13th June,  2004, Volume 10, Issue 48

Home

News

Politics

Issues

Editorial

Spotlight

Insight

Sports

Business

Review

Arts

Letters

Nutshell

Interviews

Fashion

Archives

Politics

Thuggery in parliament

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent

For an entire week, the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had been crowing about proving its parliamentary majority on June 8 when the house resumed. To achieve this end, the government employed every trick in the book and was confident of some pole-vaulting by SLMC and JHU defectors.

But instead of the promised show following a week-long struggle with 'Operation 113,' the government treated the entire country to a terrible spectacle, undoubtedly recording one of the darkest hours in the country's parliament history when they established before a shocked nation not a majority but the absolute low depths it has sunk to by attacking two venerable monks of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).

Absolute disrespect

The show of absolute disrespect for the saffron robed - besides proving to the world that ill-bred thugs have indeed come to dominate the country's legislature - would have had poor S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the founder leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) turning in his grave in absolute shame, for his was a party founded upon the pancha maha balavega or the five great forces including the Maha Sangha that came under attack by his own partymen, 50 years later.

The day was expected to be eventful with some opposition defections to the government and four new MPs to be sworn in as well. The new entrants included Ven. Akmeemana Dayaratana Thero, the monk who was to replace the controversial Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thero, who caused a serious commotion with his alleged abduction drama and sudden resignation just weeks ago.

Four chairs waited for the new MPs to be, and just before the house commenced, running away with the chair covered with a white cloth meant for the new monk was UPFA's Mervyn Silva, one of the worst behaved members in the present legislature.

Watching the scene closely were Silva's accomplices, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi and Mahindananda Aluthgamage who did nothing to stop him. However, Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, Anil Samarasekera quickly restored the chair.

The four eager members sat in anticipation, all ready to be sworn in as new members of parliament and peering from the galleries were their families and supporters who had gathered there to witness the oath taking.

At 10 a.m. Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara announced the swearing in of Ven. Akmeemana Dayaratana Thero, and there stood the young monk to take his place among the other legislators. But the monk was in for the rudest shock of his life as his mere presence turned the house upside down.

Up jumped Wimal Weerawansa to protest against the appointment of the new monk casting serious aspersions on both his appointment as well as the Speaker's conduct in wishing to swear him in, clearly treading dangerous ground that was greeted with howls of protest and shouting by opposition members intent to simply drown Weerawansa's voice.

Argument

There stood next the Government Chief Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to pursue the argument that an injunction prevailed upon the monk restraining him from being sworn in as a member and therefore his swearing in would be contrary to law.

"I urge that we avoid clashing with the judiciary. Our understanding is that Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thero's resignation is completely illegal as he did so under duress. Shall we not court trouble and wait until a final order is issued on the appointment of the new MP monk?" he urged.

To this, the Speaker responded by saying that he had not received a certified copy of the injunction, only a letter has been received by the secretary general of parliament from a lawyer by the name of Sanath Wijewardane promising to submit such order on a future date.

"Have you received the order?" asked the Speaker to which she replied in the negative.

This is a complex legal matter warned Fernandopulle, and the Chair responded that even to consider his line of thought, he should be in possession of the court order.

"What would you do if the letter is sent tomorrow? By then, you have administered the oath and then how could you invalidate the swearing in? This is dangerous," warned Fernandopulle once more.

"This monk has no legal basis to come before you. Even if you have not received the court order, he knows that an injunction prevents him from coming here today. He should have a conscience," argued Fernandopulle as an exasperated Speaker queried, "Where is that order then?"

A perplexed Chief Opposition Whip, Mahinda Samarasinghe stood up next, Standing Orders in hand to urge that the house should continue with the swearing in. "Sir, there should be an end to this. Let's get on with the business," urged he.

Quoting Lord Buddha

Soon Weerawansa was on his feet again, sarcasm dripping as he quoted Lord Buddha on good conduct, reminding many what it would be like to have Ajasath quoting Thripitaka or Satan quoting the Bible.

Clearly accusing the chair of partial conduct, something he should only do through the moving of a substantive motion, Weerawansa said that he was stunned by the swiftness with which Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thero's resignation letter was accepted and another was named in his place.

"Now there is an equally quick swearing in," sniped he, which had the UNP members shouting themselves hoarse, with the rest of Weerawansa's comment being completely drowned.

At the end of Weerawansa's diatribe, firm in his resolve to have the monk sworn in sans delay, Speaker Lokubandara announced the name of the monk and all hell broke loose as he took the first step forward towards the chair.

Instead of the thumping on the desks to receive the new member as is customary, the young priest suddenly found himself surrounded by a group of government members led by Jeevan Kumaratunga, who obstructed the priest from taking a single step forward while hurling abuse. Instead of the thumps and the clapping of hands, there was deafening jeering and shouting of abuse.

The monk moved one foot, and in his own admission had to take two backwards when the entire group of shouting and protesting government members rushed to prevent him moving forward, some pushing him physically.

That quickly drew Serjeant-at-Arms Wijeya Palliyaguruge and his Deputy, Anil Samarasekera to the monk's side to hold him close in a protective gesture. In a house gone stark raving mad, opposition members too rushed to join the mle, this time to assist the monk to reach the Speaker's table and in the midst, both sides ended up delivering blows with the house looking more like a boxing ring.

As Youth Affairs Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga shook the Serjeant-at-Arms in sheer protest as he tried to assist the monk forward, there came UNP's Lakshman Seneviratne to push the Minister away.

Worst ever brawl

There was pandemonium as government MPs pushed the young monk away despite a protective band of UNPers surrounding him when Kumaratunga dealt a blow to former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera who in return delivered several blows. Soon, members were seen engaged in the worst ever brawl inside the house with some of the most peaceful of opposition members hammering their government counterparts.

There was Deputy Sports Minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi un-sportily engaged in fisticuffs with UNP's new entrant Dinesh Gankanda while UPFA's nemesis Mervyn Silva was seen kicking, pushing and hitting at oppositions member like an enraged Sumo wrestler.

In the mle stood Dayaratana Thero, squeezed against the chest of the Serjeant-at-Arms who was perturbed that the monk would come to physical harm while right behind him, Fisheries Minister Chandrasena Wijesinghe was exchanging blows furiously with the UNP's Keheliya Rambukwella who was seen landing a thundering slap on the Minister's face.

The UNP's Navin Dissanayake and Sagala Ratnayaka too shed customary mild demeanor to take on opposition members and were soon seen engaged in mini warfare with Mervyn Silva, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and others in a terrible show of collective indiscipline.

Many an UNPer stood pushing and shoving government members away as the enraged UPFA parliamentarians surrounded the isolated monk, daring him to move when JHU monks, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero and Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala rushed to assist the monk.

Monks at the receiving end

In the pushing and assaulting match, the worst scenario was the failure to spare the reverend monks by the UPFA members who eventually caused an injured Sumangala Thero to rush to a seat and the new monk entrant to writhe in pain and sport an arm that limply hung by his side.

The brawl continued while the Speaker's repeated calls to order fell on deaf ears. In the rush, the mace was smuggled out by Power and Energy Deputy Minister, Mahindananda Aluthgamage which added to the prevailing chaos in a house that resembled a rabid dog show.

While MPs gave went to their feelings and had a free for all, there stood JVP's Nandana Gunatilleke, probably the only JVP member who had an iota of sense and decency within, pushing JVP members Nihal Galappathy and Chandrasena Wijesinghe back to their respective seats.

Dayaratana Thero meanwhile took the circuitous route and moved through opposition benches, assisted by T. Maheswaran and Sagala Ratnayaka to reach the chair and sign his papers. There stood in the middle, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, the JHU Spokesman, insisting that the new monk should be sworn in despite the prevailing hooliganism, but his defiance met by a howl of protest and a barrage of insults being heaped on him.

The missing mace

But the theatre of war moved nearer the Chair swiftly with protesting UPFA members shouting that the monk's swearing in was anyway illegal due to the missing mace.

"He has no right to be sworn in," shouted Dilan Perera and screeching sounds, more protests and abusive words continued to be heard while the monk's robe was being pulled by Mervyn Silva who quickly earned a few blows from a collective of UNP members. Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero swiftly moved to push the robe back into place and was once more dragged into the ugly spectacle, this time right next to the Speaker's chair.

"Please bring the mace back," requested the Speaker to which the shouting government legislators shook their heads in stoic defiance.

Meanwhile, Wimal Weerawansa adopted the role of photographer, shamelessly violating Standing Orders that barred the use of such electronic equipment inside the chamber, ably assisted by a host of other government members who had a field day photographing the disgraceful spectacle.

Finally, some opposition members trooped back to their seats but chaos ensued as the government benches refused to return the mace. An angry Speaker nevertheless called the other three names listed to be sworn in on Tuesday, but none responded. H.R. Mithrapala, Nirmala Kothalawela and Mohomed Juvan Muzzamil sat silently without making any effort to take their oaths.

"Down with the Speaker," slogans were heard and UNP's Hemakumara Nanayakkara stood in the isle, accusing the government of sheer hooliganism and terror tactics to prevent the exercising of an individual's right to be sworn in, pointing a warning finger at Mervyn Silva who made gestures that matched his general use of words.

In the din, complete disorder prevailed and the Speaker quickly suspended the house. Rushing towards the opposition benches, UPFA's Mahinda Amaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi were seen showing photographs taken from their phone cameras that cast the monks in a negative light. "Kethai hamuduruwane," said Amaraweera to which Ven. Dhammaloka Thero responded that the motive was well understood by the bhikkus.

There were opposition MPs who claimed that with the 'graha maruwa,' the government would soon be seeing stars, what with the monks becoming victims of their violence and the UPFA quickly earning a reputation as a movement hell bent on resorting to strong-arm tactics, sleaze, scandal and bribery to assert political power.

At 10.45 am, the Speaker resumed sittings with a profuse apology to the monks who seemed to be at the receiving end of political violence not only outside but also inside parliament.

"A gravely unfortunate incident occurred today with the attack on the monks and another breach of discipline was committed when the mace was removed. Please assist me to restore order by handing over the mace," he appealed.

The house was suspended once more with the din continuing and a defiant government refusing to part with the mace - the symbol of parliamentary authority with scant regard for parliamentary traditions upheld so far.

Security tightened

The security around the chambers too was tightened with all excepting parliamentarians and parliamentary officials being allowed the freedom of movement till 2 p.m. Twenty minutes later at 2:20 p.m., after the collapse of a party leaders meeting that failed to achieve results and was more a mini battle field than a discussion forum, the house resumed.

The mace was brought in ceremonially, but this time through government benches by Serjeant-at-Arms Wijeya Palliyaguruge, escorted by Dilan Perera only to have the house adjourned until July 20.

The day would certainly go down in history as our most shameful in parliamentary history with monks being manhandled in a country that is desirous of being called a Buddhist land. Besides the low conduct of some rabid government legislators that seems to push this country towards assuming the identity of a true banana republic, we seem to be losing not just our parliamentary traditions but a 2000 year old tradition of respecting Buddhist monks, the disciples of Lord Buddha.

As for the JHU members who entered the house with the holistic ideal of creating a dharmarajya through the infusion of Buddhist values into the parliamentary sphere, it would be better to first chant an all night pirith ceremony to ward off evil spirits that appear to dominate the once hollowed precincts and to become exponents in the martial arts, if only in self defence.

Penal Code definition of assault

According to Section 342 of the Penal Code, whoever makes any gesture or any preparation, intending or knowing it to be likely that such gesture or preparation will cause any person present to apprehend that he who makes that gesture or preparation is about to use criminal force to that person, is said to commit "an assault."

An explanation given to illustrate the point states that "Mere words do not amount to an assault. But the words which a person uses may give to his gestures or preparation such a meaning as may make those gestures or preparations amount to an assault."


 "Terrorism among Sinhalese should be banished first"

Ven. Akmeemana Dayaratana Thero    Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala Thero

 By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The ugly scenes in parliament last week, besides being a terrible indictment on the house itself, resulted in two bhikku parliamentarians of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) suffering injuries.

The opinion of the latest bhikku entrant to parliament, Ven. Akmeemana Dayaratana Thero - himself a victim still languishing on a hospital bed - is that many of his new parliamentary colleagues are nothing but "uneducated, idiotic men running around like rabid dogs."

"The parliament is considered a superior place where the country's rulers meet to resolve problems of a nation. But, what I experienced on my first day was terrible. I could not believe it was actually happening and that people could treat a monk with such disdain. I realised instantly that no self-respecting person could survive the thuggery there," he said.

Explaining his first experience there, the Thero said that when he walked towards the Speaker to be sworn in, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, Jeevan Kumaratunga dramatically appeared before him demanding him not to proceed.

Ven. Dayaratana Thero had continued to walk, only to be stopped halfway by a posse of government MPs - Mervyn Silva, Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, all obstructing him.

According to the Thero, the MPs stopped him and pulled his hand. "At that moment, about 15-20 MPs clung to my hand," he said.

The Thero had then tried to take a step forward, only to stop writhing in pain as the government MPs had twisted his arm and pulled the robe away.

Ven. Dayaratana Thero said that when he was pulling his robe back to cover his torso, Mervyn Silva delivered a hard blow to his right shoulder.

It is at this point the other two monks, Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala Thero and Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero rushed to his aid, to become victims themselves.

Physical and verbal abuse

According to the monk, it was then that some government MPs hammered Ven. Sumangala Thero as UPFA parliamentarian Mervyn Silva used raw filth on Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero.

To complete the journey sans further trouble, the assisting monks diverted Ven. Dayaratana Thero who then began to proceed through opposition benches to reach the Speaker.

The new bhikku MP added that the scenes were so ugly that even the Secretary General of Parliament, Priyanee Wijesekara was almost in tears.

He had felt faintish as pain seared through him. Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thero had then rushed to his side, as he was feeling dizzy and unable to walk on his own.

The Thero, injured and lying in bed at present, cannot lift or move his right hand and frequently experiences chest pains. However, the wounds on his feet caused during the stampede have healed to an extent.

The determined monk said that he certainly would return to parliament on July 20 and noted that parliamentarians should bear in mind that they were sent to the house to settle problems of the people and not to engage in fisticuffs.

"Before trying to find a solution with terrorists, attention should be diverted to the interior of the parliament as the problem there is much bigger than elsewhere in the country," he noted.

He expressed concern about the order of parliament, as there was a breakdown in the proceedings. "On June 8, even the Speaker didn't appear to have any control on the members or the situation. The Prime Minister too had no control over his party men," he criticised.

Adamant that tactics to instill fear would not make the bhikku group stay away from the legislature, the Ven. Thero said that there was no way for some hooligans to scare the monks away and obstruct their journey in search of a dharmarajya undertaken on behalf of the late Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero.

"We won't turn back, even if we are to die. We consider all these unpleasant pressure tactics as sources of strength and despite the physical pain and the mental anguish, consider it our bounden duty to carry forward the work of the late Gangodawila Soma Thero. Our journey has only begun," he noted.

Also speaking to The Sunday Leader was Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala who said that the blows he received to his upper and lower abdominal area have left him unable to pass urine for days. He felt that before ridding the country of terrorism, the terrorism among the Sinhala race should be banished.

Ven. Sumangala Thero, a much loved popular Buddhist preacher, said that he rushed to the scene simply to assist Ven. Dayaratana Thero as the new monk had come under attack by government MPs.

"Blows were showered on him and his arm was twisted by a group of rowdy government legislators who were hell bent on preventing the new MP monk from being sworn in," he recalled.

Ven. Sumangala Thero said that when a particular member hit his stomach fiercely, pain shot through him and he had difficulty in standing up, which in turn made him lean against a table for support.

However, the Thero managed to escort the new entrant to the Speaker and once the swearing in was over, he walked out as he felt vomitish. "I felt uncomfortable and visited the parliament health unit where I vomited and fainted," Ven. Sumangala Thero said.

Identities of attackers

The strong blows to his abdomen had severely bruised the area resulting in him being unable to pass urine. He is still using a catheter to pass urine. When asked whether he could identify those who attacked him, he said that although he knows who they were, he would not divulge their identities.

"I will suffer physically and it will be gone in a few days, but for what they have done they will suffer mentally. We have done nothing wrong to anyone and we did not go parliament for the prestige, power or perks. We went there for a reason - for the fulfillment of a mission and that is to form a dharmarajya," said Ven. Sumangala Thero, adding that such goals cannot be compromised simply because they became victims of unruly persons.

Writhing in pain as he spoke to us, the monk said that his heart bore no hatred for those who attacked him and insulted the robe that he wears.

"My singular wish is that those who tried to harm us should not come to any harm and that someday, they would see the light. On such a day, I hope that they would understand the Buddhist rules for administrators and rulers and follow the path explained 2,500 years ago by Lord Buddha. That would be solace for me," he noted.

He noted that there was so much in the present day legislators that required to be improved or corrected as they were all driven by one mad factor - their lust for power.

The Thero when asked whether he would return to parliament said that he would, provided his health improves sufficiently enough.

"My fervent prayer is that people would understand why we have entered the hurly burly of politics and that our ideals are very different to those of lay people," he noted.

"If such a realisation is so difficult and it requires a pooja, a sacrifice to create the backdrop, then I would not hesitate to make that sacrifice," Ven. Sumangala Thero said.


  The symbol of authority that went missing 

 

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

While disorder became the order of the day, it was not only the monks who took a beating, but also the symbol of authority, the mace, when it 'disappeared' for over four hours.

In the din, according to highly placed parliamentary sources, many did not see the mace being taken away by Power and Energy Deputy Minister, Mahindananda Aluthgamage as focus fell on the brawl inside with two monks becoming easy victims.

The Serjeant-at-Arms , Wijeya Palliyaguruge along with Anil Amarasekera, his deputy, assisted the monk to walk up to the chair while the mace was swiftly removed.

It was the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms, Narendra Fernando who rushed to secure the mace as he was watching the scene from the officials' box.

While most did not see as to who took the mace away, the sharp eyes of the Speaker and the secretary general of parliament clearly noticed the errant deputy running away with it. According to sources, Fernando ran behind the departing member and stopped him at the government lobby and requested the mace.

In this mle, Deputy Anil Samarasekera too wished to look for the mace and it was former Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister, T. Maheswaran who offered to stand next to the victim monk.

About 25 government legislators, according to sources were guarding the mace and no amount of appealing made them hand it back. Some had used abusive language on the officials and threatened to smash the mace, with the crystal downward.

The officials it is learned conceded defeat momentarily and decided to wait until things quietened down.

Eventually, the government legislators decided to hand over the mace leading to the resumption of the House at 2.20 p.m.

The mace is received by the Serjeant-at-Arms from the Lord Chamberlain of the Household; it is therefore, in the first place a symbol of the Royal authority, and thence derivatively of the authority of the Speaker and the House. When the House is dissolved or prorogued it reverts to the custody of the Lord Chamberlain of the Household, but during an adjournment it remains in the control of the Serjeant-at-Arms.

- Erskine May

  

The mace of parliament 

The mace of the Sri Lankan parliament, valued at well over 1.5 million, is a work of art created by Gerard's of London, the jewellers to the Queen. It was gifted to the Sri Lankan parliament in 1949, soon after the country gained independence by the House of Commons as a gesture of friendship.

Gold, silver and copper plates have been beautifully welded together to create the mace which is studded with blue sapphires. It has an ebony bar and bears some crystals to symbolise purity of the legislative practice.

According to Serjeant-at-Arms, Wijeya Palliyaguruge, the mace has inestimable antique value. He said the mace was a symbol of parliamentary authority and traditionally, sessions commenced and ended with the placing of the mace and its removal at appointed times.

Assertion of majority by opposition

Following a suggestion made by JHU Spokesman, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, five opposition parties have collectively asserted their majority in parliament last Thursday (10).

The MPs, having mustered some 114 signatures in an open letter that is to be sent both to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara, have claimed that the signatures were placed as a "collective commitment to ensuring parliamentary democracy."

The signatories represent the UNP, TNA, JHU, CWC and SLMC.

A special committee was appointed comprising Karu Jayasuriya, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Arumugam Thondaman, P. Chandrasekaran, Rauf Hakeem, Nadaraja Raviraj, Gajendra Ponnambalam and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero.

More Stories...


News Politics Issues Editorial Spotlight Sports Business Letters Review Arts Interviews Nutshell 

 

 

 

Leader Publication (Pvt) Ltd.
1st Floor, Colombo Commercial Building., 121, Sir James Peiris Mawatha., Colombo 2
Tel : +94-75-365891,2 Fax : +94-75-365891
email : editor@thesundayleader.lk