National List MPs, replacements – certainly not the people’s choice

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Due to forced resignations, manipulation of the much abused National List, political deals and assassinations, two of them last month, had brought in 24 ‘replacements’ to current Parliament.

In fact, the number of substitutes is the highest in any parliament since the introduction of the proportional representation system brought in during President JR Jayewardene’s tenure. The substitutes are categorised as MPs elected due to resignation of members (15), deaths and assassination (7) and absent continuously for three months (2).

The change brought by the newcomers beside a total of 24 UNP MPs switching their allegiance to President Rajapaksa had significantly altered the complexion of the House. Of them, 18 led by Karu Jayasuriya crossed over on January 28 last year.

In fact, there would have been 25 UNP MPs with Rajapaksa had Gampaha District MP Edward Gunasekera not gone back to beleaguered UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In this backdrop, Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandra’s recent assertion that the voters were responsible for the deterioration of parliamentary standards as they had chosen their representatives irresponsibly, should be critically analysed, an official said. In fact, there was absolutely no basis for what the official called the Speaker’s unsubstantiated statement made at a recent function at the Waters Edge. The press routinely referred to the appointment of Dr. Mervyn Silva through the National List while ignoring a whole lot of other controversial nominations, he said.

The recent accident which killed dissident SLFP MP Sripathy Sooriyarachchi, a vociferous critic of the Rajapaksa brothers, will bring Reggie Ranatunga, a Rajapaksa loyalist to Parliament. Ranatunga who unsuccessfully contested the Gampaha District at the last parliamentary elections is the second to enter parliament to fill a vacancy. Gampaha District JVP MP S. Amarasinghe quit in April 2006 to pave the way for Sarath Kumara Gunaratne. Amarasinghe who polled a staggering 128,633 preference votes claimed that he decided to quit due to illness. But he recently accepted a well paid government appointment. In fact, it wouldn’t have come out if Minister Kumar Welgama’s ministry hadn’t released a photograph of the handing over of the appointment letter.

Over a dozen MPs including two Buddhist monks, who had been both elected and appointed to Parliament on the National List at the last election in April 2004, had quit their seats over a variety of reasons.

Perhaps UNP National List MP Seyed Ali Zaheer Moulana was the only politician to forfeit his seat on disciplinary grounds. His crime was helping renegade LTTE commander Vinayagamoorthy Karuna to reach Colombo. He quit on June 23, 2004 and his vacancy was filled by Meeramohideen Mohammed Musthaffa who ended up on President Rajapaksa’s lap in late January last year. Ironically, the President had accommodated Moulana who ended up in the US on our diplomatic mission in Washington, a well paid assignment. Political sources said that both Moulana and Musthaffa didn’t get an opportunity to contest the last election as a hotly disputed UNP-SLMC electoral pact prohibited the UNP from fielding Muslim candidates in districts contested by the SLMC.

The sources said that eight UNP, SLMC, CWC and Upcountry People’s Front National List MPs (all appointed through the UNF List) switched their allegiance to the ruling coalition. G.L. Peiris, Naveen Dissanayake, M.S. Sellasamay, , P. Radhakrishnan, K.A. Baiz, Hussain Bhahila, M.M.M.Musthaffa, and S. Nijamudeen. Of the 29 National List MPs, there are only seven including three JVPers in the Opposition ranks. Had the UPFA kept its post-election promise, the JVP would have had five National List slots.

UNP National List MP Vadivel Puthrasigamany, too, has been generally supportive of the ruling coalition. He is among three MPs who function as independent members with others being one-time JVP heavyweight Nandana Gunatilleke and Ven. Uduwe Dhamaloka thero. All of them have taken a transparently pro-government line.

The decision to switch MPs began even before Parliament met with the SLFP directing Janadasa Peiris of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s media team, trade unionist E.A.D Weerasekera and J.A. May Lucida, the wife of Dr. Mervyn Silva to quit immediately after taking oaths. They quit on April 23, 2004. That paved the way for Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Wijedasa Rajapaksha and Mervyn Silva to enter Parliament. Silva’s case was unique as he had contested the Colombo district and badly lost but Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted him in the House. Wickremanayake had been accidentally left out of the National List while his son Vidura who contested Kalutara district failed in his bid.

The SLFP would have accommodated Lucida on the National List knowing that Mervyn wouldn’t have been able to secure a seat.

The centre for Policy Alternatives vehemently protested manipulation of the National List. But unfortunately the CPA didn’t receive the required support from other civil society organisations and the media.

The brawl in Parliament over the election of Speaker in which Mervyn Silva figured prominently prompted JHU MP Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala to quit his seat in October 2004. His vacancy was filled by Ven. Alawwe Nandaloka thero. Ven Omalpe Sobitha quit his National List seat in January last year to pave the way for Patali Champika Ranawaka to enter Parliament. In fact, the JHU contemplated bringing in Udaya Gammanpila in place of another monk last December just ahead of the third reading of the Budget.

The assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005 brought Dullas Alahapperuma to Parliament. The National List MP’s assassination was the most serious target killing carried out by the LTTE during the CFA agreement. Alahapperuma who played a critical role in Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential election campaign re-entered Parliament on December 14, 2005.

The assassinations of Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake (Puttalam District) and UNP MP T. Maheswaran (Colombo District) in early January caused two vacancies. While Dassanayake’s vacancy was filled by Priyankara Jayaratne (UPFA), the other was filled by the SLMC. As the SLMC had contested on the UNP ticket, Mohamed Shafeek Rajabdeen, western provincial councillor had the opportunity to enter Parliament. Although his entry has strengthened SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem’s four man (including himself) parliamentary group comprising Basheer Segudawaood (National List), Hasen Ali (national List) and Mohammed Faizal (Digamadulla), Wickremesinghe’s had lost one more. The UNP had been reduced to 41 members.

The untimely death of UPFA National List MP Mohamed Ismail Anwar Ismail on September 13, last year brought all powerful Basil Rajapaksa, MP, into Parliament within a week after the demise of the MP. Ismail who was expected to step down last September died before the scheduled deadline, thereby allowing the President to accommodate his brother in Parliament. Although he didn’t take a Cabinet portfolio, Basil R. who operates from the offices of the President in Parliament has brazenly displayed his authority.

Of the 22 member ITAK (TNA) parliamentary group, two National List MPs, Joseph Pararajasingham, M. K. Eelaventhan parliamentary political careers had been abruptly stopped. A lone gunman killed Pararajasingham on Christmas Eve (2005) in Batticaloa. Eelaventhan’s case was unique. The outspoken MP who had fearlessly stood up for the rights of the Tamil speaking people lost his seat after he was wrongly found guilty of being absent for three months without informing Parliament. Pararajasingham’s vacancy had been filled by Chandrakanthan Chandranehru, the son of an assassinated MP. He took his oaths on September 11, 2006. Bank of Ceylon employee Vigneswaran, widely believed to the ITAK’s original choice was killed outside Trincomalee branch of the BOC.

The assassination of ITAK MP Nadaraja Raviraj on November 10, 2006 brought in Kandar Nallathambi Sri Kantha into Parliament. Both assassination of Pararajasingham and Raviraj had been blamed on the government and Tamil mercenaries on the payroll of the State.

The resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa on November 19, 2005, two days after he won the presidential election, paved the way for Mrs Nirupama Rajapaksa to re-enter parliament on November 25, 2005.

Elected MP S.B. Dissanayake lost his seat to Mrs. Renuka Herath. Dissanayake had been listed as having vacated his seat on December 7, 2004. Herath took her oaths on January 30th, 2006.

Among the others who quit their seats were ITAK MP Kingsley Rajanayagam (April 18, 2004), UPFA MP Reginold Cooray (May 28th, 2004), UPFA MP Maheepala Herath ( May 27th, 2004), JVP MP Philipps Kumarasinghe Sri Liyanage (May 24th, 2004), SLMC MP W.P.S. Pushpakumara (May 19th, 2004), SLMC MP Mohammed Quddus (May 19th, 2004) and JHU MP Ven. Kahaluwe Ratnaseeha thero (May 18th, 2004). Their vacancies had been filled respectively by Ariyanethira Pakkiyaselvam, Nirmala Kothalawela, H. R. Mithrapala, Mohammed Fuward Mohamed Mussammil, Basheer Cegudawood, Sihandeen Nijamudden and Ven. Akmeemana Dayarathne thero.


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