Kumaratunga's political alliance loses vote for Parliament speaker, in setback for government
Thu April 22, 2004 12:12 EDT .
SHIMALI SENANAYAKE - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) President Chandrika Kumaratunga's alliance lost a crucial parliamentary vote Thursday, failing to get its candidate into the powerful speaker's post in a major political setback. Sri Lanka - 's 13th Parliament began its first session Thursday with a stalemate over the speaker's selection, with results of a secret ballot showing lawmakers evenly divided between the government and opposition candidates.
Gunesekara and Lokubandara both polled 108 votes. One vote was rejected, seven lawmakers abstained and one was not present in the 225-member house for the initial vote. Parliamentary officials met after the result and ordered a revote.
But that was stopped midway after lawmakers from Kumaratunga's political alliance blocked the ballot box, angry that some opposition lawmakers had openly showed ballots to other members before casting their votes. Kumaratunga's supporters said the move violated the spirit of a secret ballot.
The secretary general of Parliament, Priyani Wijesekara, called the vote invalid and ordered another vote.
Lokubandara was nominated by Sri Lanka - 's main opposition party, led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which was defeated in April 2 general elections.
Congratulating Lokubandara on his appointment, new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said a parliamentary speaker does not belong to a political party and urged him to be unbiased.
Wickremesinghe, who was appointed opposition leader, described the tussle as a ``hard-fought contest'' that was ``more like a battle.''
``We cannot be bullied in this house,'' Wickremesinghe said, criticizing government deputies for blocking the voting earlier.
Jehan Perera, a political analyst from the National Peace Council research group, said the parliamentary power struggle during its first session bodes ill for the country.
``This is a very bad start. The bitter acrimony and division in politics was exposed. This type of division is ill for the future,'' said Perera.
Perera said losing the speaker's post could thwart some of the government's plans, including one to bypass parliament and change the constitution as promised during the election campaign.
``It will make it harder for the government to embark on an adventurous course to amend the constitution,'' Perera said.
Sri Lanka - , a tropical island country of 19 million people off India's southern coast, is coming out of a two-decade civil war between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. A cease-fire is in effect, but peace talks have remained inconclusive.
Kumaratunga dissolved the previous parliament and ordered elections on April 2, more than three years ahead of schedule, after accusing Wickremesinghe of being too soft in peace negotiations with the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The guerrillas, who launched a separatist insurgency in 1983, accuse the majority Sinhalese of discrimination. More than 65,000 people have died in the civil war.
Published: Thu Apr 22 13:26:05 EDT 2004