Awaiting The Elusive 13th Amendment
The Rajapaksa Government has found a super mantra to ward off New Delhi’s diplomatic sharpshooters interested in protecting the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils. When inquiries are made about alleged violations of Tamil rights the prompt reply is that the implementation of the 13th Amendment plus additional concessions is being considered. The Indian protectors of Sri Lankan Tamil rights are dumbfounded because the 13th Amendment is a creation of the New Delhi Foreign Ministry forced into the Sri Lankan Constitution by the personal intervention of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The 13th Amendment is the quintessence of Indian efforts in intervening Sri Lanka to create an autonomous Tamil region and not forgetting the enhancement of the Indian geostrategic interests here.
The grim irony of it all was that the late LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran rejected the proposal of an autonomous region as envisaged in the 13th Amendment but demanded a separate state. He waged war against his protector and godfather while the Sinhalese resented this intervention to the hilt including the JVP which made a cry for the call to arms although they never fired a bullet against the LTTE or the Indian troops.
The 13th Amendment has been in the Constitution for twenty six years to date but not implemented. The primary reason for the dormancy was that the LTTE rejected it with vehemence. It was like attempting to force medicine on an unwilling child. The UNP administration went through implementation of parts of the 13th Amendment where the gravy was, such as the establishment of provincial councils which became a very rich gravy train for party supporters. The status quo remains with the Rajapaksa government. They have been repeating the mantra — Implementation of the 13th Amendment — and did it again last week when Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna was here.
Krishna appeared to be impressed by the Sri Lankan assurance — at least diplomatically — but for how long will New Delhi be fooled with this incantation of the 13th Amendment?
This mantra is a political dynamite, for it packs the explosive issues of police powers and land distribution to provincial councils of the North and East. This is being strongly resented by many extremist Sinhala parties including those in government ranks such as the JHU.
Whether the nationalist Sinhala right has mellowed over the thirty year terrorist war could only be known once constitutional moves to implement this amendment are made. The Rajapaksa administration could be severely scalded and even fatally wounded politically if the all encompassing opposition, that had risen against previous regimes that attempted such moves, does so once again. This could well be the reason why the Rajapaksa government, having ridden on the shoulders of the Sinhala right has been hemming and hawing on implementing the amendment.
But the basic duty of a government is to give political leadership to resolving problems faced by the country—in this instance the most fundamental problem. This is a Government with over a two-thirds majority. The executive power President Rajapaksa has acquired with the help of his overwhelming parliamentary majority is almost infinite such as with the enactment of the 17th Amendment where he can decide on the appointment of an official today to any key post in government — judicial, executive, police, armed services and even the Elections Commissioner. With that kind of power vested in him if he does not use it to unite the two communities separated by rash and selfish acts of politicians, history will not forgive him.
President Rajapaksa’s proud boast is that he and his brother won the so-called unwinnable war against terrorism. General Sarath Fonseka who staked similar claims is now behind bars. Be that as it may, the issue right now is not who won the war. The issue is how the people of this country can be united so that all can live peacefully in peace and harmony and enjoy the fruits of victory.
The oldest strategy to bring about national unity is the 13th Amendment which we have dealt with earlier. There have been many other commissions, conferences and committees that have dealt exhaustively to bring about national unity. J. R. Jayewardene had an All Party Conference and Mangala Munasinghe presided over a Parliamentary Select Committee. The three probing bodies appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa are: The All Party Conference chaired by Tissa Vitharane that held deliberations for over two years and now the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which is to be followed by a Parliamentary Select Committee.
Some of the main proposals made by these committees may not be acceptable to the powers that be, such as the Tissa Vitharane APC. The reasons for Tissa Vitharane’s APC report not being made public are unknown.
The much-publicised Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has been made public. This commission was mainly directed to probe allegations on war crimes committed by the security forces during the last phase of the terrorist war. This commission has earned some credibility by not performing a complete whitewash job which presidential commissions are renowned for: but admitting certain irrefutable facts and calling for investigations whereas earlier claims of zero civilian casualties made Sri Lanka the laughing stock of the world. Nonetheless, the TNA which is the main political body representing the Tamils have rejected the report and so have some of the concerned Western countries even though they have given it some Brownie points for its limited candidness.
What all these commissions and committees have achieved is the postponement of the desired objective of bringing about national unity. Now the country is to be saddled with another Parliamentary Select Committee for the same endeavour. How long will this committee take to reach its conclusions and are we to collate all these findings of the commissions/committees before making a final decision?
Procrastination it appears is not considered the thief of time by the Rajapaksas but the purpose of time.