Lawmakers in yet another lawless scene: Uncle sir, correct yourself
By Santhush Fernando
Who did what during parliament's terrible Tuesday is being widely and differently analysed or interpreted - but perhaps the most devastating indictment came from a Year-Five girl of a Galle school. Responding with justifiable indignation to a comparison on a TV talk show where the outrageous behaviour of some MPs was described as being like that of Grade Five children.

The child fired out an immediate fax message to State-run ITN saying that comparing the gangland political uncles with Year-Five children like her was an insult and attack on the sincerity and honesty of childhood.

Stressing, in her own innocent way, the importance of being law-abiding citizens, the child said Year-Five students always obeyed the teacher and would never run away with items belonging to the school.

Whether the small girl's innocent but soul-searching remarks will wake up our legislators is doubtful as rumpus in the well of the august assembly has more or less become commonplace. Tuesday's shame began with a dispute over the swearing-in of a new JHU MP.

The row turned into a brawl when some government MPs tried to prevent Ven. Akmeemana Dayarathana Thera from taking oaths as a parliamentarian because they believed it was against a court order. Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara called out the name of the Thera who was to fill the vacancy created by the controversial resignation of Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thera.

Immediately on his feet was Chief Government Whip Jeyeraj Fernandopulle. Raising a point-of-order, he said there was a District Court order that prevented Ven. Dayarathana Thera from taking oaths as an MP and a lawyer had sent a copy of the order to parliament.

"The thera has no legitimate right to appear here today," the Govt. Chief Whip said. The Speaker's response was that he had received no such order either from the court or from any lawyer.

After making inquiries from the Parliamentary Secretary General as to whether any letter to this effect had reached parliament, the Speaker said he would go ahead with the swearing-in and promised to take necessary action when such a letter was received.

The Speaker's remarks added more fuel to what was about to happen. Backing the Speaker's stance was Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe who wanted the swearing-in to go ahead. "No one can 'order' the Speaker – a son of Uva," he said, prompting Dilan Perera, the government MP from Uva to join the fray.

As heat was building up, JVP Parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa hit back at the JHU monks - his bete noir - and quoting from Buddhist scriptures said, "Bikkhus, Obey the Law of the Land" .

The Speaker, sticking to the letter of the standing orders, directed Sergeant-At-Arms Wijaya Palliyaguruge to escort Ven. Dayarathana Thera towards the dais.

At this stage, all hell broke loose. Protesting government MPs stormed the well. Some even sat down, blocking the isle. Undeterred, Ven. Dayarthana Thera continued his march towards the dais. He was pulled, pushed and manhandled by some MPs, while Serjeant-at-Arms Palliyaguruge and his deputies Anil Samarasinghe and Naren Fernando tried to protect him.

Opposition MPs and JHU colleagues also rushed to protect the monk, sparking off, first, a war of words with a good measure of abusive language being thrown in and then an exchange of blows.

JHU MPs, Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala, Ven. Athureliye Rathana and Ven. Uduwe Dhammmaloka Thera rushed to protect the new MP-to-be who was being jostled around, but they themselves had to take in some of the blows during this episode that lasted for more than 20 minutes.

Meanwhile Deputy Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage was seen running off with the Mace through an exit at the Government side of the House. Running after him was Deputy Serjeant-At-Arms Naren Fernando who wanted to rescue the Mace. The JVP’s Wimal Weerawansa and some MPs were seen using their hi-tech camera phones to record the brawl.

However, among all this pandemonium, Opposition MPs, T. Maheswaran and Sagala Ratnayake, managed to escort Ven. Dayarathana Thera along the outer alley of the Opposition side, to the Speaker's Dais. The Government MPs then thronged the dais.

After several unsuccessful bids to get the Mace back, the Speaker decided to administer the oath. A TNA MP was heard to say: there is no law in the country. Forget the Mace. Go on with the proceedings."

After being sworn in, the monk was escorted to his seat in parliament by opposition MPs. The swearing-in of two UPFA nominees – Nirmala Kothalawala and H.R. Mithrapala – did not take place because of the chaos. The Government MPs said the swearing-in was invalid because there was no mace. Dismissing this argument, the opposition said the Mace was only symbolic and cited several instances from Britain.

The irony of the situation is that while Erskine May was being resurrected, let alone Standing Orders, the basic decorum associated with the supreme assembly which exercises the legislative power of the people, had been forgotten.

After efforts to restore order failed, the Speaker suspended sittings for fifteen minutes and called for a party Leaders' meeting. About four hours after the Mace went missing, it was returned to the Sergeant-at -Arms. Soon after the party leaders' meeting, the session began again. House Leader Maithripala Sirisena then proposed that the House be adjourned until July 20. All agreed.

Parliament had met for the third time after the April 2 general elections, but it is yet to take up any legislative matters.

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