he ugly brawl in parliament on November 16, following the brawl the previous day, where legislators attacked the Speaker with bottles of water, waste-paper baskets and all manner of verbal abuse degenerated into open thuggery when some lawmakers stooped to use sharp cutting instruments against each other, engaged in physical attacks on uniform-clad police officers and threw chilli powder at them, although this was not the first time that such acts took place inside the country’s legislature. The difference now is that such acts happen while television cameras bring them live in real time to every home and office in the country.
The dispute was over the different opinions about the country’s Constitution to suit the personal agendas of different politicians with different interests. And yet, the Constitution of this country forms the bedrock on which the sovereignty of the people lies. The Executive, the Judiciary, the Legislature, and the Fourth Estate; the media, are the columns atop which sit, a people’s aspirations for democratic governance and a decent law-abiding society. The degenerate language hurled by our legislators at the Speaker and across the floor of the House is nothing to be proud of.
The attacks on the police who entered the well of the House at the call of the Sergeant-at-Arms, cannot be approved, whether the Speaker’s action itself raises many questions and whether one agrees or not with the manner in which he acted.
Police officers were punched, had brickbats thrown at them and attacked with chilli powder. The fact that some of the law-makers were having on their persons items like chilli powder and cutting instruments inside the well of the House, proves the acts were planned and pre-meditated. Even more worryingly those MPs who laid hands on the officers of the law, were in fact making a show to their supporters that they hold the police in contempt and they (law makers) are above the law.
What many in the country still do not realize however, is the reality, that the long arm of the law is not applicable within in the House of Representatives, where legislators rule supreme.
The acts we witnessed during the past few days cannot be prosecuted and those engaged in them would never dare to attempt similar heroics if their situation of privilege was lifted. Also it should be kept in mind that this is not the first time such brawls were witnessed inside the House chamber and Sri Lanka is also not the only country where such violence had been witnessed in its legislative body. The fight had nothing to do with love of country, the rule of law or betterment of the economic conditions affecting the people.
The impasse in parliament today is a refusal by party political elites and their supporters to accept the ‘Stay Order’ issued by the Highest Court in the land. While the Executive and the Legislature act as a check and balance mechanism to the excesses of the other, the Judiciary has to play the role of exercising judicial power and interpret the Constitution when it is called upon and when the need arises. However, when doing so the judiciary too has to go by past precedents, accepted methods of legislative and constitutional interpretation and above all in a manner that would not lead to conflict between the three arms of the state being the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.
The present impasse that has come to be is largely due to the balance and the understanding between these three arms of the state breaking down. It is imperative that the balance between them is restored forthwith for the country to move forward from here.
The Fourth Estate; the press and news media, are the tools which provide the masses the capacity to form informed judgments, advocate and highlight political issues of justice and fair-play.
In a democracy, the ‘Fourth Estate’ or media are the recognized watchdogs over democratic processes. The golden rule of media in news reporting and providing informed and balanced views is that facts are sacred and comment is free.