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House imbroglio: CPA, IPU urged to intervene

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The Opposition has written to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) seeking their intervention to prevent Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena from conducting parliamentary proceedings in a manner politically beneficial to the SLPP-UNP government.

Among the signatories are Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader Mano Ganeshan, SLPP rebel group senior Prof. G. L. Pieris, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya Leader Udaya Gammanpila Referring to the parliamentary traditions and practices here, the Opposition has told the CPA and IPU: “The essential balance between the government and Opposition , the entitlement of all members of parliament to equal dignity and consideration , opportunity for articulation of diverse points of view in parliamentary debates , fairness to recourse to procedures , fidelity to commitments and an environment of comity and mutual respect are, in our view necessary ingredients of a functioning parliamentary democracy.

“We believe that these are not solely ensured by legal provisions, be they contained in the Constitution or in delegated legislation such as the Standing Orders of Parliament.

“No less important, we are convinced, are the concepts of equity, decency and fair dealing which form the very core of the parliamentary process.

“The robust quality of this culture depends, principally, on the role of the Speaker of Parliament. His Office has evolved, historically, as the custodian of the rights and privileges of Parliament and represents the ultimate bulwark against erosion of parliamentary authority by the executive or any other external agency.

“The critical significance of this function is nowhere set out in greater emphasis than in the inspiring words of Speaker Lenthall of House of Commons in England, addressed to King Charles I at the height of a civil war. This classic assertion has resonated down the ages and forms the wellspring of parliamentary authority across the Commonwealth.

“It is against this backdrop that we feel acute concern about some current developments regarding the behaviour and attitude of Hon Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the Speaker of Parliament.

“A series of situations indicative of sustained bias and partisanship culminated in the deeply disturbing actions of the Speaker on the occasion of the debate in Parliament, on Saturday, July 01, on the government’s proposals in respect of domestic debt restructuring.

“At a meeting of the parliamentary Business Committee, consisting of party leaders, held on the preceding, Friday 30th June, it was decided that the debate would commence at 9 am on the following day and that the vote would be taken at 7.30 pm, subject to the time being extended if the list of speakers on the published list submitted by the Government and Opposition Whips had not been exhausted at that time.

“Taking the House by surprise, however, the Speaker, at the allotted hour, abruptly brought the proceedings to an end and called for the vote to be taken, dismissing in cavalier fashion vehement protests by the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the House that the letter and the spirit of the agreement arrived at on the previous day, was being flagrantly violated. Regrettably, their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“Look upon this lapse, very much in line with similar arbitrary and prejudiced decisions made by the Speaker constantly in recent months, as a grave infringement of the legitimate rights and privileges of the Opposition in Parliament.

“The substance of this debate, involving as it did the fate of superannuation funds and the monetary entitlements of hundreds of thousands of working people, was of the highest importance to the public.

“Sadly, these considerations received short shrift at the hands of the Speaker whose recurring conduct strikes at the root of objectivity and impartiality, and deprives the proceedings of parliament of the gravitas which we have hitherto taken for granted.

“We consider it our duty to bring to your notice these unfortunate trends, destructive of seminal democratic values which have defined the foundations of our democratic way of life. They seriously diminish, in our view, the esteem of the public for the integrity and stature of the institution of parliament.

“It is our hope and expectation that you will use your good offices, in an appropriate manner, to do all you can to ensure the survival, and hopefully the further strengthening, of sound parliamentary traditions which, up to now, have been a source of amply deserved pride to us all.”

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