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Save Lanka’s parliamentary democracy: SJB

07 Dec 2021

  • SJB writes to two international parliamentary bodies
  • Inter Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association urged to intervene
  • Boycotts sessions for third day
BY Buddhika Samaraweera The main parliamentary Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), has requested the global organisation of national parliaments, the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) to intervene and take measures to safeguard parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka through the prevention of alleged undemocratic actions by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). In the letters, dated 6 December and signed by SJB MP and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, the SJB has called on the IPU and CPA secretary generals to “intervene to take all the measures required to prevent any further undemocratic actions by the Government and to safeguard parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka”. IPU, based in Switzerland, is the global organisation of national parliaments and has 179 Member Parliaments and 13 Associate Members. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) is based in the UK and is made up of over 180 legislatures (or branches) divided up between nine geographic regions of the Commonwealth. The SJB boycotted the parliamentary sessions for the third consecutive day yesterday (7) and staged a protest near the entrance road to the Parliament, over the alleged attempt by a group of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led Government parliamentarians to attack SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara during the parliamentary sessions held last week. In the letters, SJB has elaborated on the incidents of the SLPP allegedly attempting to assault Nanayakkara during the parliamentary sessions on 3 and 4 December. Through the said incidents, he claimed that it has become obvious that the Government MPs are using violent force to silence the Opposition. “I firmly state that the attacks on Nanayakkara were unprovoked and were intended to be malicious. These are little more than mafia type actions by the Government MPs. I further believe that the said actions of the Government MPs were carried out with the intention of deterring the Opposition members from exercising their freedom of speech, inquiry and debate, and further, to suppress the voice of the people in raising their displeasure at the Government’s conduct and policies,” claimed Kiriella. He also alleged that the Government MPs conduct is a serious threat to Parliamentary democracy and the traditions of Sri Lanka and in turn poses a grave danger to the Opposition MPs safety. Speaking to the media during the protest, SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should make a final decision immediately to ensure the safety of the Opposition MPs instead of appointing committees which would serve no purpose. “Today, when the Opposition MPs are pointing out the shortcomings and corruption of the Government, the ruling party MPs have started launching violence, and barbarism against us. The Speaker is in charge of the security of the MPs, but he is merely appointing committees and being silent in the face of this violence,” he said. Premadasa also said that the current need was not to appoint such committees, but to take necessary action against Government MPs who are trying to incite violence in the Parliament. “Opposition members in Parliament today have lost their freedom of speech and expression. They have lost the freedom to hold the political ideology they want. One reason for this is that the Speaker does not take action on incidents like what happened. Therefore, the Speaker should have a backbone to take necessary action against those involved in such incidents and we strongly urge him to take a final decision immediately.” Speaker Abeywardena on 6 December informed the Parliament that a committee will be appointed within the course of this week to look into the alleged incident. He said that the said committee, which will consist of senior members representing both the ruling party and the Opposition, would be appointed within the course of this week. Abeywardena also said that it is the responsibility of all MPs to act in a manner that would protect the dignity of the Parliament and to uphold the Standing Orders. However, addressing the Parliament on 6 December, the National People’s Power (NPP) Leader and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake stated that the appointment of the said committee would serve no purpose. He claimed that several such committees have been appointed in the past to look into certain incidents but had failed to take any action against those involved in such. “Through the appointment of this type of committee, these issues will be overshadowed by time. That is what we have experienced over the past. Therefore, what you (Speaker) have to do is not appoint committees. You are the competent authority in the Parliament. So, instead of passing the issue here and there, watch the closed circuit television (CCTV) footage related to the events on 3 and 4 December and resolve the issue,” he requested from the Speaker. Kiriella alleged this weekend that a group of MPs of the ruling party had approached Nanayakkara on the same day and attempted to assault the latter when he requested five extra minutes from the Speaker for his speech. He also claimed that ruling party MPs had again approached Nanayakkara on 4 December in the Opposition’s lobby following his (Nanayakkara) parliamentary address and attempted to assault him.  However, the ruling party MPs, in response, accused Nanayakkara of making false allegations in the Parliament and called for an inquiry against him. Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando on 4 December claimed that Nanayakkara ran to the Chair, threatening the Speaker on 3 December, after the latter imposed a time limit for the debate in the Parliament. “The CCTV footage of the incident would provide evidence and prove the aggressive behaviour of Nanayakkara and how he turned violent after the Speaker ruled against additional time.” Alleging that Nanayakkara ran to the Speaker menacingly, Fernando said that it is their duty to protect the Speaker. “I went there to defend the Speaker. An MP has no right to threaten the Speaker or a presiding member. Some of those in the Opposition seem to think that they are the governing party in this Parliament when they make threats and demands to the Speaker,” he said.

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