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Sunday, 14 February 2016

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Only one Opposition in House - PM

The Joint Opposition members enacted 'big drama' again in the well of the House on Tuesday (February 9) demanding that they be recognised as an Independent Group in Parliament. Despite the continuous protests and booing of the Joint Opposition members, the Government managed to pass the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill to increase the percentage of female representatives in Local Government bodies.

Before the debate commenced, UPFA parliamentarians Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and Bandula Gunawardane drew the Speaker's attention to the fact that despite several discussions they had with the Speaker and a letter signed by 52 members in the Joint Opposition requesting him to treat them as an Independent Group in Parliament, they had not yet received any response from the Speaker. The UPFA dissidents called upon the Speaker to ensure their legitimate right to function as an Independent Group in the Opposition.

The protest by the Joint Opposition members led to an extensive dialogue between government legislators and themselves. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the House that according to Article 41 (A), there can be only one Opposition and one Opposition Leader in Parliament. The Premier considered the need to allocate more time for the UPFA dissidents to speak in Parliament. The Joint Opposition members pointed out as to how Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and a few other UNP MPs were allowed to function as an Independent Group in Parliament after they quit the UNP. The Premier told the Joint Opposition members that Lalith, Gamini and the others were recognised as a separate group as they were expelled from the party.

Domestic issues

MP Dinesh Gunawardena who acts as the de facto Opposition Leader of the Joint Opposition continuously queried whether the Speaker was going to recognise them as an Independent Group or not? Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella pointed out when President Maithripala Sirisena summons SLFP MPs, around 40 of the SLFP dissidents also participate and agree to whatever the President says. Now, they come here and pretend to be Joint Opposition MPs. The Speaker also said that some injustice had been caused to them when time was allocated.

However, he asked the UPFA rebels to discuss their domestic issues with the party hierarchy and reach consensus and added that he cannot contribute to the 'sin' of destroying the UPFA.

Subsequently, when the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill was taken up for debate the Joint Opposition MPs led by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena came to the Well of the House shouting various slogans demanding their due rights. Amidst the protest staged by the Joint Opposition members, the Prime Minister commenced the debate and continued his speech while the Government MPs stood round the Prime Minister to protect him. Later, Government Ministers and MPs were seen shouting at the Opposition MPs who in return booed their counterparts. The Government MPs continued to speak in the debate regardless of the din. Ministers Chandrani Bandara, Faizer Mustapha, Anoma Gamage and TNA MP Mavai Senathiraja spoke during the debate. As the Bill was passed technically, the Speaker adjourned the House around 3.05 pm on Tuesday (February 9), three hours before schedule.

On the following day, MP Dinesh Gunawardena raising a Point of Order again, drew the Speaker's attention to allow them to function as an Independent Group in the Opposition. MP Gunawardane said it was illegal to pass a Bill while a group of MPs was staging a protest in the House. The Prime Minister assured the Joint Opposition members that he would discuss with President Maithripala Sirisena the possibility of recognising them as an Independent Group in Parliament.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that there were true SLFPers and also a 'Hora Pol' group in the SLFP and added that the Speaker has no right to recognise the Hora Pol group. UPFA Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama said had the SLFP rejected joining the Government, there would have been no Government today.

Special inquiry

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told the House that someone had threatened him, over the telephone on Tuesday night to recognise the Joint Opposition as an Independent Group in Parliament or face death. UPFA Matara District MP Dullas Alahapperuma asked the Speaker to hold a special inquiry into the death threats received by him over the phone and inform the House of its findings. Else, this allegation could also be directed at the Joint Opposition, he said. UPFA Colombo District MP Bandula Gunawardena said that the Joint Opposition was a group which also upholds the principles of democracy and condemns threats to the Speaker who is the protector of the MPs.

The Supreme Court had determined that certain clauses of the Theravadi Bhikkhu Kathikawatha Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and could only be passed with a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval by the people at a referendum. The Speaker conveying the Supreme Court determination, told the House on Wednesday (February 10) that the proposed Bill contained clauses inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

Another highlight of the House was that Democratic Party Leader Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka took oaths as a Member of Parliament before Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Tuesday (February 9). After taking oaths, MP Fonseka was accompanied to his seat by the Sergeant-at-Arms while other MPs in the aisle congratulated him.

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