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Sunday, 28 April 2013

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Candlelight takes the House by storm

A candlelight protest by the Opposition against the recent electricity tariff hike led to pandemonium on the floor of the House on Wednesday, leading to exchange of heated verbal blows and fisticuffs among some Government and Opposition parliamentarians.

Soon after Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation Dr. Sarath Amunugama presented regulations, orders and bills for debate, the UNP MPs started to light candles in the House and walked out of their seats shouting slogans, demanding the Government to do away with the power tariff hikes. However, the situation turned into a mini battlefield as some Government members disrupted the candlelight protesters by throwing bottles of water at them which again led to exchange of blows and fisticuffs. Before commencing the debate, UPFA parliamentarian A.H.M. Azwer who raised a point of order drew the attention of the Chair to a candlelight protest intended by the Opposition members. Azwer requested to conduct an inquiry as to how the candles were brought into the Chamber as it may cause damage to the House when they are lit.

The protest by the Opposition members disrupted the proceedings of the House. UNP MP Ajith Perera and other Opposition members shouted to switch off the lights in the House as they had lit candles. UPFA Parliamentarian Lohan Ratwatte hurled bottles of water at the Opposition Members and the sittings had to be suspended for five minutes by the Deputy Chairman of Committees Chandrakumar Murugesu. However, the opposition MPs remained on the floor of the House holding their candles and shouting slogans.

DNA and TNA members remained in their seats watching the drama acted by the main Opposition UNP. A little later TNA MPs M. A. Sumanthiran and S. Yogeshwaran also joined the protest by lighting candles. The notable feature of the protest was that it was conducted in the absence of the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Opposition Leader however was seen in the Chamber during the oral question session. The Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga, UNP MP Joseph Michael Perera and several other UNP MPs also joined the protest. UNP women MPs Thalatha Atukorala, Rosy Senanayake and Chandrani Bandara were also seen at the protest.

Some Opposition MPs walked to the seat of the Health Minister Maitripala Sirisena and tried to place candles on his table but the Minister did not allow them. Later on, some Government rank MPs too attempted to hurl bottles of water at the Opposition MPs. Security officials were then seen removing the schoolchildren in the public gallery. A tense situation erupted during the candlelight protest when one of the water bottles hurled by MP Ratwatte hit UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake. MP Ramanayake who seemed furious

advanced towards the Government side shouting a string of obscenities and calling MP Ratwatte for a fight. MP Ratwatte however retreated while Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara was seen requesting MP Ramanayake to calm down. UPFA MP Duleep Wijesekera who also joined the conversation warned MP Ramananayake that ‘One-shot’ antiques could not be enacted in Parliament.

When sittings resumed with Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody presiding, the Government members who came to the Chamber voiced various slogans to counter the shouting of the protesters. Amid the uproar in the House, Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi entered the Chamber and took her seat. Later, the Government members led by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa came to the House and asked the opposition members to end their protest. Government members were seen attempting to douse the candles of Opposition MPs which sometimes developed into exchange of heated verbal blows. UPFA MP Manusha Nanayakkara attempted to kick UNP MP Ajith P. Perera.

This also led to a heated exchange of words between the two MPs. Minister C.B. Ratnayake who attempted to douse the candles and talk to the Opposition MPs was pushed away by UNP MP Sajith Premadasa. MP Premadasa appeared to be unusually angry and threatening the Government MPs.

Amid the uproar in Parliament, the Leader of the House and Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva stood up and drew the attention of the House to inform that if the Opposition does not want a debate, the Government has the ability to pass the bills, regulations and orders scheduled in the Order Paper for the day.

The Minister then 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 with the Government members shouting aye and thumping their desks. The table lamps of the Government MPs were switched on as a sign of saying yes to each bill while pandemonium reigned.

When each regulation, order and bill was taken for the third reading, the DNA MPs Sunil Handunetti and Vijitha Herath asked for a division and others echoed their call but the Chair continued with the process as the Sergeant at Arms and his assistant stood beside the mace.

As the bills were passed one by one without considering the calls for the division, DNA MPs Handunetti and Herath got on to their tables and shouted ‘division’ and ‘division against illegal bills’ and so on. Around 5.05 pm Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody called for moving an adjournment debate but since none appeared to move it, adjourned the House till May 7.

On the previous day also the main Opposition UNP attempted to make a big hue and cry in Parliament and demanded a full day’s debate to discuss the current situation that has cropped up after the power tariff hike. Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga who made a special statement in Parliament said the recent power tariff hike was bound to affect every activity as there was hardly any economic activity that was not dependent on electricity. He queried whether it was the policy of the Government to confine the poor to dark lives while allowing the rich to enjoy luxurious air-conditioned and well-lit lives?

When Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi made a reply speech, the Opposition MPs shouted and interrupted her speech. Despite the uproar made by the Opposition, Minister Wanniarachchi who continued her speech told the House that there was no point in shouting at the electricity price hike without taking action to solve the crisis of the CEB. She said the shouting would not bring about solutions for the problems of the CEB which continues as a state entity without selling it private sector.

After the Minister took her seat MP Amaratunga renewed his demand for a full day debate on the issue. Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa instructed MP Amaratunga to make his request at a Party Leaders’ Meeting. But Opposition MPs started to shout and thump their desks in support of Amaratunga’s request.

Later UNP MPs Ajith P Perera, Ravi Karunanayake and Dayasiri Jayasekera came to the Well of the House and approached towards the Chair while other Opposition members continued to shout disturbing the conduct of the House. The Speaker warned the approaching MPs that if they took one more step they would be named and evicted out of the Chamber and banned for two weeks.

TNA and DNA members were present in the House but did not take part in the protest but observed it remaining in their seats. Despite the warning the UNP MPs continued to advance towards the mace. Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms stood beside the mace ready to face any eventuality. As the Opposition MPs continued to shout and disturb the proceedings the Speaker adjourned the House.

 

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