21 May, 2019

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Parliament – Then & Now

By Srima Warusawithana

Srima Warusawithana

Srima Warusawithana

This was over five decades ago. Parliament then was in a stately building facing the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of Galle Face Green in Colombo. 

There was a subject called Civics in our curriculum in those days when I was a schoolgirl. My father – the pragmatic man that he was, thought he should give me the opportunity of viewing Parliament proceedings. So he would take me regularly to sit in the gallery to follow the nations legislature at work. Before entering the gallery – we went on a tour of the massive place through huge wooden doors and lengthy corridors that seemed to my young eyes like a stately old-world mansion. When it was time for the sittings to begin we went silently into the gallery and took our seats. The speaker Sir Francis Molamure walked in ushered by the sergeant at arms bearing the mace. My father, sitting close beside me told me who he was and what his job was inside the parliament. The Prime Minister – it was D.S.Senanayake at the time and then came the other ministers and members of Parliament on both the government and opposition benches. It was delightful to watch and identify each one with my father’s help. They looked so stately and dignified in immaculate clothes – I saw Dudley Senanayake in the full white coat and trouser kit and also others – Sir John Kotelawala, Oliver Goonetilleke, SWRD Bandaranaike – all coming in and sitting at their appointed seats calmly and silently, perfect concentration etched on their faces as though they knew they had a responsible job to do. I listened to them – awestruck – each one a gem of a speech delivered carefully and conscientiously. The others in the assembly listened intently, without disturbing the proceedings in any manner. The Speaker was akin to royalty – so were the members of this august assembly – all educated in the highest echelons of academia. On our way home, my father told me about the qualifications and academic achievements of each of them – he a village lad but self-made – knew each of these men – their life stories and credentials – amazing when I think of all the little details he had gathered. It was another rewarding day when I had a glimpse of oratory and wholesome behavior in the most important institution that links with good governance of our nation.

That era is now a thing of the past and long gone away.

ParlimentParliament buildings are now in an even more picturesque area beside the Diyawanna Oya but vastly different in the conduct and decorum of the people who inhabit the place now. The seats are for the most part vacant, as the members seem to have better things to do outside. Even when they are there – some are seen sleeping. There are regular brawls, fisticuffs, foul-mouthing and filth uttered by one another. Parents like my father and teachers who used to bring students to give a practical lesson in Social Studies do not do so anymore due to the unholy, destructive atmosphere that prevails there. Thugs, racketeers, casino kings, bullies, uneducated hoodlums abound here and it is not even safe to be inside this place anymore. Speaker is ridiculed and often he cannot keep order inside. The members turn violent and even throw furniture to hit their opponents; once there was one of them grabbing the Speakers coat of arms and running away thereby disrupting the proceedings. One sat on the ballot box when a vote had to be taken.

I am sure those of my vintage reading this piece will surely recall what parliament was like in days of yore and how it is now. The latest is one member of Parliament abusing the Prime Minister in the most obscene Sinhala words and the Speaker warning him. This uncivilized individual should have been removed from the chamber as a lesson to anyone who thus pollutes the place thereafter. This indiscipline now seems to be an irreversible process.

 

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Latest comments

  • 17
    1

    Dear Madam Srima Warusavithana,

    I am deeply grateful to you for your profound and valuable article.
    You are so fortunate to see such a remarkable and memorable environment in your younger age in the past in the name Sri lankan parliament.

    Now we are very unfortunate.
    Those gentlemen are no more.
    Specially our younger generation is very unfortunate.
    They can not learn any polite language except dirty and filthy words which well mannered and well cultured people never accept.

    We can learn very polite and well mannered way of addressing each other in the parliament in UK that we miss from our own.

    Few days ago One of Old parliamentarian Vasudewa Nanayakkara disgracefully used sinhala language in that so called August Assembly.

    He is disgraceful but Our Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe as a great gentleman behaved well and showed his inner qualities that he has been cultivating and developing since his childhood as a great statesman.

    Unfortunately many Srilankan can not fathom and realize that.

    Once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the profound piece of writing for our knowledge.

    • 5
      1

      Saman,
      Fortune or Unfortune is superstition. Be brave to accept it as our fault, our fathers and mothers fault… not God’s or Buddha’s fault…

  • 8
    0

    I am of a later generation & have only heard of the illustrious names mentioned but it is nice to be reminded that at one time, the SL Parliament consisted of educated and honourable people, unlike now, when it is the village thug who has the best qualifications to enter Parliament. The regime change gave hope to a better class of educated people in Parliament but so far my expectations are yet to be fulfilled because corruption & cronyism seems to be deep rooted in our society, despite the education. I still have faith in the PM who I am sure is sincere & not corrupt but time is running out for him to prove is integrity.

  • 3
    0

    I am of a later generation & have only heard of the illustrious names mentioned but it’s nice to be reminded that at one time, the SL Parliament consisted of educated and honourable people, unlike now, when the village thug is the best qualified to enter Parliament. The regime change brought hope that a better class of educated people will be governing the country but my expectations are yet to fulfilled as it appears that corruption, nepotism & cronyism are deep rooted in our society and cannot be exorcized. I still have faith in the PM but time is running out for him to prove his credibility.

  • 6
    0

    parliament is full of fools…all 225 of them

  • 4
    0

    Well written Srima and concise. A very insightful glimpse into the parliament as it works today keeping many thugs and criminals busy inside the parliament house thus not doing much damage to the society at large. The rot started with a man seated in the gallery going up to occupy the Speaker’s chair, which he did, during the opening of the new parliament under SWRD in 1956 and condoned by him, claiming that it was “Ape Anduwa” or our government. Best wishes Bensen

  • 3
    0

    Dear Madam Srima Warusavithana,

    Many thanks for your meaningful and enlightening article.

    Numerous words are resounding in my mind but difficult to literary inscribe to appreciate your effort.

    There are many those who have been fortunate to witness and experience such a remarkable and honourable parliament fifty years ago.But only few unfold and convey the stories.

    Unfortunately those gentlemen are no more now.

    Madam Srima Warusavithana is a very fortunate person to experience that remarkable gathering of an august assembly.

    Even this piece of writing elucidates and enlightens us about our past politicians behaviour, deportment, demeanour greatness,dignity, politeness, decency, grace and manner of conduct.

    I think those leaders and gentlemen were brought up with indescribable inner qualities by birth and also their parents have remarkably taught and trained them.

    Not only those who were born in Sri Lanka ( Ceylon) but also westerners are also in the same boat.

    The prime example is Late President Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s school master still witness the true nature of humble and polite statesman.

    Unfortunately now uneducated thugs are full in the parliament.
    Most of them do not know how to write a proper and correct sentence in their own language.

    Most of them have not read or study the constitution of the country.

    Most of them use dirty and filthy words and unfortunately women ( I do not say they are politicians) in their benches joyfully entertain the bitterness of those words because they are also not well cultured.

    Vasudewa shamefully and disgracefully used disgustingly dirty words to address Honourable Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe and woman MP Sumeda Jayasena joyfully entertained that filthy words and she also displayed the same character like Wasudeva.

    But Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, our honourable Prime Minister was not shaken by that old man Wasudeva, because Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe is a gentleman and true statesman.

  • 3
    0

    I have heard of these men mentioned by the author but never had the chance to listen to them as I was not born then

    Its too bad and disgraceful that that we have goondas and hooligans,not to mention drug peddlars and pimps in Parliment today

  • 4
    0

    I believe that if My3 allows all the corrupt, stupid, power-hungry thugs to leave as they plan or threaten to do like spoilt brats, following which he (and RW) give nominations to carefully chosen men and women based on their education, civic record, background etc., the VOTERS who comprise the majority will definitely give a clear message after which we will see decency and peace, by the Grace of God.

    There must be courageous and committed leadership devoid of ill-will and corrupt desire to make enormous wealth, perpetuate power, family bandysm and all we have seen since about 1980.

    There are many who believe that this simple farmer from Polonnaruwa has what it takes. My prayer is that our gracious Lord the God of heaven and earth will abide with us and all in this precious isle.

  • 5
    1

    It is a great pity that this lady does not mention the names of the very best parliamentarians of that epoch. Is it because they sat in the opposition – tut, tut! The finest of our parliamentarians was NM Perera, there were also people like Pieter Keuneman, Suntheralingm and Colvin R DeS. These are people who, together with SWRD, crafted the traditions of parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka.

    • 3
      1

      Pardon me, EW Golding, I think NM, Colvin & Co were hypocrites who drank whiskey in the evening while the poor people didn’t have sugar to put in their evening cuppa (during Mrs B’s time)& SWRD was the biggest Hypocrite, a man who couldn’t even speak Sinhala properly, introduced Sinhala nationalism to his personal gain that ultimately started the rot. This was the dawn of the new era which we see today.

      • 1
        0

        A little learning is a dangerous thing Mr Rajive; Colvin was a teetotaler and NM drank only very occasionally.

        • 0
          0

          Colvin my very well have been a teetotaller & NM may have enjoyed a tipple occasionally, but my point was that theses hypocrites enjoyed the good life as any other capitalist while preaching socialism to the masses.

  • 4
    0

    Mrs. Sirima Warusavithana,

    I am glad to note that you were disturbed with current status of our parliament. Especially when some members stayed over night recently, like as though it was a madama. All that pride and dignity we display when other aian countries try to look down at Sri Lanka is all gone.

    When I spoke to my father about it, he mentioned that sadly there were a few instances like that which brought dishonor to the parliament. One was the incident when a monk was literally disrobed. Luckily some other members prevented further insults to the monk and brought the system under control. Second was when the First Lady prime Miniister was insulted and very ugly personal remarks were made at her by former president JRJ.

  • 4
    0

    Srima Warusawithana,

    Thank You for your article, drenched with nostalgia, and recalling an altogether more sedate time in our history.

    Slightly older probably, I go back to the Duke of Gloucester gokkala pandal times, when we were handed back the keys to OUR kingdom, and the password to self government. I too thought pure thoughts; I dreamt of how we would show the old colonial master a thing or two about good governance. How wrong I was. It became apparent all too soon that our ‘gentleman’ politicians had one thing on their mind; win the hearts and minds and votes of the majority of the electorate, and grab power. From Banda and onwards, it was divide and rule.

    The nightmare went on till early this year. BUT let us not be fooled; the present ‘gentlemen’ have yet to prove themselves. They are, after all, lest we forget, just the other side of the same coin. BUT there is hope, and we can see the day when we will have worthy people, leaders NOT in hock to thugs, crooks and low life, govern us. For the sake of our children!

  • 4
    0

    I agree with your article 100%. The greed for power and money is the main cause for such behavior.

  • 0
    0

    Was it not during those “golden days” that Mr.Dahanayake came to the Parliament in a loin cloth, Oh how the author of this article, (I am sure she is one hundred percent “esteemed and cultured”) would have blushed if she was in the gallery at that time!

  • 1
    0

    Thank you for reminding the readers of the existence of “civics”as a subject in the school curriculum. The present generation of school children little knowledge on a subject which affects there life directly. One must remember that they enjoy franchise at 18 years. ‘Civics’ give them the foundation to built their value systems on Democratic principles.
    It should be brought back

  • 2
    0

    In regard to the comments of EW Golding, Yes, Dr NM Perera was by common consent considered to be a fine parliamentarian, well versed in the rules and procedures governing the conduct of parliament and keen always to observe them. I am not sure, however, that the others mentioned – Pieter Keuneman, S Suntheralingam and Colvin R de Silva – were necessarily great parliamentarians. They were certainly colourful and, one might even say, outstanding parliamentary figures, without necessarily being great parliamentarians.

    But more to the point of this lady’s article, most of the parliamentarians from the time she recalls conducted themselves with the dignity and decorum worthy of the House. Sadly, the decline in standards came with the advent of the ‘ape anduwa’ in 1956.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you for a well written article, as a young child I remember spending many days after school in the early 70’s watching the parliamentary process from the gallery while my dad was at work in the August chamber

    Even in the 70’s the members of that house respected each other regardless of party affiliation,the speeches were made with class by individuals representing each electorate and were held responsible to represent them with dignity

    However, since JR’s constitution where appointing thugs and even the once who lost being appointed to parliament and the power shifted to the office of one man ,the present system where the parliament was made only a rubber stamp has created space for the party leaders ” power keepers ” the thugs,casino kings,ethnol Kings,money men etc entering the house of lawmakers

  • 0
    0

    There is no difference between all and current parliamentarians, They all failed this country. it doesn’t matter what they talk or how they behave what should be concern is the end result of all of it. Old dummy guys who were in the parliament like DS, Bandaranayake, JR just bunch of fools who were fed by Britain imperialism and made this country a chaos.

  • 0
    0

    It is amazing to note that a simply nostalgic account of what was known as the people’s assembly then and the low levels to which it has fallen now could arouse such passionate comments.It is an indication of how disgusted the people are about the current state of their parliament.Now no parent would dare take his or her child to parliament for fear of being accused of being a very irresponsible parent.The quality of people who are chosen to represent has fallen to such depth that I think most people serving jail terms for serious crimes in our prisons would be of better behaviour than our politicians This must change and I sincerely hope in the next election people would seriously and for the sake of our future generations chose candidates who are first and foremost of good character and then educated and capable of leading our country out of this mess.Sadly as I am a diehard UNP supporter I must admit that it is primarily JR’s wretched constitution that paved the way for corrupt leaders to nominate thieves,casino owners,drug smugglers,rapists etc., as candidates for parliament under proportional representation lists.This took away the rights of the people to judge their candidates on their individual merits.As the good charactered candidates were usually at the bottom of the list the thieves got in whilst the decent ones never had a chance. We must do our utmost at the next election to weed out the scum and bring back our peoples assembly to the standard of decency that children can again visit our parliament and remember to admire their visit and value their memories as Ms Warusavitharana has done after 50 long years.We must introduce Human Values Education into our school curriculum with utmost urgency and make the study of Human Values compulsory so that our future generation will grow up knowing and practicing Truth,Righteousness,Peace,Love and Non violence.Wealth is of lesser value.Wealth if lost it can be earned again soon but if Character is lost everything is lost with it including wealth as we have learnt the hard way in the past ten years.It is a sad day for parliament that a senior politician such as Vasudeva could utter such obscenities allegedly when school children were watching the proceedings.As is the caliber of a hooligan that he is he fails to either apologies or resign his seat and get out of the way for a decent person to replace him.WE could only dream of having leaders of the ilk of Messrs DS and Dudley Senanayake.

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