In the highest tradition of democracy Parliament is, or is expected to be, the supreme legislative assembly of the sovereign people. Noble and wonderful words indeed. But on Tuesday in this same Parliament, a public brawl took place with some MPs allegedly behaving like street thugs or hooligans.
Following the brawl the United National Front’s Kegalle District Parliamentarian Sandith Samarasinghe was taken by an ambulance to the National Hospital on Tuesday afternoon and he was discharged yesterday. Some other MPs were also injured and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended sittings for a day after appointing a committee headed by Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala to investigate and handover a report by noon yesterday.
Mr. Sumathipala said he would use Closed Circuit Television camera evidence to figure out, who was involved and who did what. The report was handed over to the Speaker yesterday with some Government Parliamentarians calling for stern disciplinary action, including suspension, of the MPs involved. Political analysts also stressed the need to immediately work out a Code of Conduct or Ethics for Parliamentarians.
The scenes of what most people saw as gutter politics began, when Parliament resumed sittings on Tuesday after the national New Year holidays and the roaring May Day rallies, where party political leaders had pledged they would do everything possible to restore the dignity of labour and provide more benefits for millions of workers.
The political dynamite exploded over the National Unity Government’s decision to withdraw the Armed Services Security contingent assigned to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The so called Joint Opposition leader Dinesh Gunawardane raised this issue and demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Mr. Gunawardane charged that the withdrawal of the Armed Services Personnel would pose a security threat to Mr. Rajapaksa, who had given political leadership to the war victory over the LTTE.
Rejecting these claims Premier Wickremesinghe said that in other democratic countries, former Presidents were given only special Police security. He pointed out that former United States President George W. Bush was being given only special police security, though he faced security threats from the world’s most ruthless terrorist movement, the ISIS.
To back his argument the Prime Minister called on Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, now a Cabinet Minister, to comment on the issue. The Field Marshal, who was the Army Commander during the final years of the war, blasted the former President.
He said Mr. Rajapaksa during the past year had not behaved like a former President but more like a party politician and the Kurunegala District Parliamentarian. This was seen mainly at last Sunday’s May Day rally and Field Marshal Fonseka said he believed Mr. Rajapaksa was entitled only to the Police security given to any MP, though the Government had assigned more than 100 Special Police Personnel for Mr. Rajapaksa’s security.
The explosion came at this point. A number of MPs stormed out of their seats and were seen to be involved in a public boxing match with allegations that Mr. Samarasinghe had even been kicked while he was fallen on the floor of the House. A furious Speaker responded with full force, pointing out that there were schoolchildren in the public gallery and what had happened was not exemplary but outrageous conduct. He vowed to take stern action when he received the report from the Deputy Speaker and said he hoped, as we also hope, that such disgraceful incidents will not take place again.
One of the Commonwealth Founders John Pym has said “A Parliament is that to the Commonwealth which the soul is to the body. It behooves us therefore, to keep the facility of that soul from distemper”.
The new National Government was swept to power by the people last year, mainly on the promise of restoring Good Governance, Parliamentary democracy and social justice. We hope there would be tough action to restore the Parliament’s dignity, which was lost to a large extent in the aftermath of Tuesday’s melee or madness.