Last week, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was once bitten twice shy.
Previously, when the government attempted to pass legislation, the opposition, or more correctly the Joint Opposition (JO) thwarted the process by engaging in unruly behaviour in Parliament, staging an overnight protest that made a mockery of parliamentary procedures, traditions and the dignity of the House.
So, when legislation was presented for the creation of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), Speaker Jayasuriya was taking no chances. Having had a whiff that recent parliamentary history was about to repeat itself, he put the debate in fast- forward mode and the legislation was rushed through Parliament.
It is also noteworthy that both the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) participated in passing the OMP legislation, taking part in the debate and moving amendments. These are not parties that ally themselves with the government unless they have good reason to do so.
To be fair to Speaker Jayasuriya, the JO had not challenged the legislation in the Supreme Court although it had ample time to do so. The JO also chose not to speak on the OMP when it was offered the chance to do so by the Speaker. The legislation was passed with the JO choosing not to vote on it. So, it should not be complaining.
But it is. It is claiming that the proper procedure was not followed in enacting the legislation. It is crying foul and heaping criticism on Speaker Jayasuriya. JO parliamentary leader Dinesh Gunewardena is even saying that when (and if) the JO comes to power, it would repeal the laws!
What the JO is complaining about is that it was not given the opportunity to play to the gallery and stage an unruly protest in the well of the House. Now, that would have served their purpose well: The bill would still have been passed because the government has a virtual two-thirds majority but the JO would have got its fifteen minutes of fame and more than a fair share of media coverage.
As perhaps the only real opposition in Parliament the JO has a role to play. It must take on the government on issues of national interest and challenge it as best as it can. That does not, however, mean that it can go about disrupting government business, so it can get petty political mileage. Unfortunately that is exactly what they seem to be doing.
This may be because most of the direction for JO activity comes from Wimal Weerawnsa and Udaya Gammanpila and not from the likes of Dinesh Gunewardena or even Vasudeva Nanayakkara, rabble-rouser that he is. These young hothead MPs revel in racy rhetoric and play little attention to dignity and decorum when peddling their particular brand of vitriolic politics.
Now, it is no secret that the JO is a front for a project to try and reincarnate former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a leadership role. Rajapaksa is one of the most senior politicians in Parliament, having entered in 1970. He would have seen many great debaters in his day and would know a thing or two about protesting in Parliament effectively and meaningfully, yet doing it in such a manner that it doesn’t affect the dignity of the House. It is a pity that he hasn’t imparted that wisdom to his protégés whose only ambition in life, it seems, is to return Rajapaksa to power.
For now though, the JO is confining itself to protesting about the lack of opportunity to protest and blaming the government and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya for their predicament. They are like the Australian cricket team, blaming the conditions for their defeat. And they should be told, just like the Australians should be, that they should learn their lessons, move on and try to win the next game.
And take a bow, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, for not bowing to the dictates of scoundrels masquerading as patriots!