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It’s Time for a Compromise

By Arjuna Ranawana- NOV 18 2018

The political crisis gripping this country continues into its fourth week with
very little hope of an early resolution. It is now a stand-off with Parliament
dominated by Members staunchly opposed to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was
appointed Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena on 26 October
and the Executive which is not recognizing that fact.

The previous week had been dominated by the news of who would hit the
magic number of 113 MPs to back the newly appointed Prime Minister. Last
week it was clear to all that despite the offers of Cabinet portfolios and cash,
no more MPs were willing to join Rajapaksa.
As a way out, Sirisena ordered Parliament dissolved and set 5 January 2019
for fresh elections, but that too did not work as Parties opposing the move
took the matter to Court.

At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Nalin Perera was asked to rule as to
whether the dissolution was Constitutional. He appointed a three -Member
bench led by himself and comprising SC Justices Prasanna Jayawardena and
Priyantha Jayawardena and heard arguments from 13 petitioners which
included the main political parties, Civil Society activists and several lawyers.
There were also interventions supporting the dissolution order, such as Prof.
G.L. Peiris and Udaya Gammanpila.

The argument brought forth by those who challenged the President’s decision
is that new articles inserted after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution
limit the powers of the President to dissolve Parliament.

The new clauses, they said, stipulate that the President cannot dissolve
Parliament for four and a half years unless the House passes a resolution with
a two-thirds majority to dissolve itself and then inform the President of the
decision.

Those siding with the President’s order, say that the power to dissolve
Parliament at will by the President has been retained. There was an
immediate victory for the petitioners as the three-judge bench issued a
unanimous interim order on the 13th that stayed the execution of the
dissolution.

After the interim order staying the election process, Parliament was able to
convene on Wednesday (14) but proceedings were short.

Before Parliament reconvened, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had met Sirisena
and agreed that when Parliament reconvened, he would recognize Rajapaksa
as the Prime Minister before a vote was taken. When the House met,
Rajapaksa sat in the seat where the deposed Ranil Wickremesinghe used to sit
in Parliament. Wickremesinghe chose to sit at the back.

Day one

At the outset the TNA’s M.A. Sumanthiran proposed that Standing Orders be
suspended and a majority of MPs voted in favour. Immediately after, the
JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake moved that Parliament vote on two
resolutions.

The first one was against the President’s order appointing Rajapaksa Prime
Minister and the second a motion of No-Confidence against the appointed
Prime Minister.

As a division was called a visibly angry Rajapaksa left the House and UPFA
Members supporting Rajapaksa followed him out of the chamber yelling
slogans against the Speaker and the other Members.

The TNA, the United National Front and the JVP supported the resolution.
Notably two UNF MPs who had crossed over to Rajapaksa and accepted
portfolios Wasantha Senanayake and Vadivel Suresh as well as two other
Ministers in Rajapaksa’s appointed Government A.H.M Fowzie and Piyasena
Gamage also voted for the resolution. The tide was flowing against Rajapaksa.

Day two
Day two of the impasse in the House was shown on live television and the
nation witnessed some of the worst scenes ever enacted in the Parliament of
Sri Lanka.

At the outset, Speaker Jayasuriya said that he did not recognize either
Rajapaksa or Wickremesinghe as Premier, or any of the Ministers. That is
because, Sirisena had gone back on his word, he said, to accept the resolutions
Parliament had passed the day before in a late night letter to the Speaker
which was also released to the Media.

Rajapaksa had asked to make a statement and when the Speaker addressed
him as Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, it appeared to affect the veteran
politician who at one time had been referred to as the “King of Lanka.”

“It’s OK to call me an MP. I have been President, Prime Minister and MP
before. Whatever title you give me I am Mahinda Rajapaksa and that is all I
need. This Prime Minister post is no big deal for me.”

He sought to explain why he had accepted the Premiership from the President
saying the country was in serious economic and political trouble and he had
come forward to correct matters and stabilize the nation.
He called on all 225 MPs to join him in this task. These remarks came from a
prepared speech which he interspersed with responses to catcalls from across
the aisle. But, the telling moment was yet to come. With the full force of his
personality Rajapaksa attacked the Speaker.

“We expected you to be neutral. We voted for you so that you will be a non-
partisan Speaker.

But, you have shown you are on the side of your Party and your Western
friends,” a reference to the envoys who have been calling on the Speaker in
Parliament and observing the goings-on from the Public Gallery. Rajapaksa
also called for a general election.

As Rajapaksa sat down, the UNF’s Lakshman Kiriella proposed a vote on
Rajapaksa’s speech and the Speaker asked the House whether a vote should
be taken.

At that stage, the UPFA MPs led by former Deputy Speaker Thilanga
Sumathipala rushed the Speaker’s chair surrounding him and abusing him.
The UNF MPs poured in from the other side and formed a protective ring
around Jayasuriya.

There was much pushing and shoving, punches were thrown and one UPFA
MP Dilum Amunugama from the Kandy district cut his hand trying to
destroy the Speaker’s microphone.

At one stage MPs were locked in what looked like an impromptu Rugby
Scrum that eventually collapsed in a heap. They threw water bottles, a
wastepaper basket and a copy of the Constitution at Jayasuriya.

UNF MP Palitha Thevarapperuma was seen brandishing what many thought
was a knife in his hand. He insists that it was a letter opener he had seized
from the Speaker’s desk.

Eventually, Jayasuriya rose and left the Speaker’s chair. Rajapaksa also rose,
waved to the House and the gallery and left. Wickremesinghe who was
occupying a backbench, did the same.

UPFA MPs complained to Police against Thevarapperuma for carrying a
weapon into Parliament. MP Amunugama had to be taken to hospital for
treatment for his injury-trying to destroy the Speakers microphone.

There have been incidents of fisticuffs and brawls in Parliament in the past,
but this was the first time ever that the Speaker has been intimated physically,
as the Chair has been held sacrosanct.
This was a new low.

That evening Sirisena invited a delegation from the UNF, JVP and TNA. He
promised them that if a Motion was passed against Rajapaksa on Friday (16)
he would recognize it and appoint a MP from the UNF as PM. But, he wanted
the first part of the motion, which held Sirisena’s act of appointing Rajapaksa
illegal, taken off.

Day three

If Thursday was bad, Friday, day 3, was worse. Soon after the quorum bells
were rung, Rajapaksa’s supporters occupied the Speaker’s podium with the
portly Arundika Fernando brazenly sitting on the Speakers High Chair.
These MPs started a chant calling for the arrest of MP Thevarapperuma.

As that went on the UNF, JVP, TNA and the cross over UPFA MPs sat in
their seats and did not join the melee as on Thursday (15). Then Rajapaksa
entered the House and Wickremesinghe was seen entering as well.

Immediately a posse of Police officers, arms interlinked, moved into the House
near the Speaker’s chair and stood as a human shield between the rioting MPs
and the Speaker who appeared with the Sargent-at-Arms holding the Mace.

They were preceded by a Parliament staffer, who carried in a chair, which
Johnston Fernando, of the UPFA immediately grabbed. He and others with
him then proceeded to use the chair, and parts of it, to attack the police
officers. Meanwhile, another group of UPFA MPs were seen taking the usual
chair of the Speaker, away from where it is kept normally.

Another chair was found for the Speaker who sat down and started to address
the House. Technically, the House was in session. The Assistant Sargent-at-
Arms signaled to the MPs to put on their head phones as the protesting MPs
were making a lot of noise. Then Parliament’s proceedings were conducted.
The Speaker’s voice could not be heard on live TV, but in an audio tape
released to the Media, the Speaker was heard calling on Members to vote for
the suspension of Standing Orders.

That was done as the MPs opposed to Rajapaksa stood up and raised their
hands. Immediately thereafter a resolution was passed against the Rajapaksa
Government.

These procedures went on as the UPFA MPs attacked the Police cordon
surrounding the Speaker.
They threw projectiles and UPFA MP Prasanna Ranaweera was seen
slapping a Policeman and throwing a red liquid-which those who came under
attack said was Chili water. Police did not retaliate, but later several
Policemen and MPs received medical treatment. Rajapaksa and his brother,
the former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa,were in the House but made no
attempt to dissuade his supporters from their thuggish behaviour.

The JVP accused Rajapaksa of orchestrating the attacks.

If Thursday was a new low surely Friday was the dumps. While the UPFA
attacked the Police the UNF, TNA, JVP combine sat in their seats and rose
only to vote.

Unsurprisingly, Sirisena seems to have gone back on his word, according to a
delegation of UPFA MPs who said after meeting him later in the night. He had
told them that the NCM was not properly conducted. He is using this as a
filibustering tactic to delay the process.

Journalist and political commentator Victor Ivan says the country is
witnessing the historical destruction of our “corrupt and rotten system from
within. When that takes place everything in that system, the leaders, the ways
and means of doing things and its institutions are destroyed.”
Ivan, ever the iconoclast, says the current system for which he blames former
President J.R. Jayewardene for creating, gave those holding State power the
opportunity to loot the riches of the country. “So the politician has stopped
performing his duties to the Constitution of the country but becomes a looter.
So the power struggle is not to serve the nation but for the power to loot.”

Ivan also pronounces on the fate of the three main characters in the power
struggle.“I predict that the President as a politician will be destroyed.
Wickremesinghe has already passed his sell-by date and even Mahinda
Rajapaksa will be greatly diminished. And the greater tragedy is that they
have not built a strong second layer of leadership.”

Former UNP MP Imtiaz Bakeer Markar gave voice to what many Sri
Lankans felt after witnessing the disgusting display in Parliament. He said the
feelings of all those who love their motherland, irrespective of colour and
party, were wounded that Friday. “Today would be a day on which all Sri
Lankan people were humiliated and degraded because some MPs elected to
represent you and I have degraded your vote through their conduct. The
leaders who tolerate and allow such conduct must be ashamed of themselves.”

So we are faced by this impasse. Thankfully, the ordinary people of this land
have gone about their daily lives without resorting to the kind of behaviour
exhibited in Parliament.

President Sirisena embarked on this course of action to save his own political
future without thinking things through and keeps on digging deeper into the
hole he has dragged this nation into. Rajapaksa grabbed the chance of power
when he was offered, probably to save his cohorts from being jailed without
knowing whether he will get a majority.

It is time for these two and Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya to come together
and work out a compromise, or history will not forgive them.
Posted by Thavam