COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's ruling party won a key vote when its lawmaker Ajith Rajapaksha was on Tuesday elected deputy speaker of the country's Parliament, which met for the first time since the resignation of the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the swearing-in of the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksha, 48, from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party was elected following a secret ballot conducted in Parliament. He secured 109 votes and the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya nominee Rohini Kavirathna received 78 votes.
Rajapaksha is not related to the ruling Rajapaksa family but comes from the same home district of Hambantota. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said 23 votes were rejected.
The post of deputy speaker was left vacant after Ranjith Siyamabalapitiya resigned from the post twice in one month this year.
Abeyawardene was asked by the independent group who called for the appointment by consensus without opting for the secret ballot.
Several lawmakers spoke against the vote, claiming it was a waste of Parliament's valuable time. A heated exchange took place between the Opposition, the government and the Speaker.
Speaker Abeyawardene said he had to abide by the house rules, the standing orders of Parliament which allow only a secret ballot when two contestants emerge from either side.
The House met for the first time since the resignation of the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the cycle of violence which forced the country under a curfew as nine people, including a parliamentarian, were killed.
Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal were absent while Basil Rajapaksa and Shasheendra Rajapaksa the other members of the Rajapaksa family were present in Parliament.