Wimal’s ‘farce’ and Speaker’s “Promise”

Wimal’s ‘farce’ revisited

Daily News Editorial

Joint Opposition and MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, after a week’s enforced vacation from parliament, had apparently begun from where he left off when he was given marching orders to leave the House, by the Speaker, during the last sitting day. On that occasion, what got Gunawardena into trouble was his vociferous defence of colleague Wimal Weerawansa, who is now serving a stint at the state lodge. Gunawardena was insistent that WW be granted his request to function as an independent MP, severing links with the UPFA- a request the Speaker rejected as irregular. It was the shindig raised by DG on the Speaker’s ruling that got him thrown out of parliament for one week.

Theme Cartoon from Ceylon Today

On Tuesday, fresh from his enforced vacation, Gunawardena, this time though, went on a different tangent but with the same intention of defending, nay, coming to the rescue of his beleaguered colleague. The JO stalwart, rising to his feet in parliament, called on the Speaker to look into the possibility of MPs being incarcerated granted bail, since they could not serve their constituents who elected them to parliament by continuing to remain behind bars. Though, Gunawardena did not mention Weerawansa by name it was clear to whom he was referring to. The Speaker, for his part promised to look into matter and see what could be done.

Theme cartoon from Ceylon Today added by TW

True, the Speaker is the custodian of parliament, and, by extension, is bound to look after interests of all its members. But we are here not certain of the propriety of the Speaker to get involved in something that is well outside his remit. Weerawansa had been charged under the Public Property Act for misappropriating government vehicles and causing a loss to the state to the tune of Rs. 90 million. The MP had challenged the Magistrate’s court order refusing him bail and subsequently the High Court too held with the Magistrate and struck down Weerawansa’s appeal for bail. In doing so the HC held that there is no exceptional circumstances warranting the MP being released on bail at this juncture.

It was no coincidence Gunawardena raising the matter hardly 24 hours after Weerawansa was denied bail for a second time. How Speaker Jayasuriya can now intervene on behalf of the MP by pledging to “look into the matter” is unclear. By making an attempt to do so the Speaker will no doubt be letting himself open to the accusation of interfering into judicial matters, an accusation the JO takes delight in making against the government. On the other hand, no such request for bail was made by Dinesh Gunawardena or any of the JO members when one of their own colleagues, Ratnapura District MP, Premalal Gunasekera was languishing behind bars for close to one year. Are some JO members more equal than others in the eyes of Dinesh Gunawardena and his ilk?

But lo and behold, hardly had this plea for bail made by DG, Weerawansa, as is his wont, commences a death fast in his remand cell, seeking his release. It is not clear if this is being done to hasten the Speaker’s hand or another gimmick reminiscent of the death “farce” of the MP opposite the UN compound, not many moons ago. On that occasion, as the whole country was to witness over Live Television, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa played the Good Samaritan and came to venue to offer life giving water to the dying man after mounting the make shift stage whereon our hero was lying, never mind the stories that he was being constantly fortified by Lemon Puff, during the long vigil. One could have expected a replay of the same scenario, only this time our protagonists are handicapped not been able to receive the benefit of Live Television coverage.

Are Wimal Weerawansa and those of the JO who mooted this idea really going to make the public believe that the MP really means business this time around and that the death fast would continue to its logical conclusion? It is no secret that Weerawansa had amassed considerable wealth during his time as Minister in the Rajapaksa government, his assets said to include luxury mansions and even a garment factory. Isn’t it stretching the credulity of the public to the limits to imagine that Weerawansa is going to jettison all these worldly possessions of his and take his own life just because the courts have refused to grant him bail?

Hopefully the Weerawansa high jinx will not start a chain reaction, where other prisoners too start death fasts. The MP will do well to fight his case to the end and face the consequences like all the rest of them. As a self proclaimed socialist, and a patriot, he should set an example by practising what he preaches and stick to the doctrine of equality to all. He cannot be more equal than those who are languishing behind bars for years, including members of the Sangha, who the likes of Weerawansa and the rest of the JO like to identify with.