Sri Lankan Members of Parliament successfully adopted the 19th amendment on 28 April 2015. In a Parliament of 225 members, 212 voted in favour of the same. There is no doubt that this was a historical achievement. Usually the government and the opposition cast their votes against each other.
Even though there is a minority government in Sri Lanka, the 19th amendment was adopted with huge support. Everyone close to the former President also voted in favour. Even though this amendment is widely known as removing the executive or extra powers of the President, it has other features too.
As far as local political leaders are concerned, democracy has been reinstated in Sri Lanka. But surely not! Democracy has a much wider reach and simply passing the 19th amendment is not going to bring it in fully. Democracy has to be open to all peoples not just a section of the people. In Sri Lanka, democracy cannot prevail until the ethnic issue is solved in a meaningful manner. Whenever there is pressure from the international community on reconciliation, the standard reply is about ‘30 years of war and terrorism’. But what action has been taken on the ethnic issue since the war ‘came to an end’ in May 2009? As usual, the talk-show continues.
The earlier government had a President with Executive powers, which he used only for anything and everything in his favour. They had two third majority in the parliament too. But when it comes to the ethnic question, promises given to the International community disappeared, and the “Parliamentary Select Committee” was the standard answer to the ethnic question. Today, where is this ‘Parliamentary Select Committee”? It was so obvious that they were buying time, until Sinhalasation, Buddhisation, Militarisation and land grabbing in the North and East are successfully completed. They stayed in power for six years and did nothing for true reconciliation. At the end of the war, ‘devolution’ became ‘development’.
Now there is a new President with a minority government. But this National government consists of Ministers from both the ruling and the opposition parties. Accompanied by much fuss and drama, the 19th amendment was adopted with the support of all political parties.
Sensible people will analyse this abnormal achievement in Sri Lanka. Four facts can be considered: Firstly, the new President was elected with the support of Tamils and Muslims from the North, East and Upcountry. In other words, if those Tamils had boycotted this Presidential election, Sri Lanka would have got the same old President for the third time. Secondly, it is a minority government but a national government and thirdly, not everyone from the opposition endorsed this government. Fourthly, the outgoing President has been carrying out daily vigorous campaigning since he lost the presidential election, blaming Tamil voters for his defeat.
In such a scenario, how was this 19th amendment passed with such a huge majority in parliament with only one vote against it? How was the opposition convinced to vote in favour?
Recently I met a Sri Lankan (friend) after a long interval. When we started to talk about Sri Lankan politics, I was shocked to learn about some campaign tools used to convince all the opposition MPs to vote in favour of this 19th amendment. What a clever job those patriots did. In fact, they are two-faced and dubious!
Tamils’ rights dragged out
Some MPs in the opposition were told that this is the best amendment to drag out any political settlement to the Tamils. They were told that there is pressure from the international community and India that the ethnic conflict should be settled at the earliest. So there is no other way than to implement this 19th amendment.
Some are innocent, out of those who campaigned for support for the 19th. But most MPs, especially from the opposition, agreed to support it, purely to drag out any political settlement to the Tamils in the Island.
By passing this 19th Amendment, the President cannot any longer practice his executive power, – like the President in 1987 – neither to merge the North and East nor to sign an agreement with India. Once the 19th amendment is passed in parliament, then parliament holds all the power. Then any bill in favour of the Tamils can only be adopted with good support of the MPs. This can then be an excuse for another few years, as was done during the war. During this period the rest of the Sinhalasation, Buddhisation, Militarisation and land grabs would be completed in the North and East. What a smart tactic!
We could even say the earlier President was honest in his speech which he made soon after the war ended. He said, “We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago”. This does not bode well for the future for the Tamils in the North, East and also for the people in Upcountry.
The 13th amendment is already part of the constitution, so why is the present government delaying full implementation of it? No vote is needed for implementation. Why all of a sudden, is the daughter of the late SWRD Bandaranayke talking about federalism? Will she pass this bill in Parliament with huge support like the 19th amendment? If there is a bill on the federal system in Sri Lanka, it will raise many questions in the present situation in Sri Lanka. Would it be supported by MPs in the South? Would such a federal system merge the North and East?
We Tamils, especially the Tamil representatives in parliament, are building castles in the air. Rather than waiting for Bandaranayke’s daughter’s sweet words about federalism, why can’t the Tamil representatives put pressure with the help of India, demanding full implementation of 13th amendment. This is already part of the constitution. The thirteenth amendment is included in all resolutions passed in the United Nation Human Rights Council – UN HRC.
What is happening now is that the present government is buying time too. It is not certain that this government or this cabinet will come back to power in the next parliamentary election. Let’s take it for granted that this government will remain in power even after next parliamentary election. Then what are they going to do on the ethnic issue? It will be the same, either 13th amendment or a bill on federal system.
Anyone who knows the political history of this Island, will never accept anything until it is fully implemented. The 13th amendment has been part of the Sri Lankan constitution since 1987.
Federalism is a joke
It will be a joke for great SWRD’s daughter to find a new solution in federalism, which has never had any place in Sri Lanka. If the 19th amendment can be voted by both the government and the opposition, then what is lacking for this government and the opposition to support full implementation of the 13th amendment?
Whether today or after the parliamentary election, this issue will remain the same. We still haven’t forgotten the fate of past signed agreements – SWRD-Chelva, Dudley-Chelva, and a few others with Chandrika and Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Therefore, this is the right time for political rights to be gained by the Tamils with the support of the international community. India has a responsibility. Rather than waiting until the Parliamentary election is over, let’s get into action now for a full implementation of the 13th amendment. If the present or a future government is so generous, later they can grant something better than the 13th amendment, like the earlier President talked about 13plus to the Tamils.
In conclusion, Tamils are cheated by every politician and government in the South. This will be repeated sooner or later. Those who are familiar with politics in Sri Lanka understand the hypocrisy of Sinhala politicians. There will be a day, when we Tamils are going to regret that the 13th amendment would at least have been a better solution and that we buried all our golden opportunities.
As far as fault promises on political settlement are concerned, Sri Lanka stands the worst country in the world. In other words it has the worst record on reconciliation and broken promises. (Sri Lanka Guardian)