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Commemoration of 70th anniversary of first Parliament of democratic Sri Lanka today

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By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent

A special sitting will be held today at 2.30 p.m. in Parliament to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first Parliament of an independent Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Rajavarothiam Sampanthan are expected to jointly move a motion opening the floor for a debate to celebrate 70 years of uninterrupted parliamentary democracy, which is established by the oldest universal franchise system in Asia. 

The ceremonial sitting will be graced by the speakers of the Lok Sabha of India, the Jatiya Sangsad of Bangladesh, the Parliament of Bhutan, the Parliament of Afghanistan, the Parliament of Maldives and the Parliament of Nepal. According to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, the presence of the Speaker of Pakistan is prevented due to unavoidable circumstances.

“Parliament takes the country forward despite various obstacles and difficulties. We shouldn’t forget the loss of lives and damage to property as a result of the two failed military coups in 1962 January and 1966, the two local insurgencies in 1971 and 1988, and the three decades of terrorism. I extend my gratitude to all political leaders who contributed to maintain parliamentary democracy. We shouldn’t forget parliamentary supremacy and the respect and responsibilities of both members as well as the voters,” stated Speaker Jayasuriya yesterday, issuing a media statement setting stage for today’s event.

The Parliament of Ceylon met for the first time on 14 October 1947 with Sir Alfred Francis Molamure serving as the Speaker. The membership was determined by the results of the 19-day-long General Election held between 23 August and 20 September 1947. The duration of the first Parliament was limited to four years and five months and was dissolved on 8 April 1952. 

The first session of the first Parliament was opened by Sir Henry Monek-Mason Moore, Governor of Ceylon. The second session, which was the first after independence, was opened by the Duke of Gloucester on 10 February 1948. The third session was summoned on 12 July 1949 with Lord Soulbury’s first speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament after he was appointed Governor-General. The fourth and the fifth sessions of the first Parliament were summoned on 20 June 1950 and 20 June 1951 respectively.

The United National Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Bolshevik Leninist Party, Communist Party, Labour Party, All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Ceylon Indian Congress, United Lanka Congress, Swaraj Party and a group of independents contested the 1947 elections for 95 seats. Winning 39.81% of the total votes, reaching 751,432 votes, the United National Party won 42 seats, the majority, and formed a Government selecting D.S. Senanayake as the first Prime Minister. Mrs. Florence Senanayake, Mrs. Kusumsiri Gunawardena and Mrs. Tamara Kumari Illangaratne were the first female members of the first Parliament.

Since 1947 October the sessions were held at the old Parliament building at Galle Face before being moved to the new parliamentary complex in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte in 1982. (AH)

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