Opening of 12th parliament sessions without much ceremony
PM calls for strengthening of powers of parliament

by Sumadhu Weerawarne and Namini Wijedasa

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking yesterday at the opening of parliament said that he would take steps to strengthen the House and create space for members to work for the betterment of the country. The PM said that he hoped to bring amendments to the Standing Orders of Parliament, the parliamentary rules, by February. However, he failed to specify what those amendments would be.

The PM in his short speech made no reference to the national government, but merely indicated that he would take steps to make it easier for members to work for the development of the country.

Opposition Leader Ratnasiri Wickramanayake who spoke thereafter indicated general agreement to co-operate but exhorted the need to arrest post-election violence aimed at his party’s supporters and politicians. The post-election violence issue was a volatile one with Opposition members at one time building themselves up to protest against a summary of incidents filed by UNP Deputy Leader and Minister of Power and Energy Karu Jayasuriya.

The twelfth parliament opened without much ceremony. Gampaha district parliamentarian Joseph Michael Perera was elected speaker without contest but the deputy speaker post was left vacant as the People’s Alliance had declined a United National Front invitation to nominate on of their members. UNF parliamentarian from the south, Siri Andrahennedi, was elected deputy chairman of committees, also without contest.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe commenced the morning’s speeches with a call to strengthen the powers of parliament. He said that he would hold all party-discussions in January and February to amend the Standing Orders of Parliament.

Opposition Leader Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said that it was the duty of parliament to protect the rights of all people. "We must create the necessary conditions to end post-election violence," he said. "It is sad that it continues to this day, even two weeks after the election." He tabled a report detailing incidents of violence reported to the PA by their supporters and local organisers and appealed for action. "We hope that you will open the doors necessary to work together," he asserted.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem, noting that he was fortunate to have survived the election, said that in the post-election period the attitude should be one of compromise and not confrontation. He expressed satisfaction that there was diverse opinion reflected in parliamentary representation. "We should move to achieve contentment and lasting peace even while taking pride in our diversity," Hakeem said.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, said it was important that parliament reflected many views of political thinking and ethnicity. He commented on post-election violence and said it was parliament that could put an end to it. "We hope to convert parliament into an intermediary to benefit the people," he stressed. Weerawansa said his party wished to see an end to violence and an honourable peace that would not harm the unitary nature of the country.

R. Sampanthan, general secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front, speaking on behalf of the TNA, said that there was great urgency to solve the ethnic conflict. "If there is no solution, no self-respecting Tamil would be able to enter Parliament next time," he pointed out.

Both the Democratic People’s Liberation Front and Eelam People’s Democratic Party leader, Dharmalingam Siddharthan and Douglas Devananda, expressed their willingness to cooperate fully with the speaker. Ceylon Worker’s Congress leader Armugam Thondaman was equally brief and merely offered congratulations to Perera on his appointment as speaker.

Upcountry People’s Front chief P. Chandrasekeran said that this was an important period for the country as both the Sinhalese and Tamil populace had voted for a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict. He also spoke of the Tamils languishing in jails on account of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and asked the government to look into the issue.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader Dinesh Gunawardena’s brief speech, too, touched on post-election violence. He said it was necessary to ensure the security of all people and to protest their independence and freedom.

Speaker Joseph Michael Perera thanked both sides of the House for choosing him to the chair and called on all parties to develop Sri Lanka. The "golden isle" was facing much obstacles, he said. "We must move away from political differences and search for what is right," he stressed. "We must go forward in our search for peace."