UNP, Opp. clash over CJ’s removal: House sittings suspended



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By Saman Indrajith


Parliament sittings came to an abrupt end last evening following a clash between government and opposition legislators over the removal of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris and the reinstatement of Shirani Bandaranayke as Chief justice.


The Opposition clamour for a debate began after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had made a statement to the House detailing the process that had led to the removal of Peiris.


Opposition legislators led by MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Wimal Weerawansa  and supported by Leader of the Opposition Nimal siripala De Silva and Chief Opposition Whip John Seneviratne asked for the debate to be held either yesterday itself or on Feb. 2. The government, however, insisted that the earliest date for such a debate would be Feb. 5.


 MP Gunawardena said that there were serious questions about the removal of Peiris and the reinstatement of Bandaranayake. "She was removed as the Chief Justice after the due process laid down in the Constitution for the removal of a judge was followed. Her reinstatement was not legal," he said.


 MP Weerawansa said the government was setting a dangerous precedent by removing judges at will. "We have no problem if a motion was brought to the House for the removal of Peiris and then it was put to vote. We are not in agreement with the method followed for his removal", he said.


 Things came to a head after MP Gunawardena asked for a vote on if there was an agreement to the debate on Feb. 2.


The disagreement over the debate date led to sittings being suspended twice for 20 and 10 minutes but even after two party leaders’ meetings there was no agreement on the issue and that compelled the Speaker to adjourn sittings.


Soon after the time for MPs to present petitions, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe made his statement in response to queries raised by Leader of the Opposition Nimal Siripala de Silva and MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena the previous day.


After the Prime Minister’s statement, MP Gunawardena rising to a point of order said: "We request the government to hold a debate on this issue today itself. If you cannot allocate time from today’s session, we could meet on Feb. 2 and debate this.


Prime Minister: We cannot hold the debate today as today’s time is reserved for the second reading of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Amendment Bill. It is impossible for Parliament to meet on Feb. 2 as several roads would be closed in view of Independence Day rehearsals by security force members.


MP Gunawardena: Army parade rehearsals could be stopped for couple of hours and roads opened for Parliament to meet. Parliament is supreme and the Independence Day ceremony is held in an area coming under the purview of the Speaker.


Prime Minister: So, you are saying that commemorating the Independence Day is not important. It is usual to close roads on the Independence Day. Those who oppose to hold the debate on Feb. 5 are not the SLFP members but a group of other party members who have hijacked the SLFP. They expelled Chandrika Kumaratunga. They expelled Maithripala Sirisena. Now they are trying to destroy the SLFP.


As opposition SLFP MPs, too, shouted back at him, Prime Minister Wickremesinge said: "Do not shout. If you shout more, I will complain to the President. Sit down and act calm. Otherwise, I will complain to President. Remember your party leader is our President. This is not the first time Independence Day is celebrated on Parliament grounds. Since 1984 we do so. Do you not think Independence achieved by Senanayakes and Bandaranaikes together is important?


 


An Opposition MP: If the roads are closed we could come in choppers to Parliament.


Prime Minister: We do not have any more chopper-flying presidents now.


Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva: If the government wants to pass the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources amendment bill we can do so and thereafter let’s commence the debate on the issue at hand. We know Mr. Wickremesinghe is a democratic leader. We ask you to be flexible and give us this debate.


Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella: We are ready to give a debate but we cannot give it on the date you are asking for.


Chief Opposition Whip John Seneviratne: Let’s commence this debate and we can adjourn it for some other date.


Minister Joseph Michael Perera: We have other businesses today. The day is allocated for the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Amendment Bill. It is an important bill.


Prof. Tissa Vitharana: This is not a simple issue. This is a matter connected to the Supreme Court. It is important to the entire country and it is a matter connected to democracy.


Leader of the House: Our President is your party leader. Ask him whether what we did was right or wrong.


Opposition Leader: The President has instructed us clearly and gave us the fullest rights to criticise and point out the shortcomings of the 100-day programme. He has ensured us the freedom of expression.


Prime Minister: The 94th item of the 100-day programme is to re-appoint Shirani Bandaranayake as the Chief Justice. Your problem is whether we followed the proper procedure. Why haste, we could debate this issue on Feb 5.


MP Susil Premjayantha: The Prime Minister accepts that there is a problem with the method followed. Then we have a right to ask for a debate.


Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa: Prime Minister made a ministerial statement.


MP Wimal Weerawansa: Let us give time to debate the content of PM’s statement. According to the Prime Minister, the new government made a request to Peiris to resign from the post of Chief Justice. If he had not been properly appointed he should not have been asked to resign. You first sent thugs and intimidated him to resign.


Prime Minister: Peiris told me he was ready to resign if he is given an ambassadorial post.


MP Gunawardena: I repeatedly say that Peiris did not offer to resign. Give us a debate.


Prime Minister: I never asked Peiris to resign. He is the one who contacted me. Since I know the person I never met him alone. I always met him with another person. Why Peiris accompanied his wife when he visited the President?


MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Prime Minister added something more to the story.


Speaker Rajapaksa: If you need a debate you have to move a motion.


MP Gunawardena: Give us a debate on Feb. 2 if not you can go for a vote on the matter. Let’s go by the decision of the House.


Speaker suspended the House for ten minutes so that party leaders could meet. After sittings resumed he adjourned the House for the next sitting day. According to Parliament sources, the party leaders have agreed to meet on Feb. 2.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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