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Uproar in House following re-crossover

KOTTE: Speaker W.J.M.Lokubandara yesterday prematurely adjourned Parliament amidst the disturbance created following the crossover of Railways Deputy Minister Edward Gunasekera to the UNP from where he earlier defected to the Government along with 18 UNP 'Reformist' MPs.

The commotion arose when Gunasekera made his way to the Chamber from the Opposition entrance and attempted to make a statement from his seat among the opposition ranks.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the House Deputy Minister has resigned from his portfolio to re-join the UNP.

However the Speaker said it is unacceptable for the member to make a statement from elsewhere other than the seat allocated to him in the House. Had the member informed the Chair about this earlier, he would have been allocated a seat from among the Opposition benches.

However if the member chooses to occupy a seat belonging to another MP, this cannot mean that the member is an Opposition MP.

The Speaker said he is bound to safeguard the privileges of all Parliamentarians. But there is no precedent of an incident of this nature. Taking into account the seniority of the MPs, an appropriate seat allocation would be made to the Member.

Raising a point of order UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake said when he crossed over to the UNP on November 11, 1999, he was given an opportunity to make a statement even before a seat was reserved. National Heritage Minister Anura Bandaranaike said Parliamentarians can cross over at any time. Nobody can deny it. If the MP wants he can cross over even ten times. "But I regret the Deputy Minister's cross over to the UNP. As a Gampaha district MP, if he was with the PA, he would have won from Gampaha district." Chief Government Whip Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said if a seat is reserved to Gunasekera, arrangements should be made to re-arrange the seats of other MPs too. The MP was trying to raise a point of order and not a privilege matter. In order to sort out the problem, the Speaker proposed to adjourn the House for 30 minutes. When proceedings resumed the Speaker said "Opposition MPs crossing over to the Government and Government MPs crossing over to the Opposition was a tradition witnessed in the House for long time. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike is known for this". "In most of the cross overs, MPs have changed their political party. In this instance it is not the case. Each MP has a seat reserved for him. It is only when a MP speaks from the seat reserved for him that his speech is recorded in the Hansard," the Speaker noted.

"If any MP changes his political party contrary to tradition, he should inform us. Otherwise we may face practical problems arising from such situations. This is not a problem that can be resolved by a mere allocation of a seat to a MP."

UNP MP Sarathchandra Rajakaruna said when MPs like D.A.Rajapaksa and S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike changed their political parties, they were given the opportunity to make special statements. Did these MPs cross over by giving any prior notice ?

Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said the cross over MP has no right to speak until his seating arrangements are made. "If he wants, we will give him the opportunity to come to the Government side and make a statement."

The Speaker said proceedings could not be conducted in such a manner and adjourned the House till 9.30 a.m. today.

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