Some Opposition MPs threw the parliament into turmoil on Wednesday. During the question time, they protested, claiming that their right to raise queries about matters of national importance had been violated. Some ministers’ refusal to field supplementary questions also irked them beyond measure. They disrupted the proceedings by occupying the Well of the House. The government members insisted that their Opposition counterparts were making unnecessary statements instead of asking questions and wasting parliamentary time. All efforts by the Chair to bring the situation under control were in vain.

Two of the protesting MPs even ran up to the Chair, asking Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa to allow them to ask questions only to be asked to return to their seats before making that request. Parliamentary proceedings were suspended for 10 minutes amidst the din. A visibly angry Deputy Speaker happened to remark that the situation in the jungle was much better than that in the House on that day. After the sittings resumed with Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in the Chair, MPs Wasantha Yapabandra and Nalin Bandra were suspended for the day for their unruly behaviour.

Stormy parliamentary sessions are not rare in this country or in other countries for that matter, and in fact there have been far worse situations in the House here than what we witnessed on Wednesday. But the MPs should be careful to act with restraint especially when the public gallery is open. Among those watching Wednesday’s proceedings from the public gallery were schoolchildren and a group of Japanese delegates. Dissident SLPP MP Wimal Weerawansa brought this fact to light while commenting on the ruckus in the House.

Japan is one of the countries that are genuinely desirous of helping Sri Lanka come out of the current economic crisis. It is only natural that they expect the Sri Lankan politicians to sink their differences and make a concerted effort to rebuild the economy with their help. It is said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Regrettably, the members of both sides of the House have not realized the need not only to act unitedly but also to be seen to be doing so to win the confidence of the nations that have gone out of their way to help this country. It behoves the Sri Lankan lawmakers to be mindful of international opinion and refrain from damaging the country’s image.

Speaker Abeywardena was right in holding that disrespect for the Chair amounted to an affront to the dignity of not only the parliament but also the entire nation. Some of the present-day MPs are apparently unaware of the significance of the Chair and the Mace.

The Speaker’s Chair and the Mace are revered in countries where democracy is cherished. Why they should be held in such high esteem was explained by a member of the British parliamentary delegation, which was here to present the Chair and the Mace to the House of Representatives.

Ralph Deraniyagala in ‘Presentation of mace and Speaker’s Chair to Ceylon House of Representatives’ (Journal of the Society of Clerks at the Table, 1950) quotes the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. Maj. J. Milner as having said in his speech in the House to mark the occasion:

“Mr. Speaker, the Chair and Mace are the symbols of principles fundamental to democratic institutions. Sir, the first essential of a democratic State is consideration for the toleration of the opinion of others. In that lies the importance of the Chair, which is the natural protector of minorities, the guardian of free speech and the outward and visible signs of fair play. The Chair embodies these essential safeguards of the democratic way of life … As we see the Mace before us in our daily work, we are constantly reminded of two things. The first is that it is from the people, and the people alone, that we derive our powers and that those powers must be tempered by moderation, discretion and understanding. The second is the responsibility which rests upon us in our individual and in our corporate capacity as House to make democracy work. This is not easy; many countries have not even tried. Others have tried and failed, as we look around the world today there are countries where democracy flourishes, but the world is also littered with the memories of democracies which have fallen. They fell because they lacked the spiritual qualities which to you and to us are enshrined in the Chair and the Mace. Though inanimate, the Chair and the Mace represent something living, something vital without which your house or ours would wither and die.”

This short speech which explains why the Chair and the Mace must be treated with respect should be printed and copies of it distributed among the MPs who continue to desecrate the Chair and the Mace.

One should not make the mistake of thinking that the government MPs who raked their Opposition counterparts over the coals for misbehaving, on Wednesday, did so out of a genuine desire to preserve the dignity of the parliament. Some of the self-righteous government members wreaked havoc on the House in late 2018, following the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s abortive attempt to wrest control of the parliament by sacking the UNP-led government. Sirisena appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister but failed to muster a working majority. His plan to engineer some crossovers to raise the required numbers went awry because the UNP struck back and was backed by the western members of the international community.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya did not give in to President Sirisena, and refused to recognize the hurriedly formed government without a



In a bid to protect the minority government, the UPFA MPs including the present-day SLPP MPs who are asking their opponents to behave, went berserk, and some of them even lunged at the Speaker menacingly, prompting the police to whisk him away to ensure his safety. The protesting MPs then set upon the UNP members, and some of them boasted subsequently they had thrown chilli powder at their opponents. They damaged microphones, overturned the Speaker’s Chair and attacked the police, who had to come inside the chamber to protect the Speaker. Chairs were hurled at the unarmed police personnel who were carrying out their duty.

President Sirisena finally tried to dissolve the parliament, but his order was challenged in the Supreme Court, which ruled that he was not constitutionally empowered to do so. Prime Minister Rajapaksa resigned, and Sirisena had to swear in Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. Five years on, those who went all out to remove Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister have made him the President and are supporting him, and the UNP MPs who stood by Wickremesinghe in 2018, and condemned the unruly UPFA MPs, have left the UNP, turned against him, are running riot in the parliament.

What has stood in the way of enforcing discipline and arresting the deterioration of parliamentary standards is the duplicity of the members of the House, who let self-interest take precedence over civility and moral judgement.