President revives ties with Jakarta while pandemonium reigns in Parliament | Sunday Observer

President revives ties with Jakarta while pandemonium reigns in Parliament

President Maithripala Sirisena holds bilateral discussions with the Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Indonesia
President Maithripala Sirisena holds bilateral discussions with the Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Indonesia

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader and UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena was ordered out of Parliament on Wednesday after repeatedly disrupting proceedings.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya warned the senior politician several times to respect the order of the House, but was compelled to make the decision to evict the ‘Joint Opposition’ MP when he failed to comply.

The MEP Leader was also suspended from attending Parliament for a period of one week. The incident occurred after Speaker Karu Jayasuriya overruled National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Wimal Weerawansa’s request to have the NFF recognized as an independent group in Parliament.

Joint Opposition MPs had loudly protested the decision, MP Dinesh Gunawardena the loudest, causing Speaker Jayasuriya to warn him several times.

“I would like to remind you that your criticisms and insults are a disrespect not to me personally, but to the dignity of the House” the Speaker warned the MEP Leader, at one instance.

At another, he reprimanded the MP: “You are a very senior MP and you should not behave like this.”

Standing Order

The Speaker, thereafter, using the powers vested in him under Standing Order 74 (1) ordered the MEP Leader out of the Chamber. When the MEP Leader refused to leave, Parliament Police was called in.

After the commotion died down, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella put forward a motion to suspend the MP. The motion to suspend the MP was voted for by a majority of 63: 85 voted for, 22 against, 3 abstained while 114 were absent.

Addressing the media after the sessions, Chief Government Whip and Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka said the chaos in Parliament was a ‘well-orchestrated drama.’

The chaos continued the next day, when members of the ‘Joint Opposition’ clashed with members of the government over an objection by Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella to three members of the Joint Opposition being allowed to speak.

Members of the JO did not take kindly to Kiriella’s objection and proceeding invective and unruly behaviour forced the Speaker to suspend sitting and adjourn Parliament until March 21.

It is important to remember that Gunawardena is one of the senior-most MPs in the House. He first entered Parliament in 1983, after securing victory at the by-election for Maharagama. Therefore, his experience in Parliament spans for nearly 35 years and the MP is well aware of Parliamentary traditions. It is in this context that Gunawardena’s behavior drew criticism from many.

President’s experience

However, this is not the first time that the Police was called in to take an MP away from the House. Many senior politicians – including President Maithripala Sirisena – have undergone the same experience.

President Sirisena, a young Parliamentarian at the time, addressed former Speaker M.H. Mohammed as ‘pagaa naayakathumani’ instead of katha nayakathumani.

The former Speaker demanded Sirisena to retract his statement but the MP refused. As a result, the Police was called in to carry him away from the House.

History

The first MP who was carried away by the Police was Somaweera Chandrasiri, former MP for Kesbewa, in 1955. The then Leader of the House J.R. Jayewardene presented the motion to suspend the MP as the latter was engaged in a heated verbal battle with a ruling party MP over expenses for the ‘Buddha Jayanthi’ celebrations.

In 1956, a group of MPs representing the Lanka Samasamaaja Party, including its Leader N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva and Edmond Samarakkodi, were carried away from Parliament after a chaotic situation in the House.

In 1960, Dinesh Gunawardena’s father, Philip Gunawardena and Robert Gunawardena (Philip’s brother) had to be carried away from the House by the Police as they kept interrupting the Parliamentary proceedings. The Gunawardena duo underwent the same experience a year later as well, when they ran into a clash with the ruling Party in Parliament.

In recent history (1977 – 1994), Ananda Dassanayake, Sarath Muththetuwegama, Richard Pathirana and Haleem Ishak were removed by the Police, following directives from the Speaker. Dassanayake was removed from the House when he repeatedly protested the Jayewardene administration’s decision to revoke former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s civic rights.

When the Police officers enter into the House to carry an MP away, they usually remove their belts and badges to prevent any physical harm to MPs during confrontations. The same process was followed when the Police officers arrived at the House to remove MP Gunawardena.

The Joint Opposition, however, vows to continue their struggle until the Speaker accepts the group as an independent political party. They want to distance themselves from the United People’s Freedom Alliance and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. On the other hand, the large majority of Joint

Opposition are still members of the SLFP or the UPFA. For instance, they want to attend the Central Committee meetings and Executive Committee meetings of the SLFP, but to function as a separate entity in Parliament. These complicated ‘political needs’ have now given rise to a serious issue in Parliament.

President in Jakarta

When pandemonium took place in Parliament, President Maithripala Sirisena was in Jakarta, to attend the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Leaders’ Summit. After the summit, the President was invited by the Indonesian government to pay a state visit to the South-East Asian country.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, State Minister for Education V. Radhakrishnan, State Minister for Fisheries Dilip Wedaarachchi, Deputy Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe were the members of the ministerial delegation visiting Jakarta.

Fake news

Two hours after his arrival in Indonesia, the President visited the Sri Lankan Embassy to meet the Sri Lankan community in Jakarta. In his brief interaction with the community, the President urged them not to lose faith in the current government.

President Sirisena said the government’s political opponents were misusing the cyber space to paint a wrong picture about Sri Lanka.

“The Sri Lankans living overseas are particularly vulnerable to such fake news campaigns,” the President said, adding that the new government’s rise to power had created a shift in the international community’s viewpoints on Sri Lanka.

“My visit to Jakarta is the first after former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s visit to Indonesia in 1976. I will also be the first Sri Lankan head of state to pay a state visit to Russia in four decades,” the President said, just weeks away from his visit to Russia on an invitation by his Russian counterpart Vladmir Putin.

These visits, the President said, underscore the fact that Sri Lanka has received more recognition and acceptance from the international community as a result of the new government’s reforms program.

“We have brought back democracy to Sri Lanka. The draconian 18th Amendment was replaced with the 19th Amendment which ensured the establishment of independent commissions. We will continue to proceed on the path of democratic political reforms,” the President explained.

IORA

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), formed in 1997, is in the process of positioning itself as a new region. The meeting brings together 21 countries sharing the Indian Ocean and seven other states as dialogue partners.

The association comprises India, Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.The Dialogue Partners are the US, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan and the UK.

The IORA ‘region’ possesses a variety of natural resources that are vital for the wellbeing of its inhabitants‚ safe trade and environmental stability. The IORA’s vast coastline holds two thirds of the world’s oil reserves‚ carries half of the world’s container ships and one third of the bulk cargo traffic and produces goods and services worth over US$1 trillion‚ with intra-IORA trade amounting to some US$777 billion.

The IORA, this year, has decided to adopt an action plan that will outline a four-year plan for tackling security, safety and female economic empowerment in the ocean. The security plan will also highlight the need to counter issues such as, terrorism and extremism in the region. The leaders will also launch a declaration titled “Jakarta Concord” at the conclusion of the summit, outlining their future course of action.

The Sri Lankan President’s presence at the IORA Leaders’ Summit, in Jakarta, indicated that the island nation was keen on tapping into the potential of the region. The forum takes place at a time when Sri Lanka is desperately exploring options to strengthen its maritime sector.

Among the other heads of state visiting Jakarta to participate in the IORA are South African President Jacob Zuma, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheik Hasina. President Sirisena’s address to the IORA drew the attention of many world leaders.

In his speech, the Sri Lankan President urged members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) to adopt a comprehensive framework to prevent the trafficking of illicit drugs by sea.

The President stressed that it was necessary to examine the dangers setting off from the sea such as piracy and terrorism. The President observed that the trafficking of illicit drugs by sea has become an industry of sorts.

“Although various counter-trafficking measures have been implemented, there is no satisfactory end result,” the Sri Lankan President said.

“It is universally recognized that all littoral states possess a maritime area bordering their coasts within which they exercise complete authority. However, beyond this limit comprise high seas and are not subject to the jurisdiction of any state. Most of the illicit drugs are smuggled into the country from the sea beyond the territorial waters,” President Sirisena added.

“I suggest IORA to work out a stable legal order to confront these concerns in conformity with the principles of the freedom of navigation.”

The President said it was in this context that the IORA Concord and the Action Plan was signed by member nations, strengthening the organization’s role as an active forum for dialogue.

He also said, the national unity government had undertaken measures to build Sri Lanka’s position in the Indian Ocean region. The President revealed Sri Lanka’s ambitious plans to enter the global value chain by becoming a regional hub for trade, tourism, transport and logistics.

Ansari raises fisherman issue with President

On the sidelines of the IORA summit, President Sirisena held discussions with four leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, South African President Jacob Zuma, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheik Hasina and Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari.

What attracted the international media’s attention was the discussion between the Sri Lankan President and the Indian Vice President in the wake of the controversy over killing of an Indian fisherman allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The Indian media, quoting the Indian Vice President, said the issue was taken up during the meeting and the Sri Lankan President assured a thorough probe into the incident. A day after the conclusion of the Leaders’ Summit, the President paid a state visit to Indonesia and held bilateral discussion with the representatives of the country’s government.

The President was given a grand welcome at the Presidential Palace of Indonesia last morning. A colorful cultural parade, representing all ethnic communities of the host country, greeted the Sri Lankan President at the entrance of the presidential residence while the military gave a guard of honour. President Sirisena was officially welcomed by the Indonesian President and the former also signed the guest book of the palace before commencing bilateral discussions.

FTA talks

The most important outcome of the bilateral discussion was the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Both leaders entrusted their Foreign Ministries with the task of preparing a plan to proceed with the FTA talks. “The FTA is a win-win deal for both parties. Indonesia is keen on consolidating its position in the Indian oceanic region of which Sri Lanka is a key strategic partner. Sri Lanka, at the same time, gets the opportunity to become a trade partner of one of the biggest economies in the Asian region,” a member of the Sri Lankan delegation visiting Jakarta told our sister paper, the Daily News.

President Sirisena pledged to enhance Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations with Indonesia and invited the country’s President Joko Widodo to pay a state visit to Sri Lanka as early as possible.

During the bilateral discussions, the Sri Lankan President said he took pride in being the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit Indonesia in over four decades. He said he was deeply touched by the hospitality extended by Indonesia, the new Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), during his three-day stay in the country.

The Sri Lankan President thanked his Indonesian counterpart for donating 15,000 metric tons of rice to Sri Lanka when the country was on the verge of a ‘rice crisis’. The two leaders, after the discussions, issued a joint statement underscoring the deep and long-standing friendship between the two countries.

The statement said the two countries shared a deep friendship for many decades as members of the Bandung Conference (1955), the Non-Alingment Movement (NAM) and as common inheritors of the Indian Ocean. It also added that the two countries held fruitful discussions on many areas of mutual interests such as economic development, technology, tourism, health, defense and industries.

It is clear that the Sri Lankan President is now reviving ties with many important members of the international community. His next visit will be to Russia where he will hold discussions with one of the most powerful men in the world, Russian President Vladmir Putin. 

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