A damp squib with a smattering of mud

The UNP-sponsored debate in Parliament, on Thursday, based on a New York Times (NYT)-article in June, titled “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port”, resulted in another damp squib, with the debate’s sponsors unable to cough up sufficient numbers to retain a Quorum in the House, to sustain the debate till the end of its scheduled time.

There were early signs when the debate began, it was not going to yield any new or useful information, given the large number of vacant seats in the Chamber. The debate also got off to a rather muddled start, with Kurunegala District MP Thushara Indunil Amarasena who moved the motion, unable to get across clearly why exactly a debate was being held, other than give a forum for both sides to wallow in the same allegations against each other.

The NYT article alleges that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was given more than US$ 7.6 million by the China Harbour Engineering Co. to fund his 2015 presidential election campaign. MP Amarasena said, “Accepting money from a foreign nation was a great betrayal. The very people who speak so highly of patriotism have accepted money from a foreign country to fund their elections,” he said.

He was backed by Minister of Highways Kabir Hashim who said the former regime was waiting to barter away the country’s sovereignty by accepting money for their personal use, but their plans were averted due to the election defeat. “They act like hermits but, in reality, they are men who go hunting on a Poya Day,” he said.

However, the allegations leveled at the former President were dismissed by Colombo District [(Joint Opposition Group (JOG)] MP Wimal Weerawansa who said these allegations have been publicised since 2015. “There were reports that the US State Department spent US$ 500 million to bring about regime changes in various countries including Sri Lanka.Why aren’t you investigating these. There were also reports in the Australian press, making allegations against the present President. Why weren’t these looked into?” he queried.

Neither the former President, his son Namal Rajapaksa nor Chamal Rajapaksa was present to answer the allegations leveled at them. Instead, it fell on the JOG MPs to come to their defense.

Chief Opposition Whip and JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said that, when there were serious allegations leveled at the former President, he had a duty to be present in the Chamber to defend himself.

“I felt the former President would remain in the Chamber throughout the day the debate is being held but, on the contrary, neither he nor other members of his family are here. Similarly, his supporters in the JOG have tried to thwart this debate from the start,” he said.

Despite some upbeat speeches by UNP MPs and equally loud rebuttals of the allegations by the JOG MPs, the debate ended 45 minutes before the scheduled time.

By 6.45 pm there were less than 20 MPs in the Chamber, the number needed for a Quorum, and hence, the Quorum bells were rung to gather sufficient numbers.

Despite the bells sounding for a reasonable length of time, there were only 8 MPs in the Chamber. Without sufficient numbers, the presiding member adjourned the day’s sittings.

-Sunday Times-

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