Another 8 cross over to Opposition

by Sumadhu Weerawarne and Kesara Abeywardena.

Eight government rankers including Prof. G. L. Peiris, S. B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Wijesekera and Wijeyapala Mendis crossedover to the Opposition yesterday morning making the total number of crossover MPs to nine.

The number in favour of the no-confidence motion rose to 106 (UNP-88, TULF-5, TELO-3, ACTC-1 and a crossover MPs), while the numbers against the motion declined to 111. (PA and NUA — 101 and JVP — 10).

The Sihala Urumaya and the SLMC have yet to show their stand.

The first MP to crossover, Parakrama Bandula Gunawardena walked across to the other side, while the others Prof. G. L. Peiris, S. B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Wijesekera, Wijeyapala Mendis, Ediriweera Premaratne, U. B. Wijekoon and Ananda Munasinghe were led in from the Opposition side of the house.

Former General Secretary of the SLFP S. B. Dissanayake in an eloquent address on behalf of the group, declared that the act had caused him much sorrow and pain of mind. Some fellow MPs will rally around us and others may not. There will those who will castigate us and others who will seek revenge. But today we do what we must," the MP said. He described the move as the beginning of a new era and the call for a wider national government.

The blame for his departure he lay on the shoulders of the President. "If the leadership had been willing to listen to what all the fellow MPs and ministers advocated this would not have happened. It is a few officials who hold sway," he said. He also opined that he had been unable to deliver to the people what had been promised. "Our vision for the 21st century was thrown into the dustbin. The government had no desire to take the right path. I implored, I cried before the portals of the President’s House, but not a leaf tremored," the member said.

But Wijemuni Soysa and Leader of the House Richard Pathirana who spoke soon after ascribed the crossover to personal disappointment. The former declared that while the crossover had dirtied the SLFP flag the party had been cleansed. The latter warned of a people’s revenge at the next election.

"The people will pass judgement on these MPs who crossed over, even as they judged C. P. de Silva and Bernard Aluvihare," Minister Pathirana said.

The second act of the crossovers drama got underway with PA MP Parakrama Bandula Gunawardena taking the same path as his namesake. His request for time to make a personal explanation provided the one for MP Mervyn Silva to jump to his feet and castigate the MP. As Gunawardena made his address, MP Chandana Kathriarachci walked in his direction and flung a sheaf of papers at him, whence Kathriarachchi made his exit. MP Silva not to be usurped in his role as the MP most indignant over the unfolding events, flung not just books and paper, but heaped abuse on Gunawardena. His language as has been the case in the past was without restraint. To this he added other gestures like holding one end of his cloth and bearing a haired leg. He hounded the MP indicating his willingness to translate words into action. "Get Out," was the general tenor of his message, though less polite. Another PA ranker then interveaned asking Gunawardena to make a hasty departure.

UNP Chilaw District MP Johnston Fernando crossed the line to provide escort to Gunawardena. Silva continued his onslaught and many MPs were seen trying to restrain him. Opposition rankers, too, got to the floor at this point with MPs Gamini Lokuge and Mahinda Ratnatilleke indicating foul intent.

Opposition Leader who remained calm throughout the exchange came in at this point and instructed his men to take their seats. Those oblivious to reason, Gamini Lokege and Ratnatilleke, he physically restrained. One he pulled, and the other he pushed even while making certain that he would not cross the invisible line that divides government and opposition ranks. Calm was soon restored and the Opposition Leader in the hallowed traditions of Parliamentary practice, offered his regrets for the disquiet and asked for business to continue.

Deputy Speaker Sarath Munasinghe who was presiding at the time warned that being of military tradition, he would brook no indiscipline.

Ten minutes later the third act got underway and a further seven from government ranks were escorted to their seats in the opposition. There was applause from opposition ranks, while a few government MPs expressed their ire.

Prof. Peiris and MPs Mendis and Dissanayake were led to the front row. Prof. Peiris and Mendis took adjoining seats next to former Speaker, M. H. Mohamed.

UNP’s Gamini Jayawickreme Perera who spoke later in the morning, declared that their were more to come. "There will be more crossovers," he said.

As number stands, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and his men hold the decisive votes.