What a contrast!


Dudley with Soulbury in London

Old Parliament

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

‘Diyawanna Jokers’ seem to have become entertainers, having metamorphosed from their elected role of law-makers. Worse still, they have become law-breakers by their own admission. I was shocked to see one of them proudly proclaiming, during a press briefing, that he assaulted another parliamentarian because he was attacked though the news report appearing in ‘The Island’ (Fisticuffs in Parliament ….) of Thursday 11 January, states that he was the first to punch. They seem to have no shame and want us to believe that it is ‘the law of the jungle’ that applies to the very place where laws are supposed to be made. As aptly mentioned in the excellent editorial "House explodes", in the same issue of ‘The Island’, there is no need to go to the zoo or watch The Animal Fight Club on Nat Geo channel at great expense, as all one needs to do is to watch our politicos in action, when they are putting animals to shame with their behaviour!

I have been among the many who have held the Speaker of the House in high esteem but, unfortunately, he too seems to be failing in maintaining the dignity of the House. A ‘firm’ Speaker would have brought the house under control without the ensuing melee but he failed badly on this occasion. There were ample opportunities to bring order but he missed. I well remember how, on many occasions, Betty Boothroyd, the only female to be the Speaker of the British House of Commons, brought the ‘men’ under control with firmness.

It seems very surprising that the Yahapalana President, in spite of having given copies of the report of the Presidential Commission to public servants, is reluctant to make it available to the Parliament. This becomes even more perplexing because this session of the House was specially convened to discuss this report. When the Prime minister attempted to make use of the occasion to read a statement and the opposition objected, surely, it would have been incumbent on the Speaker to make a ruling. Had he terminated the proceedings of the house, on the very justifiable reason that the report was not available for discussion, the ignominy of international humiliation of our legislature could have been avoided. Instead, the Prime Minister was allowed to read his statement, not once but twice; a statement that attempted to deflect attention by referring to alleged previous scams, which are only allegations at present. The Parliamentarians had gathered to discuss a scam that was proved, even on the basis of the little,that the President wished to share with the voter.

Listening to President Sirisena’s address to the Anuradhapura rally, I could not help wondering whether he was referring to his second in command when he was talking about ‘pick-pockets’ in Pettah. He described in detail how the pick-pockets used the ruse of shouting ‘thief’ while fleeing to divert attention. Is this not what his Prime Minister did in Parliament? Oh, no! Much worse. He went a step further and acted as a cheer-leader, nay, rabble rouser! He is heard, instructing his MPs, "When I shout, you shout louder" and starts shouting "Who is the thief?" repeatedly.

Remember it was he who mocked his colleagues by referring to James Bond, when they raised the issue of the bond-scam, initially. Nobody will forget how his party, no doubt with his approval, mocked the armed forces engaged in fierce battles with terrorist in the North. For Ranil and his cronies the war was a joke! Watching the videos of the Prime Minister’s absurd and silly behaviour took my mind back to the gentlemanly behaviour of one of his predecessors, belonging to his own party and I started wondering: ‘What a contrast!’

It was 30th March 1960, the first day of sitting of the Fourth Parliament. I was sitting in the visitor’s gallery to listen to my father, who had been elected as the first UNP MP from Matara Electorate, propose the vote of thanks to the ‘Throne Speech’. It was an unforgettable occasion for more than one reason. I remember Dr S. A. Wickramasinghe, leader of the Communist Party and an old friend of my father, chiding him by saying "Mr Justin Wijayawardhana is renowned for his funeral orations in Matara area and he has delivered this governments funeral oration", much to the amusement of one and all, mostly my father. He was prophetic; the government lasted only 24 days, shortest in our political history. However, the most remarkable was the performance of the Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayaka, during the debate, which I shall never forget. I hope Ranil will emulate Dudley.

Dudley tolerated every opposition MP who interrupted and, with charm and substance, dismantled their opposition, not by shouting or rabble-rousing but by brilliant parliamentary debate. He was interrupted so much that, at one stage, the Speaker, Mr T B Subasinha, appealed to members not to disturb so that the P M could continue with his speech. Dudley looked at the speaker and said "No, sir, let them have their say". They had there say and Dudley replied but the majority voted against the government. Perhaps, as Prof Senaka Bibile, who was seated next to me said, they did not understand as Dudley spoke in English.

Though Ranil had an inexplicably easy ride when he appeared before the bond probe commission, the discerning public hasn’t bought into his claim of innocence. Worse still, he is guilty of an attempted cover-up. When the accusations surfaced, he appointed a committee of three lawyers, known for their sympathy with UNP, who cleared the then Governor of Central Bank under a cloud. Ranil wanted him re-appointed in spite of the President’s objection; he kept him as one of his advisors. From the minimal information released by the President, it is clear that former the Central Bank Governor’s behaviour fell far below expected standards.

By his behaviour Ranil has brought discredit to the positions of the Prime Minister and UNP leader besides the party and should do the honourable thing. But, will he? In contrast, Dudley took responsibility even when he did not have to. He had no hesitation in resigning. That is why, many consider him to be one of the greatest politicians our country was blessed with.

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