Rajapaksa Govt Looking At Abolishing 13th Amendment
- Opposition plagued with divisions
- Divi Neguma Bill puts Sri Lanka and India on collision course
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government is edging towards a head on collision with neighboring India over the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The government’s steadfastness in getting the controversial Divi Neguma Bill implemented amidst accusations that the piece of legislation usurped powers vested with the provincial councils would mess up Indo-Sri Lanka relations that are being mended following the March resolution.
President Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi last month was the icebreaker after India voted in favor of a US backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in March.
New Delhi also wanted to make its peace with Sri Lanka seeing how the Rajapaksa government was cozying up to the Chinese. In fact it only took three high-powered Chinese government delegations to arrive in the country for New Delhi to show a shift in its stance towards Sri Lanka.
During the President’s visit to New Delhi, Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said that India would stand by Sri Lanka at future international fora and that it would try to convince the TNA to take part in the political process to find a lasting solution.
Be that as it may, New Delhi is now at a crossroad where it is faced with showing its displeasure at the Sri Lankan government for not honoring its promises or turning a blind eye and continues to get closer to the government to keep the Chinese at bay.
Nevertheless, the TNA parliamentary delegation that recently visited New Delhi also drew attention to the Divi Neguma Bill. The party to show the Indians that they had a genuine grievance since the Sri Lankan government was not keen on devolving powers to the provinces cited the Bill as an example.
The TNA delegation explained in detail about the Bill and how it encroaches on provincial powers.
The TNA noted that the government would not honor its continuous commitment to India that it would devolve power in line with the 13th Amendment and would even go beyond it to find a lasting political solution.
TNA Leader R. Sampnathan says that the notion of power being exercised by the people is completely lost when power is excessively centralized by taking powers from the provinces.
During the visit to New Delhi, the Indian government had requested the TNA to participate in the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC), but had later remained silent after hearing the lack of interest shown by the Rajapaksa government to honor its commitment to India.
The 13th Amendment has always been a sensitive issue to the Indians given that it was imposed on Sri Lanka during the tenure of President J. R. Jayewardene.
Since the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the Indians have been continuously pushing for the full implementation of the legislation.
The Indian government is now closely monitoring the process of pushing for the Divi Neguma Bill and how the government plans to move forward with the provincial councils and the 13th Amendment.
Following discussions on the matter with the Indian government, the TNA returned to the country maintaining their previous stance – bi-lateral talks with the government before attending the PSC.
Abolishing the amendment
Given the current situation, the 13th Amendment has now become a headache to the government.
It is also clear that the Rajapaksa government is not going to fully implement the 13th Amendment.
Statements made by senior government officials and ministers and political movements affiliated to the government that the 13th Amendment should be amended or even abolished in order to find a proper solution to the ethnic issue are undoubtedly a precursor to what is to follow in future.
A senior minister observed that the government has clearly stated that there were concerns over some of the issues in the 13th Amendment.
He said that the government would definitely implement a solution that would further strengthen the people.
“We have given a commitment only to the people and no one else,” the minister noted.
The government now maintains that it could never devolve police powers and that the implementation of the 13th Amendment in the first place resulted in a blood bath, which the country is not ready to face again.
“We need a fresh start, a solution acceptable to all. We are not the sole representatives for the people of the country and the TNA is not the sole representative for the Tamil people. Therefore, the issue needs to be discussed at the PSC,” the minister added.
The sentiments expressed by the senior minister are a reflection of the government’s thinking.
As for the commitments given to India or the international community, the Rajapaksa government believes that offering a political solution, in fact any solution that would address the needs of all communities, is an honoring of its pledge to all concerned external forces. It would however be wise for the Rajapaksa government to approach the best way to address the issue of the 13th Amendment without antagonizing India, especially when India is to lead the troika that would review Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review on human rights in less than two weeks on November 1.
It is however the JVP that is now having the last laugh.
The JVP says that it was the first political party to oppose the 13th Amendment to the Constitution saying it would not provide a solution to the ethnic issue.
JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath told the media last week that even members of the government have now realized that the 13th Amendment would not resolve the ethnic crisis.
“The JVP realized this in 1987, but everyone protested against the party at the time,” he said.
He explained that the implementation of the 13th Amendment should be able to protect the equal rights of the Tamil and Muslim communities, but it has not happened.
According to Herath, the 13th Amendment that has been forced on the country as a product of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 has compounded the ethnic issue.
He said the people should stand against any solution that is forced on the country by an outside party.
A nephew’s advice?
While the government is engaged in a tug o war over dealing with the 13th Amendment, members of the government including young parliamentarians have focused on promoting reconciliation.
Uva Province Chief Minister Shashindra Rajapaksa last week made an interesting suggestion to his uncle, President Rajapaksa.
Addressing a meeting in Welimada had called on the President to give up the Ministry of Defence as the war has been over for more than three years.
He had noted that it was the need of the hour.
However, he had requested the President to take over the Ministries of Education and Higher Education.
“The war has now ended and most of the roads in the country have developed. Also there is no space in Sri Lanka to construct more ports. So I requested the president to hand over the Defence, Port and Highway ministries to another person and take on all education related ministries,” he had said.
He had explained that when taking a decision about education, the authorities should think not just once or twice but six times as the consequences of the decision taken at present would come into effect in another 10 or 15 years’ time.
Nevertheless, Shashindra had also cautioned that all such decisions need to be accurate and that there would be objections regardless who had decided on the policy.
“However, those decisions need to be accurate and we will be against any incorrect action. We clearly say that whatever connections we have, will not have any effect on us when it comes to going against a wrong policy or a decision” he had said.
Meanwhile, a group of young parliamentarians had presented a report with proposals to promote reconciliation in the country.
The report proposes the naming of a Remembrance Day in place of the Victory Day celebrations in order to promote reconciliation.
Amidst pushes within the local political circles for reconciliation United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also urged the Sri Lankan government to find a speedy political solution to the underlying factors behind the country’s civil war.
During a meeting with Sri Lanka’s Special Presidential Envoy on Human Rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe last week at UN Headquarters in New York, Ki-moon had, while noting the Sri Lankan government’s latest efforts on accountability as well as the steady progress on resettlement issues, raised the issue of a political solution.
He had emphasized the need for a quick measure.
The Secretary-General’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky has said the discussion between Samarasinghe and the UN Chief was mainly focused on the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report.
Samarasinghe had then briefed on the follow-up to the recommendations, and the Secretary-General had encouraged further progress.
“The Sri Lankan Special Envoy was able to provide an update on how those recommendations are being implemented and the Secretary-General encouraged the Sri Lankan authorities to keep that momentum going,” the spokesperson had told the media.
As for the UN review on lessons learned in Sri Lanka, Nesirky had said the report was still being worked on.
“This (the review) is an internal looking report and it is in the works,” he had said.
A divided opposition
However, looking at last week’s incidents saying the country’s political stage is always full of action would be an understatement.
The UNP was back in the limelight last week due to the protest rally organized by the United Bhikku Front on behalf of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.
The Hyde Park rally on the 18th resulted in further divisions in the UNP and party secretary Tissa Attanayake claiming that it was a mistake to have fielded Fonseka as the common opposition candidate at the last Presidential election.
The statement resulted in Fonskea criticizing the UNP for its bad political judgments.
Nevertheless, the UNP has now suspended the membership of three of its parliamentarians – Palitha Range Bandara, Palitha Thevarapperuma and Ashoka Abeysinghe – for violating a party decision and attending the rally on the 18th.
Former deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya, who was to attend the rally, announced at the eleventh hour that he would bow down to the majority decision of the party and not attend the rally.
Although he was initially determined to attend the rally, he was convinced by senior UNP members and confidants of the adverse impact it would have on his political career.
UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, who was an ardent Fonseka supporter a few months back has managed to distance himself from the former Army Commander along with his close friend, DNA MP Tiran Alles.
Alles and fellow DNA MP Arjuna Ranatunge were also notable absentees on Fonseka’s platform.
Although Fonseka managed to gather some crowds for the rally on the 18th, sustaining the crowds would not be easy given that his platform lacks the strength of the politicians who previously campaigned for him.
Without a political party to back him, Fonseka’s future in politics looks shaky. As pointed out by a political analyst, his arrogance that he could do without the UNP and the JVP would be to his detriment.
Fonseka it is learnt, believes that neither the UNP nor the JVP played a key role in the votes polled by him at the last Presidential election. “He still believes he was the President elected at the election,” the analyst said.
Arrogance apart, Fonseka’s actions to “strengthen” the opposition would actually result in the opposition weakening even further.