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Geethanjana Deputy Speaker

by Ranil Wijayapala and Bharatha Malawaraarachchi

Freedom Alliance National List MP Geethanjana Gunawardena was yesterday unanimously elected Deputy Speaker of Parliament with the consent of both the Government and the Opposition.

Gunawardena's name was proposed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and seconded by Leader of the House, Minister Maithripala Sirisena.

The Parliamentary proceedings yesterday was relatively peaceful compared to the previous sitting day to elect a Speaker where UNP MP W. J. M. Lokubandara clinched the post by one vote in three rounds of electioneering which took nine hours.

However, yesterday's session was not without its share of drama with SLMC MP Bhaila Hussein crossing the floor of the House to join the ranks of the Government.

Later, addressing a media briefing, Bhaila said SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem was continuing his liaison with the UNP based on his personal attachments disregarding the views of the party membership. "It is very regrettable that due to this personal attachment the SLMC is working with the UNP.

We are deprived of the chances of serving the Muslim people due to this situation," he said adding that Hakeem was working with the UNP to topple the UPFA Government and sabotage the peace process initiated by the President. In another development, raising a matter of privilege, Jathika Hela Urumaya's dissident MP Aparekke Pannananda Thera drew the attention of the House to the abduction of his JHU colleague, Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha both of whom voted for the Government nominee in the election of the Speaker.

Apparently due to the consensus reached between the Government and Opposition, M. Sachithanandan representing the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) was unanimously appointed the Deputy Chairman of the Committees. His name was proposed by CWC's Muttu Sivalingam.

However, yesterday's proceedings too witnessed heated arguments and unruly scenes with several MPs raising privilege issues. It was SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem who first raised the matter of privilege. Referring to certain media reports pertaining to his personal conduct, Hakeem said the episode had been fabricated to bring him into disrepute and to exert pressure on him to vote for the Government. Hakeem requested the Speaker to inquire into the incident.

At this point, Deputy Minister Bimal Ratnayake raising a point of order said Hakeem had failed to specify the incident that caused a breach of his privileges.Replying to this, Hakeem said the scandalous news report had dealt a severe impact on his personal life.

"The Government has stooped to a very low level in order to bring undue pressure on me," he said.Ven. Athuraliya Rathana Thera of the JHU also said his parliamentary privileges had been breached since the last sittings of Parliament and wanted the Speaker to inquire into the matter.

The House also erupted when Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle engaged in a verbal duel with Speaker Lokubanadara. Apparently, this verbal battle in Sinhala language caused light entertainment. Fernandopulle's salvos came amidst Speaker Lokubandara ordering the Hanzard staff to expunge certain parts of Fernandopulle's speech.

Speaker Lokubandara, a scholar in Sinhala, responded in lilting prose to the queries made by Fernandopulle who also used the same tone of language. At this point, SLMC MP Basheer Segu Dawood too raised a privilege matter concerning a television program which had breached his Parliamentary privilege.

*****

Not new to politics

Freedom Alliance National List MP and MEP organiser for Avissawella, Geethanjana Gunawardena who was unanimously elected Deputy Speaker yesterday is a son of late Minister Philip Gunawardena and late Mrs Kusuma Gunawardena and the younger brother of Urban Development and Water Supply Minister and MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena.

A product of Ananda College, Colombo, he obtained the B.Sc. in Engineering from the London Polytechnic College in England.

He also completed his Ph.D. at the London Polytechnic College before returning to Sri Lanka to join his brother Dinesh in his political activities as organiser of the MEP Youth Federation.

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