Sri Lanka Parliament

Sri Lanka Parliament
The Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකා පාර්ලිමේන්තුව; Tamil: இலங்கை நாடாளுமன்றம்) is the supreme legislative authority of Sri Lanka with a lifespan of five years for one term. It can be summoned, suspend, prorogue or dissolve through a proclamation by the President. However, the President's action to suspend or dissolve Parliament is subject to legal review by the Supreme Court. The main function of Parliament is the enactment of legislation, supervision of the executive and control of public finance.

The parliament consists of 225 members known as Members of Parliament (MPs) and they are elected by proportional representation for five-year terms, with universal suffrage.

Royal councils
As is evidenced by the written history which spans over 2,500 years, Sri Lanka experienced forms of governance from the 3rd century B.C. or since the Anuradhapura Period. Ancient Sri Lanka was a monarchy and the head of the state was the king who had a council of ministers to advise him and to represent the interests of the people. Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka that was established by King Pandukabhaya in the 4th century B.C. had royal councils, the early form of the present Parliament, under the reign of various kings and those councils are said to have gathered to manage municipal matters under an official named Nagara Gutthika. The ruins of a royal council have been discovered among the 5th-century A.D. ruins at Sigiriya.

Royal Council building of Nissankamalla
During the Polonnaruwa Period, King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) constructed Raja Vaishyabhujanga Mandapa for the gathering of the royal council. King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) also built a Royal Council Pavilion and this tradition was followed until the demise of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka in 1815, the Kandyan Kingdom.

Some of the maritime districts of the island were under Portuguese rule from 1597 to 1658 and after, the Dutch occupied those areas and started to govern them from 1658 until they were expelled by the British in 1796. After signing the Kandyan Convention in 1815, the Kandyan Kingdom came to an end and Sri Lanka officially became a British colony.

Under British rule
Old Parliament building at Galle Face
However, as Sinhalese started to rebel against British rule, the British appointed the Colebrooke Commission in 1833 to introduce reforms and over its recommendations two separate councils, viz; the Executive Council and the Legislative Council were formed. The Legislative Council was made up of 9 official members and 6 non-official members who were nominated by the Governor consisting of 3 Europeans as well as one each from the Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher communities (Library of Parliament, 2019). The two councils initially gathered at the Republic Building in Colombo Fort which is now occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Library of Parliament, 2019). In 1912, the number of members of the Legislative Council increased to 21 and in 1921 it increased to 37 (Library of Parliament, 2019). This number again increased to 49 in 1924 (Library of Parliament, 2019). In 1931, on the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission, Universal Adult Franchise (right to vote) was introduced to everyone over the age of 21 and the Legislative Council was renamed the State Council of Ceylon which consisted of 61 members (Library of Parliament, 2019). The State Council had several Executive Committees and each had a Chairman who acted as the Minister (Library of Parliament, 2019). A plot of land close to Galle Face was chosen to build A New Building for the State Council and it was ceremonially declared open by Governor Sir Herbert Stanley on 29 January 1930 (Library of Parliament, 2019).

The Soulbury Commission which was appointed in 1944 introduced a Westminister model reform package called the Soulbury Constitution in 1946 (Library of Parliament, 2019). Accordingly, the parliament established under this consisted of two Houses; the Senate (the Upper House) and the House of Representatives (the Lower House). The Senate had 30 members while the House of Representatives had 101 members of which 95 were elected members and the remaining 6 were selected by the Governor-General of Ceylon (Library of Parliament, 2019).

After independence
On 4 February 1948, Sri Lanka attained independence from the British but the head of the state was the Governor General representing the Queen. The Soulbury Constitution of 1946 with consequential changes effected till 1972. The number of members in the House of Representatives was increased from 101 to 157 as recommended by the Delimitation Commission of 1959 (Library of Parliament, 2019) The Senate was abolished on 2 October 1971 (Library of Parliament, 2019).

The country became a republic on 22 May 1972 with the adoption of a new constitution by which the Governor-General was replaced by the President (Library of Parliament, 2019). The real power was in the hands of the Prime Minister and the constitution consisted of 168 members of parliament elected by the people (Library of Parliament, 2019). On 7 September 1978, the second republican constitution, the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was enacted and it introduced to the country the Proportional Representation System and the Executive Presidential System (Library of Parliament, 2019). The number of representatives in Parliament was 225 out of which 29 were appointed from the National List of Members (Library of Parliament, 2019).

As the parliament building at Galle Face was inadequate, in 1979 the House gave permission to build a new parliament complex in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the ancient capital of the Kotte Kingdom. This building was ceremonially declared open on 29 April 1982 making Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte the administrative capital of Sri Lanka.

Consequent to constitutional reforms, the name of the Legislature changed several times as follows (Library of Parliament, 2019);

The Legislative Council (1833-1931) > The State Council (1931-1947) > The House of Representatives (1947-1972) > The National State Assembly (1972-1978) > Parliament (1978-present)

Bomb attack
On 18 August 1987, a bomb attack in parliament during a government parliamentary group meeting was aimed at the then President, J. R. Jayawardena [(1978-1989) Oberst, 1989]. One member of parliament was killed and ten were injured (Oberst, 1989). The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna claimed responsibility for the attack (Oberst, 1989).

The Parliament Building complex
Read the main article: Sri Lankan Parliament Building

The parliament building complex has been constructed on a 16 acres island in the Diyawanna Lake and was designed by the renowned architect Geoffrey Manning Bawa (1919-2003). The building covers an area of 8,000 sq. m. reflecting the historic Buddhist monastery tradition, Panchawasa

Speaker & Secretary General
The Speaker represents the supremacy of the parliament and is responsible for the observance of rules of order. In his absence, the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees or the Deputy Chairman of Committees presides over Parliament. Below the speaker's chair are the chairs of the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and the Assistant Secretary-General. 

Serjeant-At-Arms & Mace
Beyond the Bar of the House on either side are the Serjeant-At-Arms who carries the Mace (Senkoolaya). The Serjeant-At-Arms is the custodian of the Mace and is also the one responsible for the maintenance of order within the parliament premises and performing ceremonial functions. Gifted by the British House of Commons to the Ceylon House of Representatives in 1949, the Mace symbols the authority of Parliament (Library of Parliament, 2019). It is made of a staff of ebony with ornamentations in silver, 18 carrot gold and sapphires. 

Seating arrangement
On the right of the speaker are the seats of the governing party members while on the left are the seats of the opposition. Altogether, there are 232 chairs available for 225 members of the parliament. The first two rows of chairs on the right of the Speaker are reserved for the cabinet ministers and the eighth chair in the first row is reserved for the President. The seventh is reserved for the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition sits directly in front of the president. The seats are given according to the seniority of members in the parliament.

Special events
The inauguration of a new session of the parliament, the presentation of the budget speech and addressing the parliament by visiting dignitaries are considered some of the special events in parliament.

Parliament sessions
Parliament gathers in two alternate weeks in each month after the first and third Sunday; on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The National Flag is hoisted on the second floor of the building facing the Ceremonial Drive to indicate that the parliament is sitting. If the meeting goes beyond 6.30 p.m., a special amber-coloured lantern is hung on the top of the mast hoisting the national flag to indicate that the parliament is still working.

Start of a session
The quorum bell which has the singing sound of the Selalihiniya bird is ringed before the sitting of a parliament session. The Serjeant-At-Arms brings the Mace into the parliament chamber while the Deputy Serjeant-At-Arms announces the arrival of the Speaker. The session is begun with the arrival of the Speaker who is followed by the Secretary-General and his deputies. After the Speaker occupy his seat, the Mace is kept on the upper bracket of the table of the house. When the house is in the committee stage the Mace is kept on the lower bracket of the table.

Business of the parliament
The business of the parliament is conducted according to the Standing Orders of the Parliament, the agreed rules under which procedure, debate and the conduct of Members in the House are regulated. A new member should be sworn before the Speaker and after which his name is recorded in the register. Messages of the President, important public matters and announcements related to the certification of bills are notified to the parliament by the Speaker. Presentation of papers and reports from committees is done by relevant ministers or by his deputies. During the question session, a particular question that had been notified beforehand is answered by relevant ministers and usually about 15 oral questions are listed on the charter per day.

A major part of the work related to the passage of bills is done by the relevant committees that have been established under the standing orders. The parliament has three types of committees, viz; Select Committees, Sectoral Oversight Committees and Committees for Special Purposes. 
Parliamentary work is recorded in Hansard including the speeches in their original language of delivery. The Speaker has the power to remove any unsuitable-parliamentary word from the Hansard report.  The speeches are also converted into audio and recorded on DVDs.

1) Library of Parliament, 2019. Parliament of Sri Lanka: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. Parliament Secretariat. pp.1-5
2) Oberst, R.C., 1989. Political Decay in Sri Lanka. Current History, 88(542), pp.425-449.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 10 December 2023

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