President Sirisena greets former President Mahinda Rajapaksa while walking into the Chamber for the inauguration of Parliament
A hectic week is about to end. It had been a long wait for the new ministers to take oaths and resume work. Even more than the common-folk, it would have been anxious moments for those with expectations to become ministers or deputies. How they wait impatiently to serve the country!
The opening of the new Parliament last Tuesday – the eighth under the 1978 Republican Constitution – saw around 60 new faces taking their oath along with the seniors. The return of an Executive President who was also the Prime Minister once, opened a new chapter in the country’s Parliamentary system of government. Though some considered it a “demotion”, obviously former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is confident he can make a vital contribution via Parliament towards the progress of the country.
Two MPs in opposing camps who have made a name for themselves in the business sector prior to entering politics were unanimous choices for the coveted posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (UNP National List) won praise for his innovative approach in running the Colombo Municipality as Mayor and after a stint as Opposition Leader in the WP Provincial Council, contested the 2000 general election and got into Parliament.
Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala (UPLF/SLFP National List – he failed to get a place in the Colombo Preferential Votes list) is best known for his tenure as President of the Board of Control for Cricket, as Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was then known. In fact, it was he who took the initiative in changing the name.
Selvam Adaikalanathan (TNA Vanni MP) was elected Deputy Chairman of Committees, the third in the hierarchy who will preside over Parliamentary sessions when the other two are not around.
There was much debate about who would be the Leader of the Opposition. However, when Parliament met on Thursday, the Speaker announced that TNA Parliamentary Leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan (TNA Trincomalee) would be the Opposition Leader since there were no other names.
Though one would not expect a new MP to resign no sooner he comes into Parliament, JVP National List MP S.C. Mayadunne tendered his resignation on the second day. Stressing that JVP has not in any way influenced his decision, he said that he was disappointed that the voters did not endorse the JVP’s call to elect them to fight against corruption.
The former Auditor General, well known for his integrity and independence, was an anti-corruption crusader. As such he felt he should bow to the people’s verdict and resign since they were not interested in curbing corruption The ‘barefoot soldier,’ always clad in a simple white cloth and banian, headed the JVP National List comprising a number of academics and intellectuals.
It was a busy week for President Maithripala Sirisena, who made not one but two policy statements. The first was when he addressed the new Parliament and the other was at the 64th annual session of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party at Polonnaruwa on Wednesday 2 September. What was once the ‘Address from the Throne’ delivered by the Head of State to inaugurate a new Parliament is now the ‘Statement of Government Policy’ by the President when he outlines the future program of work to be undertaken by the Government.
It was noticed that although President Sirisena had specifically mentioned that he should not be addressed as ‘His Excellency’ and his wife as ‘First Lady’, these terms we used in the official program issued by Parliament. So did the TV commentators. In his first TV interview over ITN, he told interviewer Upul Shantha Sannasgala that he was a simple person and should be addressed as ‘Mr.’ and his wife as ‘Mrs. Sirisena’. I am not sure whether the Presidential Secretariat issued a circular on this or not. In both speeches he stressed on the need to build a new political culture, move away from confrontational politics and called for unity to work to develop the country. He highlighted on how technology is changing everything so fast. As SLFP President he intends to reform the party, but it will be ‘a slow and steady’ process.
It was good to see the present SLFP President and the predecessor seated next to each other and having a chat at the SLFP sessions. The photograph of the week was the Daily FT picture of President Sirisena walking into the Chamber for the inauguration of Parliament greeting Mahinda Rajapaksa who was in the front row, who acknowledged with a smile. Hopefully, these are welcome signs for a bright future.