Parliament turns a mini battlefield

Sri Lanka Parliament

The candlelight protest conducted by the main Opposition, United National Party (UNP), against the revised electricity tariffs turned Parliament into a mini battlefield yesterday.

The government members disrupted the candlelight protest of the opposition members by throwing water bottles at them, which led to exchanging of blows and fisticuffs. Soon after Senior Minister of International Monetary Cooperation, Dr. Sarath Amunu-gama, presented regulations, orders and bills for the debate, the UNP parliamentarians started to light candles they brought into the House, stood up from their chairs and walked towards the Well shouting slogans demanding the government do away with power tariff hikes around 4:23 p.m.

Government member, Lohan Ratwatte, hurled water bottles at opposition members and the sittings were suspended for five minutes by the presiding member, C. Murugesu. The opposition MPs remained in the Chamber with the candles and continued to shout slogans.

The UNP members with lit candles in their hands stayed in the Well of the House, while the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members remained in their seats.

The group of protesting MPs included Chief Opposition Whip, John Amaratunga, MPs Joseph Michael Perera, Eran Wickremaratne, Ranjan Ramanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, Anoma Gamage, Lakshman Kiriella, Ruwan Wijewardene, Palitha Thevarapperuma, Thalatha Atukorale, Rosy Senanayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Sajith Premadasa, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Ajith P. Perera, and Dunesh Gankanda.

Later, TNA MPs M.A. Sumanthiran and S. Yogeshwaran also joined the protest. MP J. Sriranga too joined the protest. Some opposition MPs attempted to proceed towards the seat of Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, and tried to fix the candles on his table, but minister did not allow them.

As MP Lohan Ratwatte continued to hurl water bottles, other government MPs too followed his example. While the commotion was raging in the Chamber, the security officers removed the school children from the galleries. One of the bottles hurled by MP Ratwatte hit MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who started advancing towards government benches shouting vulgar words and calling on MP Ratwatte for a fight.

MP Ratwatte was seen retreating while Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara came forward and was seen advising MP Ramanayake to calm down. UPFA MP Duleep Wijesekera warned MP Ramanayake that ‘one-shot’ antics could not be enacted in Parliament.

As the sittings resumed with Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody presiding, the government members returned to the Chamber and outshout the protesters. Government members, led by Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaksa, came to the Well and asked their opposition counterparts to end the protest. Some government members were seen attempting to put out the candles of opposition MPs, which developed into an exchange of blows in some instances. In the melee, Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara kicked UNP Kalutara District MP Ajith P. Perera. This made MP Perera to challenge MP Nanayakkara, who was seen shouting at opposition MPs after retreating to back rows.

Senior Minister, C.B. Ratnayake, who was trying to extinguish the candles and to talk to opposition MPs was seen pushed out by MP Sajith Premadasa, who seemed to be unusually angry and threatening the government MPs.

At this point Leader of the House, Irrigation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, got up and said if the opposition does not want a debate, the government could pass the bills, regulations and orders scheduled in the Order Paper for the day and started to read the list.

Accordingly, Order under the Excise (Special Provisions) Act, Order under the Sri Lanka Export Development Act (No 1), Order under the Sri Lanka Export Development Act (No 2), Regulations under the Food Act (No 1), Regulations under the Food Act (No 2), Regulations under the Food Act (No 3), Marriage Registration (Amendment) Bill, Kandyan Marriage and Divorce (Amendment) Bill, Muslim Marriage and Divorce (Amendment) Bill, and Births and Deaths Registration (Amendment) Bill were passed with amendments while the government members shouting aye and thumping their desks. The lamps on the tables of government MPs were switched on as a sign of affirmation to each bill, while the pandemonium reigned.

When each regulation, order and the bill was taken for third reading, DNA MPs Sunil Handunnetti and Vijitha Herath asked for a division and others echoed their call, but the Chair continued with the process as Serjeant-at-Arms, Anil Samarasekera, and his assistant, Kushan Jayaratne, stood beside the mace. As the bills were passed one by one, without considering the calls for the division, DNA MPs Handunnetti and Herath got on to their tables and shouted ‘division’ and ‘division against illegal bills’.

Deputy Speaker Weerakkody called for the moving of an adjournment debate around 5:05 p.m. but since none appeared to move it, adjourned the House till May 7.

(Ceylon Today)