Colombo: Sri Lanka's parliament was adjourned after just 10 minutes on Monday after opening for the first time since MPs brawled and threw objects at each other last week. The island has been politically paralysed since October 26 when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa has lost two no-confidence votes and last week while his supporters threw projectiles and chilli powder at their rivals and the speaker, deepening international concern. Monday's session was adjourned after 10 minutes as the 225-member assembly failed to agree on a committee to draw up the legislature's agenda. They were to meet again on Friday.
Sirisena rejects no-confidence votes
Sirisena earlier told MPs to call for another no-confidence vote on the government, after he rejected last week's no-confidence vote as unconstitutional. According to a statement, following the all-party meeting held between several parliamentary legislators and the President on Sunday evening, Sirisena said he could make a decision on the no-confidence motion against the government only if a vote was taken by name or conducted through an electronic vote.
Sirisena said this would be the most accepted method of voting by the local and international community. Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe also attended the meeting. On November 16, Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said that a second no-confidence motion called against the government had been passed in Parliament with a majority, despite it being taken amid violence and under heavy police presence.
However, the government rejected the vote as invalid, saying the Speaker had not followed the basic parliamentary rules in calling for the no-confidence vote. Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a political turmoil since October 26 when Sirisena surprisingly dissolved the cabinet, sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapakse to the post along with a new caretaker government.
On 15 November, Speaker attempted to pass a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa. The situation swiftly devolved into a brawl, with a group of MPs loyal to Rajapaksa surrounding the Speaker's podium and pelting him with objects, including a garbage bin and a copy of the Constitution. A fight broke out with several MPs on both sides exchanging blows. Despite the fracas, parliamentarians shielded the speaker, who attempted to take a vote on the no-confidence motion. Being unable to take a vote by name, he took a voice vote. A memo signed by 126 MPs was subsequently handed over to Sirisena.
However, Sirisena refused to accept the memo, on the basis that the motion did not follow proper procedure. However, the session on 16 November saw unprecedented violence and contempt for parliamentary proceedings. A number of Rajapaksa loyalists stood on the Secretaries Platform, including UPFA MP Arundika Fernando, who occupied the speaker's seat. They began chanting angrily, highlighting the actions of UNP MP Palitha Thewarapperuma, who appeared to be brandishing a knife in footage on November 14 (he later said it was a letter opener that had been 'pushed into his hand' in the confusion).
The chanting continued for 45 minutes, and the Sergeant-at-arms came in through a side door, holding fast to the Mace, and surrounded by police. Jayasuriya followed close behind. However almost immediately, the Rajapaksa loyalists began throwing objects at the group, including chairs, books and water laced with chilli powder. The Speaker's Chair itself was toppled over. Several police officers, as well as senior UNP MP Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and JVP MP Vijitha Herath had to receive treatment in the parliament dispensary following the session.