Ruckus in Sri Lanka Parliament, Speaker under siege

Ruckus in Sri Lanka Parliament, Speaker under siege
Sri Lanka's parliament members argue in front of Speaker of the Parliament Karu Jayasuriya during the parliament session in Colombo, Sri Lanka , on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Colombo: Sri Lankan lawmakers on Thursday exchanged blows and threw objects at each other, leaving at least one of them bleeding, as MPs loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena surrounded the Speaker in his chair after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who lost a floor test, demanded fresh elections to resolve the raging political turmoil.

Trouble erupted when Speaker Karu Jayasuriya agreed to a request from ousted premier Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) that a vote be taken on a statement made by Rajapaksa demanding fresh polls.

Jayasuriya had allowed Rajapaksa to make a statement as a member of parliament after stating that he does not recognise the claim of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader who lost a no-confidence motion on Wednesday.

"I was the president and premier, so this prime minister's post is not important," Rajapaksa said.

"I urge all 225 members to join me in calling for a fresh election. We want a general election," he said, adding that a fresh election was the best way to resolve the crisis.

UNP legislator Lakshman Kiriella urged Jayasuriya to take a vote by name, showing the loss of confidence over Rajapaksa's remarks.

Jayasuriya asked the House if it agreed and with resounding voices of 'Aye' he proceeded to take the vote.

He was immediately surrounded by MPs - loyal to Sirisena and Rajapaksa - who were protesting against Jayasuriya's decision to take the vote.

"I am the Speaker and I decide," Jayasuriya told the angry lawmakers as UNP MPs formed a ring around the Speaker's chair to shield Jayasuriya.

"They are trying to assault the Speaker," UNP legislator Harsha de Silva tweeted from the House.

Objects were thrown at the Speaker's chair and at least one MP was seen leaving the chamber bleeding, an official said.

A group of lawmakers attacked the Speaker, threw a waste paper basket at him while breaking his microphone and also hurled a book at him during the session, the online edition of the Sunday Times reported.

The paper said MP Dilum Amunugama was hospitalised following a hand injury that he sustained when he broke Speaker's microphone.

MPs Prasanna Ranaweera and Navin Dissanayake were reported to be among those who engaged in fisticuffs, the paper said.

The commotion continued for about half an hour before Jayasuriya adjourned the House.

Citing the Speaker's Office, it said the Speaker has decided to reconvene Parliament on Friday following a party leaders meeting.

Meanwhile, a UNP leader said that Sirisena has agreed to take an action to end the current political and constitutional stand off "within the next two-three days" as members of Wickremesinghe's party met him to find a solution.

"The president told us that he would resolve the issue," UNP leader Rajitha Senaratne said.

Senaratne said the UNP would move a no trust vote against Rajapaksa in Parliament on Friday. This will be the third vote in as many days against him.

According to reports, the Speaker has requested for STF security around Parliament following the tense situation that arose at Thursday's session in Parliament.

"We are the lawful government and we will sit in the government benches today," Ajith P Perera, a senior UNP legislator said earlier. The UNP had sat on the opposition benches during the no-trust vote.

Rajapaksa's side has disputed the no-trust motion, saying proper procedure was not followed and accused Jayasuriya of bias towards his own party.

Since the Speaker had ruled that Rajapaksa had no majority, Wickremesinghe remains the lawful premier, the UNP claimed.

The UNP said they would boycott a meeting called by Sirisena with political parties which backed the motion against Rajapaksa on Wednesday. This was after a strongly-worded letter from Sirisena to Jayasuriya last night.

Meanwhile, President Sirisena informed Speaker Jayasuriya that he has rejected the no-confidence motion and that Rajapaksa is still the premier.

Sirisena, in response to an official communique by Jayasuriya on the vote in parliament, told the Speaker that a prime minister does not necessarily require a parliamentary majority, that Jayasuriya had violated parliamentary procedures and standing orders of parliament in conducting the no-trust motion against Rajapaksa, and that he as president was the sole authority in appointing a prime minister.

Parliament on Wednesday passed the no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa who was installed as premier by Sirisena in a controversial move, after the Supreme Court overturned the presidential decree to dissolve the House and hold snap polls on January 5.

Amid raucous scenes, Parliament on Wednesday met for the first time since October 26, when Sirisena sacked premier Wickremesinghe, installed Rajapaksa in his place and suspended the House, plunging the island nation into an unprecedented Constitutional crisis.

The vote of no confidence against Rajapaksa has further complicated the political crisis. It is not yet clear whether Rajapaksa will resign or whether the ousted Wickremesinghe, who has the support of 122 lawmakers, will return to power.

The passing of the no-confidence motion comes as a major blow to Sirisena and is seen as a victory for Wickremesinghe.