Parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in similarity to his recent predecessors, is having a heck of time controlling the increasingly crude, juvenile, disrespectful and overly combative behaviour of a clique of legislators.
Chaos reigned in the Assembly last week and the sittings were suspended twice when the Speaker ordered the removal of a senior lawmaker for unruly behaviour in the House.
Speaker Jayasuriya had ordered Joint Opposition MP Dinesh Gunawardena to leave the House for continuously disrupting proceedings. However the MP carried on regardless of the order and remained in the House warranting the Police into the chambers.
Following the interruptions, the legislators voted 85 to 22 to pass a proposal to suspend MP Gunawardena from attending parliament for one week. Members of the Tamil National Alliance voted for the proposal with the government while 22 MPs from the joint opposition voted against.
The Speaker had warned the miscreant several times not to try his patience and disrupt the proceedings. He subsequently expressed his regrets for the unruly behaviour of the parliamentarian. Mr Gunawardena, being a senior MP must surely be aware that the Speaker’s role is to conduct the business of the House according to the Rules of Procedure. The Speaker’s principal role is to regulate the proceedings of the House and to enable it to deliberate on and decide the various matters coming up before it.
With years of parliamentary experience under his belt he should have been mindful of the fact that continuing to consistently bait and disregard the authority of the Chair would be tantamount to disorderly conduct. No surprise then that he was ‘named’ for obstructing the proceedings of the House and ordered to withdraw from the Chamber.
A beleaguered Speaker time and again warned the offender to desist from disturbing the proceedings but to no avail: Mr Jayasuriya: “Please sit down. Order in the House. Let me carry out my duties. I have noticed several MPs using un-parliamentary language. I cannot permit you to repeat that conduct. It is against the dignity and decorum of the House.”
The Speaker is not only the moderator and facilitator of the sittings of the House, but is also the authority invested with the responsibility to help frame unassailable rules, practices, customs and conventions and thereby help evolve a healthy parliamentary culture. The Speaker derives his disciplinary powers from the Rules of Parliament. Speakers may in their discretion, intervene when a members make an unwarranted or defamatory statement by asking them to withdraw that remark or order the expunction of any offensive or indecent words used in the debate.
Over the years, we have witnessed, the declining standards of conduct of legislators inside the august Chamber. On several occasions there have been those awkward moments when parliamentarians let their fists do the talking. Such coarse conduct degrades parliamentary process, creates an inappropriate behavioural model for our youth and causes ridicule in the eyes of world nations.
But foul language and testy tempers are hardly uncommon in our legislature where it’s almost a cliché to chide MPs for acting like children and plead for decorum more suited to the seriousness of the national business at hand. How the heck can our kids learn to be respectful to one another when at the very top of the tree in the House by the Diyawanna legislators are behaving like a pack of rabid hyenas.
Surely, the party leaders and whips should be largely held accountable for the deteriorating norms of conduct in the legislature, which appear to have descended to the lowest depths of depravity. The general discourse by several MPs and indeed some ministers has been getting progressively lewder, ruder and cruder. Discretion has all but disappeared from general parliamentary language useage. Despite the obscene cacophony, which frequently passes for parliamentary debate, being carried out to its illogical conclusion, there has been only a small reaction on the side of propriety.
Sadly, the loudest and most indecent disorder in this nation has come from the politicians themselves and most of what they say has been limited to bitter and smutty mudslinging. There have been times when rhetoric has escalated into physical confrontation, as has been evidenced in the recent past. In certain other instances we have seen both MPs and ministers, taking cover under the mantle of parliamentary privilege and outdoing themselves in disgorging offensive and racial comments. That they have done so in their own defence or in certain cases in the defence of embattled colleagues is no excuse. Quite plainly, it is a damnable cowardly exercise.
In what would be decidedly criminal slander, outside the courtly Assembly there have been instances when even senior parliamentarians have had the nerve to flagrantly and unfairly attack the reputations of some treasured citizens of this nation, whose accomplishments and characters they would never be able to emulate in twice-ten-thousand years.
People have been profoundly shocked by the declarations of some of them who injudiciously attempt to fob off allegations against themselves or their colleagues with such scurrilous subterfuge. Privilege in any form does not provide the justification for legislators to indulge in such defamation against respectable personages who have been immorally victimized by this kind of political prejudice.
These totally unwarranted and condemnable character assassinations should trigger a widespread outcry for self-imposed regulations by all political parties over the abuse of parliamentary privilege. After all, such imprecations only go to show the dangers of how parliamentary privilege could be reduced to the level of debasement, no less.
If certain political elements do not step back from the boorish antics that are the acknowledged norm in today’s world of most elected administrators, they would be on the way to becoming an endangered species. They will be unmasking themselves for what they really are – a whole caboodle of barbarous loony-tunes, familiar with only the singular law of the jungle. And in continuing to do so they would be authenticating those suspicions about them that they are personalities so lacking in self-assurance and good breeding that they prefer public confrontation with choice profanity to civilized discussion.
The lesser the intellectual range, the lesser the analytical mind and the worse the language. Words serve ideas. Dirty words are just that, empty words without ideas. Parliament like journalism is a business of words, and every word in a real sense, reflects the mind of the person. Party chiefs must have the ability and courage to reintroduce those sacred parliamentary norms and educate their members on the intricacies of parliamentary procedure and dignified conduct.
Most of it is a matter of visibility, almost of gamesmanship. Violators must be brought to heel for their lack of control to which all right-thinking people have acquired a considerable distaste.
What this nation needs most is comity. Comity means civility and courtesy, words that people lived by in those bygone days. But some of the best traditions of a noble institution have unequivocally been swept away by certain ill-bred louts, who have become part of our lawmaking process and who are supposed to be shaping a generation. When will they realize that Parliament is a place where a vast quantity of important and complicated business is performed under a glare of publicity by men and women whose occupation is to perform it?