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Sri Lanka and the fate of 13th Amendment

Colombo/New Delhi, May 21 (): The fate of 13th Amendment introduced by Sri Lanka following the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 seems uncertain now with many voices clamouring for its abolishing and few other parties set not to support the move.

Nevertheless, the implementation of the amendment has been a controversial one, even after Sri Lanka crushed the Tamil tiger rebels and won the civil war in 2009.

The Amendment that was

Under the 13th Amendment,the government of Sri Lanka agreed to delegate some authority to the provinces whose councils are directly elected for a five-year term with full statute making power. The elected leader serves as province’s Chief Minister with a board of ministers while the provincial governor is appointed by the president.

The Hindu reported in end-2012 that Sri Lanka is having a serious rethink on the India-mediated concept of autonomy for provinces in the country and President Mahinda Rajapakse opined that  “a change in the prevailing Provincial Council system is necessary to make devolution more meaningful” to people.

Present scenario

Media reports were doing rounds that Sri Lanka was deliberating to remove land and police powers from the provinces prior to the council elections in the northern province which stand as a gauge for the international community to assess the sincerity and the purpose of the Sri Lankan government. The elections to the Northern Province – the only one without an elected council are scheduled to be held in September this year.

Sri Lanka’s Technology and Atomic Energy Minister, Champika Ranawaka, had told Tamil Guardian that holding Northern Provincial Council election in the North would be an insult to Sri Lanka’s dead soldiers.  

Voices ‘against’ the Amendment

Sri Lanka Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, called for the abolishment of the 13th Amendment aiming  to trim the powers of the Provincial Councils.

Earlier, in October 2012, Weerawamsa appealed to Mahinda Rajapakse  that a referendum be held to dissolve the provincial council system, stating that the system was introduced without the public consent through the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.

Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, at a public seminar organized by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), has said his party would present a private member motion to abolish the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system.

JHU’s deputy leader, Udaya Gammanpila, said that the party plans to nullify  it, adding that it should be abolished and that the ”13th Amendment is harmful to the government and, therefore, it should be abolished which would bring an end to a series of problems.”

JHU National Organizer, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe, told a  private member motion would be finalized and the JHU would canvass for the support of other political parties to the Bill. 

Votes ‘for’ the amendment

Senior Minister and General Secretary of the Communist Party, D.E.W. Gunasekara said that the Left parties in the ruling coalition have taken a collective decision not to support an amendment that looks to weaken the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Minister Gunasekara said the collective of Left parties have taken a joint decision to preserve the 13th Amendment.

Sri Lanka stand

An alliance of traditional Left parties including the Communist Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Socialist Left Party and Desha Vimukthi Janatha Party,  parts of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) hold 12 seats in the current Parliament.

At present, the government holds 161 seats in Parliament. However, the government cannot attain the two-thirds majority required to pass a constitutional amendment, without the 12 votes of the Left parties and the support of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP). Both the SLMC and the EPDP have opposed the campaign to abolish the 13th Amendment. 

India outlook 

Indian External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, talked to his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris last week to reiterate that Sri Lanka would not take any action that would weaken the 13th Amendment. Khurshid reminded Prof. Peiris that President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself had given regular commitments to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to build on the 13th Amendment in order to arrive at a political solution to the ethnic conflict.

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