By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, January 15: The Gampaha District Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Member of Parliament Ranjan Ramanayake, who was sentenced to four-years Rigorous Imprisonment on Tuesday (January 12), will lose his seat in the Sri Lankan parliament, just four months after getting re-elected.
Since the democratic system of electing people’s representatives through adult franchise was established in 1931, scores of members of the State Council and Parliament had been unseated due to reasons ranging from corruption, malpractices during elections, election expenses exceeding legal limits, loss of civic rights, imprisonment, dual citizenship and Contempt of Court. Some of these could be justified but some others were allegedly the result of political vendetta.
There were two exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of people in the country were immensely saddened about the injustice meted out to Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was expelled from Parliament in 1980 and Phillip Gunawardena, who was unseated from the State Council in 1942.
After Ranjan Ramanayake was sentenced to prison, the former Chairman of Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), U. R. de Silva said that Ramanayake would lose his Parliamentary seat and pointed out that he would not be able to appeal the verdict as it was delivered by the Supreme Court, the highest judiciary authority in the country. The Parliamentarian will further lose his right to vote for seven years after serving the prison sentence.
Former State Minister Ajith Mannapperuma, who contested the election from Gampaha District and obtained 47,000 votes, is the next in line to fill Ramanyake’s Parliamentary seat.
The first-ever member to be unseated in the first State Council was Ratnasothy Saravanamuttu (Member for Colombo North). He was unseated after being found guilty of corrupt practices by an election Judge. His wife Naysum Saravanamuttu was elected in the ensuing by-election. Incidentally, these two Sarvanamuttus were great grandparents of newly elected New Zealand Parliamentarian Vanushi Walters.
In the second State Council, the first member to be unseated was E. R. Tambimuttu. He did not contest the 1931 State Council election due to the boycott organized by the Jaffna Youth Congress. He contested the 1936 State Council election as a candidate in the Trincomalee-Batticaloa seat and was elected to the State Council of Ceylon. In June 1943 he was found guilty by the Bribery Commission for accepting bribes but as he refused to resign he was expelled from the State Council.
The next member of the State Council to get sacked simply for leading the patriotic forces in the country was Philip Gunawardena (Member for Avissawella). Gunawardena, the founder of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the first political party in Sri Lanka, played a pivotal role in the Sri Lankan Independence Movement. He was imprisoned by the colonial rulers during Second World War but he escaped from prison. After that he was unseated. He was again unseated after getting elected in 1947 General Elections. However, Gunawardena, known as ‘the Father of Socialism’ and as ‘the Lion of Boralugoda’ entered Parliament once again and served until 1970. He formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and had served as Minister of Agriculture and Food in the S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike Government from 1956-1959 and Minister of Industries and Fisheries in the Dudley Senanayake Government from 1965-1970.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader K. M. P. Rajaratne lost his seat following a verdict given by the District Court of Badulla and in the subsequent by-election, his wife Kusuma won his Welimada seat.
After the unseating of Phillip Gunawardena in 1942, the other leader, whose unseating had immensely saddened the people, was Sirimavo Bandaranaike. After her party lost the 1977 General Elections, the head of the new Government, President J. R. Jayewardene, appointed a Special Presidential Commission in March 1978 to inquire into and report on the matters specified in a Warrant covering the period May 1970 to July 1977. The Commission consisted of two judges of the Supreme Court (Justice Sharvananda and Justice J. G. T. Weeraratne) and a member of the minor judiciary (K. C. E. de Alwis).
In terms of Section 9 of the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law No. 7 of 1978, the Commission recommended that she be subject to civic disability. She was found guilty on September 25, 1980, which was the eve of the 21st anniversary of the assassination of her husband S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Analysts wondered if it was a mere coincidence or sheer meanness. The SPC found Bandaranaike guilty of abuse or misuse of power in respect of six of the allegations made against her. In terms Section 9 of the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law No. 7 of 1978 the Commission recommended that she be subject to civic disability. Bandaranaike was unseated from Parliament.
Later it was revealed that the late Minister of Mahaweli, Gamini Dissanayake, opposed the move to unseat Bandaranaike and pleaded on her behalf, but Jayewardene was unmoved.
Vehemently opposing the move, A. Amirthalingam, the then Leader of the Opposition, pointed out that to proceed with the Resolution would be a clear violation of Standing Order 84 (vi) which stated that: “No member shall refer to any matter which is under adjudication by a Court of Law or to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending”.
It was left to another TULF MP, M. Sivasithamparam, to expose the whole purpose of this exercise. He said, “Sir, there is no point in speaking of the independence of the judiciary being sacred and kept in the Constitution if you are not going to respect the opinion of the Judiciary. If the Supreme Court of this country is going to hold that the Commission has acted against the rules of natural justice.If the Supreme Court was going to hold that there was bias, I ask you on what basis can you pass this Resolution?…… That is why we say that the whole purpose of this exercise is to deprive a political opponent of her civic rights” (Hansard Vol II 16.10.80).
Eminent lawyer Dr. Jayatissa De Costa, who incidentally marked 50 years in the bar on January 13, explained that legal provisions are available to squash the verdict by filing a Fundamental Rights Case or by a Writ Application, and in such a case, the Supreme Court could interpret the legal position. Referring to Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s expulsion he said that a Special Presidential Commission was appointed with the objective of disenfranchising her and when she filed a case before the Court of Appeal challenging the legality of the Presidential Commission and the Court ruled that the Commission did not have the legal authority to probe, President J. R. Jayewardene hurriedly enacted two laws paving the way to nullifying the Appeal Court verdict.
TULF MPs Expelled
Three years after the expulsion of Bandaranaike, Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam and 15 other members of his Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) were unseated from Parliament. The rising level of violence in 1983 led the Jayewardene Government to pass the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which specifically banned talk of separatism. All sixteen TULF members of Parliament were expelled for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution and unitary status.
Among others expelled was Sarath Fonseka, who was unseated as a result of a verdict given by the second Court Martial indicting him in relation to arms purchases made by him as Commander of the Army through the Hicorp Company which belonged to his son-in-law.
Similarly, S. B. Dissanayake lost his seat due to a Contempt of Court verdict given by the Supreme Court. Geetha Kumarasinghe managed to secure a seat in Parliament in the 2015 General Election. But her dual citizenship became an issue, questioning her loyalty to Sri Lanka and she was unseated.
Explaining, the powers of three pillars of democracy, legal luminary Dr. Jayatissa de Costa said that in accordance with the Article 4(c) of the Constitution the Judicial Power of the people is exercised by Parliament and the Secretary General of Parliament exercised this power. But the final interpreting authority rests with the Supreme Court.