Ranil’s political gamble to resurrect the half alive but kicking 13th amendment

Ranil Wickremesinghe

The 13th Amendment is the baby born from the Indo-Ceylon Accord of 1987, a brain child of India which is an international agreement as entered by two independent nations India and Sri Lanka. It is adopted in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and cannot be removed or repealed unless another new Constitution is adopted by Sri Lanka. This is not an easy task as India is a party to the agreement which is also recognized by the International Community.

The 13th Amendment right from the date of its adoption as a whole has not been fully implemented so far. Most of the important provisions remain intact and in paper except the creation of Provincial Councils. Even the North and East Provincial councils have now been separated by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka which declared the merger of North and East as illegal.

The existing Provincial Councils have been functioning as lame duck councils with its powers limited only to administer ordinary day to day matters affecting the civilians’ lives. The Central government being vested with concurrent and exclusive powers, the powers of Provincial Councils have been weakened and also made impotent in the whole provinces. Adding insult to injury, the North East Provincial Councils are currently not functioning and their elections have been postponed with no fixed definite date.

The 13th Amendment when introduced was not acceptable to the Tamil parties and people in general viewing the Central government’s controls of most of the provisions particularly land and police powers. However, it has survived and is now resurrected by Ranil, a President elected by the Members of Parliament and not by the popular mandate. He is now at the helm of the office thanks to Rajapaksas who lent full backing purportedly with strings of promises attached which Ranil has to fulfill during his term of office when it expires in July 2024.

With Sri Lanka having officially declared it as a bankrupt state carrying an external debt of more than 50 Billion dollars of international commitments and obligations including collecting of funds, grants and aids from the international community. Even the poor Bangladesh has generously offered 500 million dollars as a loan to Sri Lanka while China is putting conditions for the grant of loans which seem to be unacceptable to the Sri Lankan government. IMF has also laid down conditions which are also unacceptable to Sri Lanka as IMF loans are tied to observance to human rights, accountability and rule of law. However, IMF is still assessing Sri Lanka’s credit restructure program.

In the meantime, Ranil has extended an olive branch to the Tamils to paint a picture of Sri Lanka as a country of peace and ethnic harmony purportedly to convince the IMF for the approval of its funds to lift Sri Lanka out of its bankruptcy.

As a first step of appeasement, Ranil has been conducting talks with the Tamil political leaders and parties with discussions centered on political settlement proposals and other goodwill gestures towards the Tamils. Recently, he released four political prisoners who have been in jail for more than 20 years and also released 108 acres of agricultural lands belonging to civilians in Palaly area which were seized and occupied by the security forces. He has also promised to release more lands in the future which may be on the eve of the next independence day. He also recently visited Jaffna as a token gesture of goodwill participating in the Thai Pongal celebrations, a pure Tamil festival.

Ranil in an All-Party Conference convened recently issued a statement saying that “The decades old 13th Amendment must either be adopted or abolished”. His statement clearly alludes and hints at the possible abolishing of it without giving any reassurance that it should not be abolished for the sake of ethic peace and harmony in Sri Lanka.

Ranil has also mentioned about “the unique issues that people in the North and East face”. For this purpose, he said that a committee has been set up to address these issues. In the same breath, he said that “I would never betray the Sinhalese”. Only he should explain how he could betray the Sinhalese while and when the victimized Tamils are crying for accountability and Justice as recognized by the UN, UNHRC and International community. He has also deliberately omitted to mention the 70-year-old unsolved ethnic problem which is the core and root of all the economic and political miseries and sufferings of Sri Lanka citizens since 1956.

It is a well-known fact and established adopted notorious practice of Sri Lanka to appoint commissions and committees to inquire into problems and issues which could be solved by the government.

It is to be noted that most of the past commissions’ reports and recommendations have been shelved and are conveniently resting in the archives.

Even talks with the TNA Leaders recently conducted by Ranil at his own initiative have ended in failure which no firm decision from Ranil regarding the issues of disappearances, North-East merger and lands seized by the security forces in the North and East including TNA’s request for the full implementation of Provisions of the 13th Amendment with full devolution of powers including the merger of North and East provinces.

The recent hardcore protests of Buddhist Monks and hardcore south politicians who have raised hue and cry against Ranil for his promises to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment implementation appear to be signaling ominous signs in the horizon for strife and possible bloodbaths in Sri Lanka.

Already demonstrations are underway and there lurks a danger for a repetition of the past ugly episodes of 1958 communal flare ups being enacted as already a monk has burnt the 13th Amendment in public and in front of the parliament during the protest marches in Colombo on 9th March 2023.

The recent visit of Indian foreign minister Jaishankar has renewed hopes for the survival and implementation of the 13th Amendment and as a result it is reported that Sri Lanka, India and Tamil parties will sit together in the future to discuss the issues affecting the implementation of the 13th Amendment.

In conclusion it has to be stated that India as the father and guardian of the Indo-Ceylon Accord 1987 including it’s child 13th Amendment owes the duty and obligation to protect, preserve and keep it alive and kicking to vindicate it’s role as the big brother maintaining its reputation as international standing.

Thambu Kanagasabai LLM (London), Former Lecturer of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka


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