The Sunday Leader

Rajapaksa Govt In Dilemma While India Breaks Diplomatic Silence

  • JVP to present alternative package to 13A soon
  • Govt silent on 19A, JHU present 21A to parliament

No dictator, no invader, can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand. - J Michael Straczynski

The much-anticipated 19th Amendment to the constitution that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government said would be presented to parliament as an urgent bill did not materialize last week.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Manmohan Singh, R. Sampanthan and Somawansa Amerasinghe

The great emphasis paid to the continuing drama of the 13th Amendment is testimony to the growing communalism; both majority and minority, in the country when attention should be paid towards a steady post war reconciliation process.

The Rajapaksa government together with some of its allies, namely Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka have managed to, at least for the time being, minimize the public dissention that was growing steadily against the government following the electricity tariff hike.

After weeks of debate, the Rajapaksa government decided to present an amendment to the 13th Amendment to the constitution where the clause enabling the merger of two or more provinces under the amendment is repealed.

When parliament met last Tuesday, many parliamentarians, especially from the opposition, thought the government would present the 19th Amendment and discuss the appointment of the parliamentary select committee (PSC) to further discuss constitutional amendments.

However, the Rajapaksa government neither presented the 19th Amendment nor discussed the PSC on Tuesday.

It is no secret that the Rajapaksa government is facing a problem in gathering the two thirds majority required to pass the 19th Amendment in parliament.

It is learnt that a campaign has now commenced within the government to say that the 19th Amendment would not pose any threat to the existence to the provincial council system and its powers. A senior SLFP minister said that these comments are aimed at mustering support to pass the 19th Amendment, which in turn would enable the Rajapaksa government to show the world, especially India that support is high to amend the 13th Amendment.

Interestingly, governing party ally, the JHU presented a private member’s motion in the House called the 21st Amendment to the constitution.

The presentation of the JHU’s proposed amendment resulted in a discussion as to why the amendment to abolish the provincial councils system and the 13th Amendment was titled 21st Amendment.

According to an opposition politician, it seemed like the government was planning on introducing at least two more amendments to the constitution – the 19th and 20th Amendments.

JHU MP the Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero submitted the 21st Amendment and the motion was seconded by UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara. Bandara was suspended from the UNP for failing to follow party directives.

While Ven. Rathana Thero’s proposal has sought the total repeal of the 13th Amendment, governing party allies like the left parties, the SLMC, the EPDP and the CWC have so far expressed sentiments against the 21st Amendment.

Also, the likes of minister Rajitha Senaratne have opposed any amendment to the 13th Amendment. In fact it is learnt that a decision making minister in the Rajapaksa government with close affiliations to India has also expressed support to the campaign currently carried out by some governing party members against amending the 13th Amendment.

However, President Rajapaksa has also remained silent on the JHU’s proposed constitutional amendment.
In the backdrop of heavy maneuvering on the 13th Amendment, President Rajapaksa last week summoned the Chief Ministers of the Central and North Western provincial Councils to Temple Trees.

He informed them that they needed to be prepared to face provincial elections shortly.
The President told the Chief Ministers that arrangements would be made to release funds to the two provinces for development projects aimed at the elections.

A few days later, Cabinet Spokesperson, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that elections to three provincial councils including the Northern Provincial Council would be held in September under the current constitution.

He has also noted that the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment were forced on the country without the consent of the people and that a country has the right to change agreements with foreign countries in conformity with the aspirations and mandate of the people of the country as the sovereignty of the people is supreme.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa named the PSC proposed by President Rajapaksa to discuss the amendments to the 13th Amendment on Friday. He named a 19-member PSC to propose changes to the constitution.
The PSC will be led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, and includes Ministers G. L. Peiris, Maithipala Sirisena, W. D. J Seniviratne, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Douglas Devananda, Susil Premjayanth, A. L. M. Athaulla, D. E. W Gunasekera, Rishard Bathiudeen, Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawanse, Basil Rajapaksa, Lakshman Seniviratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Muttu Sivalingham, Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Janaka Bandara. However, the names of opposition party members were not included in the PSC list.

Menon to arrive

Amidst the debate over the 13th Amendment in the country, the Prime Minister of neighbouring India had expressed his ‘dismay’ over attempts by the Rajapaksa government to dilute the 13th Amendment.
Indian Premier Manmohan Singh had reportedly told a six-member TNA delegation that he was ‘dismayed’ by reports suggesting the Sri Lankan government was planning to the 13th Amendment.

The Premier has said the proposed changes were incompatible with the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the Indian media reported.

“It was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment,” Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin has said.

“The changes would also be incompatible with the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Government of Sri Lanka, calling for a political settlement based on the devolution of power to the provinces,” he has added.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry has reportedly said in a statement that the Indian Prime Minister had expressed deep concern about the welfare of the Tamil community living in Sri Lanka and “stressed on the expectation that the Sri Lankan Tamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and reiterated that India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect.”

The six-member delegation of the TNA is led by R. Sampanthan and includes Mavai S. Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran, P. Selvarajah, Selvam Adaikkalanathan and M. A. Sumanthiran.

The TNA delegation has also met with the Indian Foreign Minister and the National Security Advisor.
The TNA members continuously requested New Delhi to intervene and exert pressure on the Rajapaksa government to honor its pledge given to the world, especially India on implementing the 13th Amendment and going beyond and also hold the Northern provincial Council election on September 13th.

However, TNA’s visit to India has borne fruit and New Delhi that has maintained diplomatic silence over the past few months has decided to send an emissary to Sri Lanka to hold discussions with the Rajapaksa government.

The Uthayan newspaper reported that India is to send National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Sri Lanka next month for talks with President Rajapaksa and other government officials.
Menon is expected to arrive in the country on July 7th to discuss bilateral and regional issues including the 13th Amendment.

President Rajapaksa however, told media heads on Friday that Menon would discuss bilateral issues and not the 13th Amendment.

Nevertheless, given the current situation with regard to the 13th Amendment and the delay in announcing the Northern Provincial Council poll would undoubtedly make the controversial piece of legislation the focal point of Menon’s discussions in Colombo.

The Rajapaksa government has taken great pains in ensuring that the country plays host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November.
The government is now treading on very dangerous ground with the key player in the region, who is also expected to participate in the CHOGM summit.

India is believed to have helped Sri Lanka secure the CHOGM venue at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in April. If the Rajapaksa government fails to honor its end of the bargain, New Delhi is likely to make a no show at the CHOGM.

India’s absence from CHOGM would be a massive blow to the government in such a scenario.

JVP package

Be that as it may, the entire drama surrounding the 13th Amendment as usual has managed to push all other issues faced by the country into the backburner.

The JVP has constantly lamented that the Rajapaksa government uses the 13th Amendment to mislead the public from taking action against issues ranging from the high cost of living, lack of democratic rights, issues faced by the farmers and almost every sector in the country.

The party is currently in the process of preparing a set of proposals that would present an alternative to the 13th Amendment.

The JVP has since 1987 when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, opposed the introduction of the 13th Amendment and the provincial council system.

The party’s founding leader, the late Rohana Wijeweera said at the time that the provincial council system was not the solution to the national issue.

Wijeweera at the time pointed out the shortcomings in the provincial council system and 26 years later, the country’s governing party is resonating the late Marxist leader’s sentiments.

However, the difference is that Wijeweera pointed out the way to find a solution to the national issue while the Rajapaksa government without presenting the people with an alternative is trying to take away whatever rights that were provided to the minority communities.

JVP seniors headed by party leader Somawansa Amerasinghe is now in the process of finalizing the areas to be covered in the party’s proposed package.

The package is to present alternatives under the current structures of provincial councils and local government bodies while also addressing the issues faced by the minority communities, especially the Tamil community.

The package is to be made public within the next few weeks.

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