Sri Lanka: 13th Amendment: A Golden Goose to Reap Political Mileage And Gains

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The 1987 13th Amendment, a conceived and delivered baby of India which is now a part of parcel of the constitution of Sri Lanka has been lying partially implemented with most of the important provisions partially implemented and almost ignored by the successive Sri Lanka’s governments.

It is now resurrected and given new life and blood by Ranil Wickremesinge, an unelected president of Sri Lanka including the Tamil political leaders who are now pitching their voices unanimously for the implementation of its all the provisions when and after Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed office obviously and apparently to strengthen his position locally and internationally particularly posing and positioning himself as a president of all citizens especially for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Ranil has stated openly on 09 May 2023 that he will take steps “ to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment but without the Law and Order Enforcing powers of the police” which are included in the 13th Amendment and granted to the provincial councils statutorily.

In this respect, a brief of the salient provisions under this amendment are detailed below. These are the list of powers allocated to the provincial council and central government. They are the:

  1. Reserved list of central government
  2. Concurring list of both provincial council and central government
  3. Exclusive list of provincial council

The Exclusive list of provincial government deals with its powers to exercise legislative and executive functions in the matters of

  • Law and Order
  • Land and Land settlements
  • Education

The above subjects though appearing to grant full authority and control for the provincial council yet they are almost deceptive and shallow. The governor appointed by the Centre as its agent and Central government particularly president in fact really wield the whip hand over the provincial council which has to function with these road blocks and legal hurdles.

To come to the recent statement of Ranil on 09 May 2023 who openly declared his intention and commitment to move forward for the implementation of the provisions of the 13th Amendment when in his speech in parliament on 09 May 2023 “he offered to the Tamils to implement the 13th Amendment without police powers”.

His rejection and /or non-approval of police powers to the North East provincial councils clearly shows his embedded fears of abuse or misuse of police powers to foster and encourage separatist feelings and possible clashes with central government’s security forces (army, navy, police and air force). This is fully not acceptable in view of the central government’s Reserved list of Powers which include dissolution and or suspension of provincial council at its discretion.

In this matter, TNA’s leader Sampanthan has categorically and rightly rejected Ranil’s offer of implementing 13th Amendment without police powers. It is widely believed that Ranil made this offer to please the minorities (Tamils and Muslims) eyeing on their vote banks to depict himself as a leader of the nation and not as a leader to secure the interests and votes of the Sinhalese.  There is no iota of doubt that this gesture to the Tamils was prompted to secure himself in power while mustering and maintaining the support of majority of Sri Lankans.

However, as usual and expected the Mahanayakas, virtual controllers of Sri Lanka’s parliament, presidents and prime ministers have voiced their opposition to Ranil’s proposals and also called for the abolition of the 13th Amendment

Also the Freedom Peoples Alliance, a newly formed group representing Sinhala radicals and also including the former ruling family of the Rajapaksas are keeping silent without opposing or supporting while exposing their cat on the wall position to jump to any side when the opportune time arises.

Besides, TNA is skeptical as to the sincerity and genuineness of the commitment of Ranil to move forward for the implementation of the 13th Amendment viewing the decades of history of broken agreements, pacts and promises of the various Sinhala leaders and governments which is dotted with bitter lessons as learnt by the TNA.

With opposition mounting against Ranil’s commitments, it won’t be a surprise when a people non-mandated president succumbs to the pressure of Sinhala extremists, Buddhist clergy and Mahanayakkas, the de-facto controllers of the government since 1958 when also viewing the earlier statement of Ranil when he said that “He will not betray the Sinhalese”.

As prevalent in the politics of Sri Lanka, entrenched racism, majoritarianism, communalism and Sinhala Buddhist supremacy will ultimately score and prevail over the other burning issues and ills of Sri Lanka. It is a multi-million-dollar question whether Ranil can overcome, tide and ride over the current economic doldrums and woes of Sri Lanka which is in the grip of an economic slump with depleted foreign reserves and an unstable government hanging on to Rajapaksa’s favour and mercy for it’s continued existence.

Thambu Kanagasabai LLM (Lond),  Former lecturer of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka


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