For the First Time in Lankan History, Government Boycotts Parliament
The Citizen's coverage of the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO: For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, the government boycotted parliament on Tuesday.
Government MPs, including ministers, said that they will continue to boycott parliament till the Speaker of the House Karu Jayasuriya recognizes the government led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, which had been duly appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena on October 26, exercising his constitutional prerogative.
On an earlier occasion, government MPs had walked out of the House after the Speaker announced the composition of the Parliamentary Select Committee in which the main opposition group had been equated with the government side, when, as per the rules, the government side had to have more members.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who is a member of the opposition United National Front (UNP), had equated the Rajapaksa government and the opposition giving then five seats each, because he did not recognize the Rajapaksa government as being legitimate.
The Speaker had violated parliamentary rules also by giving a seat each to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) when these parties did not have the required number of MPs to justify inclusion in the Select Committee which is tasked with the responsibility of constituting all parliamentary committees.
The on-going trouble in parliament arose on October 26, when President Sirisena appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister by sacking Ranil Wickremesinghe when the latter had majority support in the House.
Additionally, the Speaker has been of the view that Rajapaksa could not be deemed to be a legitimate Prime Minister when he was defeated on two occasions when No Confidence Motions were moved against him.
But the Rajapaksa government as well as President Sirisena have been pointing out that the voting on the No Trust Motions was flawed on November 14 as well as November 16, because it had not been done with the show of hands on being called out individually. Nor was the foolproof electronic voting system used.
President Sirisena said that an important motion like the No Trust Motion against the government cannot be passed so casually without following the set procedure mentioned under the Standing Orders of Parliament. The two motions were passed with a voice vote following an unprecedented fracas.
Government MPs Not To Recognize Speaker Jayasuriya
Government MPs have taken objection to Speaker Jayasuriya's statement saying that there is no Prime Minister or government anymore as Rajapaksa and his government were defeated in two No Confidence Votes.
Wimal Weerawansa, Leader of the National Freedom Front, a party loyal to Rajapaksa, has said: " We will not recognize the Speaker as the legitimate Speaker anymore.”
Eran Wickramaratne, a minister in the sacked government led by Wickremesinghe, has requested the Speaker to ask President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint a new Prime Minister and a new government from the party which had shown its majority in Parliament.
Responding to this, Rajapaksa loyalist Wimal Weewansa said: “We have clearly said that the Speaker does not have the power to oppose the decisions of the President and neither does he have the power to select a Prime Minister.”
Sirisena Plays Down Crisis
However, despite the mess in the legislature, Sirisena has maintained that the present crisis is not serious and will not affect the daily lives of citizens .
He told foreign correspondents on Sunday that the current political unrest will be settled when the Supreme Court gives its decision on the dissolution of parliament.
The ruling is due by December 7, though with the constitution of a larger seven-judge bench, it could be postponed by four or five days.
A number of Fundamental Rights petitions had been filed by the opposition UNP and the United National Front MPs against the President's order dated November 9 to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections on January 5 ,2019.
A three judge bench had stayed the dissolution till December 7.
But on a petition filed by the Rajapaksa group, the Supreme Court on Monday appointed a larger bench though the number is only seven and not a nine-member full bench as demanded by the petitioner.
The Critical Vote on Account
In the absence of the annual budget for 2019 (which could not be finalized and presented because of the imbroglio in parliament since October 26) the government has decided to go for a Vote on Account to get money for three months to meet recurrent expenditure like salaries and other routine payments.
But the Rajapaksa government does not have majority in parliament to get the Account passed. It has only 103 of the 225 MPs in the House.
Sources say that the government is not worried about this at this point of time, because the President can draw money from the Consolidated Fund to meet urgent expenditure till December 31. After that, of course, it has to go in for a Vote on Account.
The Rajapaksa government hopes that the Supreme Court, (which is going into the question of the constitutional validity of the November 9 gazette dissolving parliament) will sanction the dissolution and allow fresh elections.
But if the court annuls the dissolution, the Rajapaksa government will have to face parliament and can be remain in power only if it garners majority support.
The Rajapaksa camp is confident that it will get enough MPs from the United National Front (UNF) to win the Vote on Account as it believes that there rifts within the UNF.
Bond Commission Report To Be Translated and Distributed
Meanwhile , to mount pressure on the United National Front, President Sirisena has ordered the translation of the report of the Presidential Commission on the 2015 Central Bonds Scam into Sinhala and Tamil, within two weeks.
The idea is to expose the alleged involvement of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cohorts in the multi-billion rupee Central Bank bonds issue scandal.
At the time of the scam, the Central Bank was under the purview of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the Governor of the bank was his friend, Arjuna Mahendran.
President Sirisena recently said that despite the issuance of an arrest warrant against Mahendran, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had done nothing to help the police nab his friend.
Allegation Of Forgery Against Speaker Jayasuriya
Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who has been accused of being blatantly partisan towards his party, the United National Party (UNP) led by Wickremesinghe, has now been accused of doctoring the record of parliamentary proceedings.
Udaya Gammandpilla, a Rajapaksa loyalist, has alleged that Jayasuriya altered the Hansard noting to say that a No Confidence Motion was passed against Prime Minister Rajapaksa when, in fact, such a motion was not passed as per the rules and was therefore invalid.
Refuting the allegation, Jayasuriya said that he had never forged anything in his life. He said he will face the challenge and is ready to go to prison if the charge is proved.