Speaker Karu Jayasuriya talks to the Sunday edition of Rivira in relation to the decision to suspend Parliamentary Leader of the Joint Opposition, MP Dinesh Gunawardena, from Parliament for a week for disrupting Parliamentary proceedings and disobeying the orders of the Chair and the political situation that arose subsequently.
Q: What was the pandemonium that took place in Parliament. Why did you take such a decision?
I said that the Leader of the National Freedom Front, MP Wimal Weerawansa and members of his Party won’t be recognized as a separate Party or group in Parliament. On the day there were many important matters to be done in Parliament. Despite this Gunawardena continued to disturb in a manner contrary to Parliamentary traditions. On nine occasions I requested Gunawardena to allow the work of Parliament to continue. He and Weerawansa continued to disturb the proceedings. In the end, Weerawansa obeyed. Gunawardena continued to disturb. Therefore with much regret I had to take this decision.
Q: You are someone who talks highly of democracy. Taking such decisions, does it not harm the traditions of Parliament and also the Yahapalana (good governance) Government?
Apart from the right to talk about democracy, Rs 4.5 million of public money is utilized everyday day for the functioning of Parliament. Therefore, if there are disruptions to the work of the House, I have powers afforded by Parliament to take necessary measures to deal with it. Hiding behind democracy, one cannot be allowed to continuously disturb the proceedings. Just because of one MP or two MPs, one cannot stop this work. As the Speaker I must act to take the work of the House forward.
Q: The Opposition charges that this was an attempt to suppress the voice of the Opposition. Gunawardena has described this as a deadly blow to Parliamentary democracy.
Dinesh Gunawardena is a matured MP. It is sad that he continued to act this way. I can remember how he as the Chief Government Whip behaved when I presented the Right to Information Bill.
I respect the views of the Opposition and their opinion. At all times, I behave neutrally. It was after studying Court rulings and obtaining the advice of experts that I gave this decision. Regarding this, on several occasions I informed these MPs clearly.
Q: If Weerawansa’s party was recognized as a separate political entity in Parliament, this issue wouldn’t have arisen, isn’t it?
There are 18 parties in Parliament. If decisions are taken like this, all 18 would have to be recognized. Then Parliament won’t be able to continue. The line must be drawn somewhere. I act according to this. That is all I have to stay.
Q: Previously, under a United National Party (UNP) Government a similar decision was taken regarding MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara. What is your view of having to take a similar decision under a UNP Government?
This is not a decision taken as a party. It wasn’t the UNP MPs alone who appointed me as the Speaker. I received the support of 118 MPs who are not from the UNP. Therefore, on every occasion I act impartially. In this instance, I acted according to my conscience. Various allegations can be levelled against me. During this incident, one MP called me a scarecrow. Another called me a dictator. Even if two extremes attack me and present any opinion, I respect that.
Q: You could have afforded Gunawardena, a mature MP, more of an opportunity?
Dinesh Gunawardena is someone I respect very much. Together, we talked of changing the electoral system. He is a senior. In that instance, I couldn’t understand why he was behaving that way. What I said then was that he was not insulting me but Parliament. That is why I took such a decision after cautioning him on nine occasions.
Q: What are the measures that can be taken to prevent such a scenario from recurring?
The United People’s Freedom Alliance must internally talk about this. How can I take a decision regarding other parties? The Speaker cannot decide upon his whims and fancies. If there are parties, as the Speaker I must bow my head to their views. A further 175 MPs (excluding JO) hold a different view. I must listen to all of them.
The incumbent eighth Parliament has unanimously recognized six political parties as representing Parliament. The Speaker’s attention is not drawn to how many political groups or parties are found within these six parties and what agreements they have among each other.
Q: Does that mean that other political parties within Parliament will not receive any other opportunity?
On certain occasions, practically regarding the work of Parliament, certain rights are afforded with the approval of the working committee. However, as per the Constitution and the Standing Orders, neither the Speaker nor Parliament can establish in Parliament any new party or group that is fully recognized in the eyes of the law. Thereby, only the political parties and groups who are elected to Parliament and whose names are found in the nomination lists and contained in the relevant gazette can be legally recognized.
Q: Can you guarantee that no injustice will occur to MPs as a result?
I will not hesitate to protect the rights of each individual MP afforded in Parliament and intervene in instances where these rights are being violated. Previously too, I acted on the basis of Standing Orders. I went beyond the Standing Orders and afforded the opportunity to Dinesh Gunawardena’s group. After having spoken to the President and the Prime Minister, I afforded this opportunity to the 50-odd members. I did everything I could. Yet, I too have a limit.