan Perera, Mahindananda
Aluthgamage, Wimal Weerawansa and Sripathi Sooriaarachchi shouting
themselves hoarse demanding a fresh ballot paper, eventually made the monk take his seat, further demonstrating that the bhikkus
have truly opened a Pandora's Box by daring to enter the legislature
where good conduct is a bad word.
exchanges followed while the silenced monk walked up to the Secretary
General to discuss the issue of fielding a JHU candidate while other
monks watched the unfolding scene with shock and dismay.
stood Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero once more, voicing the monks'
collective shock at the appalling behaviour of elected members. "We
never expected such conduct. We are Buddhist monks and are expected to
be treated as such. We returned to the chamber to announce our
willingness to accept the position of speaker if consensus was reached
between both sides. But here's warfare that disgusts and baffles,"
declared the Thero and then commenced the voting at 10:45 a.m., with
only the renegade monks, Ven. Aparekke Pannananda Thero and Ven.
Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thero casting their votes along with other MPs.
voting ended by 12:30 noon and tension grew further with the likes of
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle querying whether they could watch the votes being
result put both contenders on par with 108 votes each excluding eight
unused ballot papers and one spoilt vote. With the announcement for a
re-poll, suddenly the focus fell on the abstaining monks as the 'king
makers,' and rushing to the bhikkus to lobby support were government MPs
who with flaying arms and expressive gestures tried to win their favour.
Some adopted a menacing stance, pressurising the monks to vote with them
while the monks themselves, quietly stood their ground and refused to
second vote began at 1:25 p.m., in the same laborious way and with the
loyalties of an opposition MP being doubted, following the single spoilt
vote, the next bout of government hysteria was unleashed by UNP's fair
member Chandrani Bandara who turned her vote in Lokubandara's direction
as proof of her loyalty. All hell broke loose as government benchers
followed her and sat in the middle of the isle in protest, accusing the
UNP of defeating the purpose of conducting a secret ballot.
their eagerness to vouch their loyalty, the UNP MPs, Bandara and W.B
Ekanayake both showed their ballot papers which was in poor taste, and
adding to the chaos, the Secretary General declared it was the duty of
the MP to safeguard the secrecy of his/her ballot to which Wimal
Weerawansa raised strong objections stating that it defeated the purpose
of conducting a secret ballot.
MPs began shouting slogans and accusing the UNF and the mob inside the
well included Pavithra Waniaarachchi, Dilan Perera, Mahindananda
Aluthgamage, S.M. Chandrasena, A.D. Lalkantha, Mahinda Amaraweera,
Rohitha Abeygunawardene, Jayaratna Herath, Duminda Dissanayake and more.
showing one's ballot is a terribly flawed way of proving loyalty, it
proved much less when Aluthgamage decided to sit on the ballot box,
shaking his feet as if it was the most natural place to be seated - not
heeding Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero's call to show better conduct.
shouting match, a terrible demonstration of low conduct by government
rankers, led the second ballot to be suspended with Premier Rajapakse
failing to instill some discipline into his ranks who simply refused to
budge and sat there in protest.
for the bhikkus' support began once more with the UNF being led by Ravi
Karunanayake, Mano Wijeratne, Ranjith Aluvihare and the likes, while
Premier Rajapakse himself next approached the monks with his screaming
group of MPs to save the day for their respective parties.
4:45 p.m., the stage was set for the fourth ballot paper to be issued
and the third round to be conducted, this time the ballot box being
firmly fixed on the speaker's table. Wimal Weerawansa at this point
insisted that not only should the ballot include the name of candidate
and MP's signature, it should also be folded in such a manner that its
secrecy is upheld, to which Rauf Hakeem rejoined that if a ballot was
revealed and the Secretary General objected to such, that would amount
to a violation of the MPs rights, no less!
MPs come up here, hence there is no problem," assured a perplexed
shouting followed as did more lobbying, and when the voting started, it
seemed that the monks had decided to maintain their neutrality by
employing a tactic. When voting proper began at 6:40 p.m., Ven. Dr.
Omalpe Sobhitha and Rev. Athuraliye Rathana Theros both voted, while the
government ranks sat dejectedly, defeat written on their faces but still
hurling accusations at the monks.
7 p.m. the counting concluded, making W.J.M. Lokubandara the winner of
the keenly fought battle by a mere one vote and MPs Joseph Michael
Perera and Rauf Hakeem ceremonially escorted him.
Lokubandara's victory brought all shades of opinion including that of
the monks, the northern and estate Tamils and Muslim members together,
thereby making it a decorated victory, it sadly lacked the decency such
a vote should ensure.
defeated government accused the JHU of all types of political villainy
and ridiculed the saffron robes, throwing their letters of appointment
as MPs towards the monks, all of which eventually ended up in front of
Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero's desk as the monk raised serious doubts
about the JHU's ability to work with the government in the future if
such low conduct persists. What the government conveniently forgot in
denegrating the monks is that it is they who started the ball rolling by
hijacking two monks to vote for the UPFA candidate, compelling the JHU
to cast two votes for the opposition to maintain their stated balanced
having taken oaths and administered the oaths of all other 223 MPs as
per custom, said that he felt honoured to be the Speaker of such a
multi-faceted, multi-hued parliament but wistfully added that he would
have preferred if there was consensus on his election rather than a
house has two conventional parties, the JVP representing the youth, the
TNA representing the northern Tamil voice, the JHU for the Sinhala
Buddhists, the CWC for the Tamils of Indian origin and the SLMC to give
voice to Muslims - all in all a beautiful combination. Let's make this
work," urged the new Speaker.
congratulating the monks, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe did
give fair warning to the House. He said that what happened in the House
should not be repeated and monks who represent this country's heritage
should not be insulted in this manner, though there may be differences
of political opinion.
angry Wickremesinghe provided food for thought when he said that Sri
Lanka's tolerance should be celebrated for having elected the JVP into
parliament. "This parliament is diverse and it is a unique
parliament in every sense. The JVP, that represents the youthful voice
is here, saying sadhu sadhu to the bhikkus in an insulting manner. Do
not forget the fact that it is the tolerance of the people of Sri Lanka
that has made you enter this House, despite the fact that after Kalinga
Magha, it is this very group that has killed more monks than any
a further warning note, he added, "If we cannot gather, discuss and
disperse peacefully as did the Lichchavi Kings, this country and this
parliament are doomed. Then there will be a King Ajasath who would
eventually destroy the kingdom, so let us prevent that," he said.
the deputy speaker and a deputy chairman of committees yet to be
elected, considering the pitfalls entailed, there is little hope that
this parliament would conduct itself democratically and smoothly.