'Paduru party' in the House
photographs of parliamentarians rolling orgiastically about on the
carpet in the chamber of Parliament as they supposedly held their
'protest' sit-in in Parliament must surely drive home the extent to
which the national legislature has been undermined and devalued in
It is important to note that those MPs who abused the norms of
Parliament in this crude manner last week are no more than just one
faction of a single parliamentary group in the national legislature.
This bunch of politicians have set themselves apart from virtually
all other political groups represented in the national legislature in
the political positions they are currently espousing on the most vital
piece of legislation in decades - the 19th Amendment to the
In terms of the collective opinion of the citizenry as expressed in
successive elections in recent decades, these politicians are going
completely against the trend of national thinking - the 'jaathika
chinthanaya' - that has acknowledged the harmful nature of the
all-powerful executive presidency.
Successive parliamentary and presidential elections in recent decades
have seen major political parties, including electorally victorious
ones, espouse the cause of drastic constitutional reform - if not
complete constitutional change - to either abolish the current executive
presidential system or, at least, severely prune its concentration of
power in one individual.
Today, we have a government that comprises the leaderships of both
major mainstream parties as well as all other political parties across
the ideological spectrum united in one single objective of reforming the
Even if the UPFA rebels still want to buck the electoral trend for
whatever reason - nefarious, selfish, misguided or otherwise - their act
of taking over the entire chamber and overnighting with revelry and
casual camping out violates not only parliamentary procedure and
regulations but also the dignity and significance of the national
legislature, the epicentre of Sri Lankan democracy and polity.
The dictatorial executive presidency, taken to its logical nepotistic
and autocratic extreme under the Rajapaksa regime, inevitably devalued
the chamber of elected legislators to a degree that it came to be
regarded as a place for posturing and vote-catching histrionics and
This degrading of the legislature has reached a point when, today,
the combined political forces that unseated the Rajapaksa regime, have
devised another, ad hoc, body for serious deliberations and
consensus-building in the management of the current complex and
sensitive transition from the old system to a better one.
Thus, with a legitimacy that drew little criticism, the victorious
National Unity Alliance government has set up and ably manages a
'national executive council' that currently steers the nation through
one of its most crucial, historic periods of reform of constitution and
change of political ethos.
The NEC, which has absolutely no formal legitimacy, has such a
political legitimacy that far more attention is paid to its
deliberations and adopted policies than to the proceedings in Parliament
- unless there is a rumpus in the House. The decline of Parliament,
then, is seen in all its sharpness with the antics of these MPs.
This is all the more reason for urgent constitutional reform that
re-creates the national legislature not only in the significance of its
usage but also in the type of future parliamentarians who will be
elected to the House.
The nation will watch and count those who act according to their
conscience and adopted party policy rather than according to their wild
surmises about political possibilities and their escape from
The self-flagellation by some politicians last week over their waving
of a flag is worthy of note. These politicians came under public
criticism for apparently protesting on the street in front of the
Bribery Commission waving flags bearing the lion symbol minus the other
symbolism, namely, the coloured strips that represent the country's main
Various minority rights groups and activists have complained that the
'national flag' had been desecrated by these politicians. Following
these complaints, these politicians, most of whom are not known for
championing ethnic minority rights, were suddenly contrite and one even
claimed that an unidentified 'NGO' had surreptitiously put this
seemingly offending flag in the hands of protestors.
It is indeed ironic that these politicians, known for their constant
NGO-bashing as well as their usual ethno-centrism, now claim that,
despite their avowed anti-NGO 'vigilance', they had unwittingly been
pawns of an NGO!
The furore over this flag seems precipitous, though. The act of
waving the flag in question would become a 'desecration' and a violation
of constitutional protocol only if this flag is explicitly described as
the national flag of the country. If not so described, it could be
simply just another flag which could symbolise anything.
For example, there are several traditional regional flags of Sri
Lanka that depict solely the lion symbol. Cannot anyone wave a flag that
bears the picture of a lion - whether rampant or not - without being
accused of 'desecrating' the officially designated national flag? Cannot
the Sinhalese, for example, wave a flag with the symbol that they
believe most represents their ethnic identity and mythological origin?
Or, the people of a part of Sri Lanka wave a flag that depicts the lion
symbol that traditionally represented the heraldry of that region?
Likewise, cannot the Tamils and Moors of Sri Lanka freely wave flags
that represent their specifically Sri Lankan identity - regional or
After all, no one has complained when solely the lion in the form
depicted in the national flag is used to symbolise Sri Lanka's national
cricket team. All Sri Lankans are happy to wear caps and t-shirts
championing the Sri Lankan cricketing cause with only the lion depicted.
Those 'lion only' Sri Lanka Cricket merchandise are not seen as a
Seen in this light, the flag-waving issue flags the underlying need
for freedom of expression in terms of cultural identity and traditional
symbolism that naturally reflects a multi-culturalist and pluralist
patriotism rather than an exclusivist and majoritarian one that then
engenders reactive ethnic secessionism.