Parliament leader of the Joint Opposition (JO), head of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), MP Dinesh Gunawardena this week made to the list of Honourable Members ‘named’. He yet again joins a roll call which include political luminaries such as MPs Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Robert Gunawardena, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, Vivienne Goonewardena, Philip Gunawardena, Wijeyananda Dahanayake, Sarath Muttetuwegama, Richard Pathirana, Amarasiri Dodangoda, Lakshman Jayakody, incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena, A.H.M. Azwer, Mervin J. Cooray and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle among others. He spoke to the Nation regarding the dubious honour of being named and suspended for un-parliamentary behaviour for intervening on behalf of the leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), MP Wimal Weerawansa’s continued bid to sit in the Opposition separate from the United People’s Freedom Alliance.
Q: What is your interpretation of the events that transpired in Parliament which led to your suspension?
The Speaker previously said that he would announce his decision on whether or not he would allow the request made by Weerawansa for him and his Party members elected to Parliament to act as a separate group in the Opposition. Weerawansa himself raised the issue a couple of times.
The Speaker came out with his decision. The order of the Speaker was that it could not be allowed.
Weerawansa then requested for a few minutes to explain his position further. The Speaker overruled him several times.
I as the Parliamentary Leader of the JO got up and requested that I and Weerawansa be allowed some time to make submissions regarding our views. I reminded the Speaker again. Weerawansa also requested. The Speaker overruled saying that there was no question of a debate or discussion as he had given a ruling. When we persisted to alternatively make requests and we repeatedly asked for it saying that this was an urgent matter and to give us time, the Speaker then told us to send what we wanted in writing. In this instance, the Speaker contradicted himself by changing his previous position. When we insisted, the Speaker said he would give us some other time. We queried as to whether it was to be on the same day or the following day. The Speaker said not today, adding further that he would tell us the date. The Speaker’s three decisions contradicted each other. This is the way in which he was handling the matter.
This non-consideration of the whole situation aggravated the entire situation. MPs started arguing. Others from both sides joined in. I reminded the Speaker that previously former General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Prof. Wiswa Warnapala had written to the Speaker about a memorandum of understanding between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) about the powers afforded to them and following this it was recognized that non-SLFP parties such as the MEP, the NFF, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya and the Democratic Left Front can be separate. Right along, this has been maintained. It is on this basis that Weerawansa requested to be recognized. The Speaker has gone back on his own order.
We canvassed at the last election not to join the UNP and to form a separate Government and were elected on a clear mandate. We fought at the election for a UPFA Government under the Prime Ministership of incumbent MP and Leader of the JO, Mahinda Rajapaksa. We cannot accept Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and we are opposed to the UNP. Some SLFPers accepted office under Wickremesinghe. We challenged the UNP. With 52 members, we form the majority of the UPFA. We are sitting in the Opposition. The Speaker has recognized the JO in the constitutional sub-committees and the steering committee. The JO represents itself as the JO. Therefore, we cannot accept what is being told to us now.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has less members (16) than the JO and yet the time allocated to us is half what is afforded to the TNA. This is not correct by Commonwealth standards. In the Lok Sabha in India, to become the Leader of the Opposition one has to have a minimum of 10% representation. The Speaker however recognizes the Leader of the Opposition. This doesn’t fare well for Parliamentary democracy. When I said that we cannot accept the contradictory positions held by the Speaker and that he was wrong, the Speaker queried as to how I can say that he is wrong. I pointed out two instances. In the 47th Parliament, Chelvanayakam was a member of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress led by G.G. Ponnambalam, which Chelvanayakam then quit and formed the Federal Party which was recognized in Parliament. Former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike when he was a member of the UNP, resigned and became a member of the Opposition. The Speaker did not follow our advice and was not ready to listen.
The Speaker then named and suspended me and asked me to leave. Luckily, he forgot Weerawansa. The Speaker said that this was his order. Then he brought the sergeant-at-arms to remove me.
Former Speakers W.J.M. Lokubandara and Chamal Rajapaksa when such situations arose would summon an all-party leaders meeting to resolve the matter. This time, the Speaker didn’t. We feel that it is partisan and suspicious. This is a very sad situation for political democracy. We stood up for the rights of Parliamentary democracy. Then the Speaker advised that a motion be brought and placed in order and then passed. The police then came in. Members of the JO surrounded me.
In my lengthy argument with the Speaker, the Speaker said that he remembered me when I had opposed him when he had brought in the Right to Information Bill as a private member’s motion. I said that I opposed it because that was the then Government’s decision. I was also not the Speaker.
The Speaker was being unreasonable and very vindictive and not understanding of Parliamentary practices.
Previously, when one of my members threw a bottle at Wickremesinghe, I got up and asked him to leave. We stand by the order of the Speaker. Sometimes Speakers rule in favour of the Government and at other times they uphold the Opposition. In this case, the Speaker was one-sided.
The underlying reason for this issue concerning me and Weerawansa is to protect and safeguard the Leader of the Opposition. How this can be done is to suppress the JO and its 52 members. This is why they have continued to manoeuvre against us in relation to the time allocation and recognition. This is why we have fallen into this trap today.
Q: What will be the course of action you will resort to during the course of your suspension?
As a group we will raise our concerns regarding these issues. I nominated Organizer of the JO, MP Dullas Alahapperuma to take over the Parliamentary leadership of the JO during my absence but this was turned down by the Speaker. Our rights as a group are being deprived. The JO met on Friday (March 10) for discussions. We will launch certain agitations on the unreasonable and unjustifiable ruling concerning Parliamentary democracy.