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Preserving Parliament

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The preservation of a system of governance or an institution is dependent on respect. The moment respect is dispensed with, then its authority is also undermined. Parliament is the institution that stands for the sovereignty of the people and its leader is duty-bound to protect democracy in the name of all Sri Lankans. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has stepped up and protected the sanctity of this institution against daunting challenges and for that, any citizen who believes in democracy would be grateful for his service. 

The events since 26 October is enough to try the mettle of any Speaker of Parliament, but the worst it would seem was waiting till Parliament was convened. Even though the Speaker has ruled that the no confidence motion has been passed, since it has not yet been accepted by President Maithripala Sirisena, and he has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, the stalemate between the Executive and Parliament continues. 

Upholding the powers of Parliament is a massive responsibility. When the House convened on Wednesday, the ensuing chaos was expected. Failing to show majority, Parliamentarians loyal to President Sirisena and his Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa flocked to the well of the House, disrupted the vote, and prevented it from being taken by count. A vote by voice was taken and the Speaker ruled that the ‘ayes’ have it, which effectively removed Prime Minister Rajapaksa and dissolved the Cabinet. 

However, later in the day, President Sirisena, in a blistering missive to the Speaker, refused to accept the letter with the signature of 122 Parliamentarians and insisted that Jayasuriya reconvening Parliament when a petition was before the Supreme Court was essentially usurping of the power given to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution.  

This war of words set the stage for what transpired yesterday in Parliament. The Speaker called on Rajapaksa to present his speech in the House and referred to him as a Parliamentarian, which incensed Rajapaksa who responded that he does not care about titles. Efforts to take a vote after the speech triggered the worst chaos that has been seen in the House, possibly in its history, which was even admitted by former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. Parliamentarians even descended to the point of throwing folders and wastepaper baskets at the Speaker, which were adroitly deflected by UNP lawmakers who surrounded the Speaker to protect him. In the melee, the Speaker’s mike was broken.         

The stalemate has pushed Sri Lanka into even deeper chaos. There is effectively no clear Prime Minister, Cabinet and Government in place at the moment and the impasse has also resulted in key functions of Parliament, such as passing the Budget, being postponed indefinitely. Fortunately, resources to repay debt can be raised without a Budget. But other key functions, such as policy-making, allocating funds for development, paying salaries of public servants as well as general security and stability, have been put on the backburner. Essentially, the function of Parliament to serve the people is being lost because of the constitutional standoff.  

The fight now is the most important one of all: Preserving the democracy of Sri Lanka. This is a task that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya cannot do alone, and citizens of this country must stand together to protect Sri Lanka’s institutions so that they survive this onslaught.   

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