Sri Lanka’s assembly puts off vote crisis

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya Friday put off a decision on the legality of a disputed vote until the next session of parliament on May 17, as television replays showed that the government lacked the numbers to secure approval for a supplementary allocation of funds.

The Speaker appointed a four-member panel comprising opposition leader R. Sampanthan, former speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, and ministers Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha and Rauf Hakeem.

Friday’s sittings were interrupted by heckling, which at one point prompted Jayasuriya to suspend the sitting.

While the opposition insisted on a fresh vote, the Speaker ruled that he would await the committee report to take any further action, while the ruling UNP maintained that there cannot be another vote on a matter that was already decided – rightly or wrongly. There is no provision in the Standing Orders of parliament to annul one vote and call for another, Higher Education minister Lakshman Kiriella maintained.

However, the JVP argued that there was no such provision because it was never envisaged that there would be cheating in the legislature to falsify results of a vote. Given the extraordinary situation, there should be a fresh vote to salvage the credibility of the parliament, JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake argued.

The de facto main opposition scored a major victory when they successfully challenged the government’s narrow margin in getting a supplementary vote passed in the assembly on Thursday.

At a party leader’s meeting earlier in the day, it had been agreed to pass the additional Rs55 million allocation without a vote, but when the resolution was taken up, the opposition sprang a surprise and called for a vote.

Government benches were depleted, but the Sri Lanka Freedom Party dissidents were in strength and insisted on a vote.

The secretary general of parliament gave the result as 33 in favour of the resolution and 30 against, allowing the motion to be carried. However, SLFP dissidents demanded a review of television footage and secured a recount.

The results of the recount carried out behind closed doors were not announced, but opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa told reporters that the fresh count showed a tie at 31 each for both sides.

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"This is a very serious matter, the secretary general of parliament should resign," Weerawansa said. "We are calling for a fresh vote. We prevented a wrong result being recorded as correct."

The surprise call for a vote is a repeat of what happened in April last year when the opposition successfully defeated a government motion to raise borrowing limits.

Thursday’s vote crisis underscored the government’s shaky position in the assembly and President Maithripala Sirisena’s weak hold on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. (COLOMBO, May 6, 2016)

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