No sign of Urgent Bill
But Tuesday swung around and the ‘Urgent Bill’ to revise the 13th Amendment was not presented in Parliament. No discussion was held on the Parliamentary Select Committee that was also supposed to be set up by Tuesday. Instead JHU MP Athuraliye Rathana Thero submitted a Private Member’s Bill, entitled strangely the ‘21st Amendment to the Constitution,’ seeking the repeal of the 13th Amendment in toto. Seconding the motion by Rathana Thero was UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara who has been suspended from his party for refusing to follow its directives.
Rathana Thero’s bill makes the argument that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is illegal because a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that a referendum of the people were required before its enactment since some of its provisions were deemed inconsistent with the Constitution. It also claims that 13A usurps the executive and legislative power of the people exercised by the President and Parliament and gives it to provincial councils. It is not clear how the Private Member’s Bill will progress in the House and it will be interesting to learn what instructions President Rajapaksa will give his party men about whether they are to support or oppose Rathana Thero’s proposed amendments.
Although the reasons can only be guessed at, something is holding the Government back from presenting its own amendments to the 13th Amendment. On most other issues the powerful sections of the regime ride roughshod over the constituent partners in the ruling coalition, but it appears the matter of devolution and the historic roots of the country’s ethnic struggle remains is a horse of a different hue.
Some things are greater even than the authoritarian ambitions of the ruling regime. The ethnic conflict, its origins and the need to find a more lasting solution to the problems faced by the country’s minority ethnic groups rather than just the military defeat of the LTTE remains a priority for some politicians within the ruling coalition, such as the politicians of the Old Left whose positions on the country’s civil war are derived from more than just LTTE terrorism of the last three decades.
The regime’s persistent denials of the history of the conflict in no way influences their perceptions on this one central issue. Rambukwella in fact during the Cabinet briefing last week revealed the Government’s views on the ‘ethnic conflict’ – it does not believe there is one. “Whether there is an ethnic struggle as such remains a question,” he said in response to a question posed by journalists.
New Delhi steps in
Apart from the perhaps unforeseen virulent resistance within its ranks, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also expected to have to brace himself against strong opposition from India regarding his Government’s attempts to dilute the 13th Amendment that came about based on agreements in the Indo Lanka Accord of 1987.
The six-member delegation of the Tamil National Alliance led by its Leader R. Sampanthan met with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh yesterday. India’s Congress Government, which has already lost its constituent ally the Karunanidhi-led DMK over the Sri Lankan Tamil issue and was deferring its statement on Colombo’s moves to dilute the 13th Amendment ahead of the northern elections until it met with the TNA delegation, was quick to react after the meeting.
Indian Premier Manmohan Singh reportedly told the TNA delegation that he was ‘dismayed’ by reports suggesting the Government in Sri Lanka was planning to dilute key provisions of the 13th Amendment and 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 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 added.
The Ministry 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”.
India and the rest of the international community that are holding President Mahinda Rajapaksa to his promise of elections in the north by September 2013 continue to lose faith in the Government’s commitment to upholding the rights of minorities and a final political settlement to the country’s ethnic struggle. Moves to dilute the 13A are being seen for what they are, blatant attempts to demonise representatives of the Tamil community and revoke any semblance of political autonomy for the country’s minority ethnic groups.