To meddle or NOT to meddle? The 13th Amendment in the Gunsights

ONE: Kumar David: “Racists abhor breathing space for Tamils: Constitutional panic and proposals,” …. Sunday Island, June 15, 2013, 6:53 pm
There’s no need to hold the punches, let’s say it straight. Vermin who gladly enjoyed and exploited the Provincial Council system for 25 years, JHU, JVP, SLFP and an assortment of Councils included, are now up in arms at the thought of Tamils in the Northern Province having an elected council of their own for the first time since 13A was enacted! What is the mental makeup of these rats? I do not hold back in declaring them racists. If you belong in this bunch of bigots that want to deprive the NPC of rights other PCs enjoyed for a quarter century, well you now know what I think of you. I hope it makes your distilled chauvinist blood boil to hear me reckon that one reason may be that you fear a Tamil led PC (led by TNA, Douglas or anyone else) could achieve more than the other eight!

Being abrasive is a delight when one is not Tamil, nor Sinhalese, neither Greek, nor Turk. I do not wear patriotic, national, religious, caste or communal labels, and I am in good company. Gautama did not genuflect before mind numbing stickers that disfigured his universality. Let’s call a spade a spade, and when necessary, call it a bloody shovel. A moral stance, however, is only the starting point; next is the tedious business of expatiating on political conditions, making sense of options facing important actors, and figuring out likely outcomes. Readers may assign different weights than I do to outcomes; in politics, like the weather, there is no crystal ball of unassailable certainty. As usual with this column, I assume readers are reasonably familiar with the state of play and moves afoot among principal players; my job is to be analyst and assessor.

At sixes and sevens: Truthfully, the government is in a quandary; there are options but also pitfalls. I do not expect it to make a hash and blow things up in its face (provoke a CHOGM boycott for example) but short-term damage control is difficult and long-term political, economic and social contradictions are multiplying making the regime weaker by the year. There are three main options or possible combinations thereof.

(a) The do nothing option; that is hold NPC elections in September 2013; blow hot air, make noises to distract the extremists, but basically do nothing about amending or repealing 13A. The hope is to placate the international community, cool the Tamils, SLMC and LSSP-CP and fool Sinhala-Buddhist extremists with yarns of valiant efforts and promises of future bliss in nirvana.

(b) Abuse the judicial system; blatant interference with the courts has brought the judiciary to heel, so there is mileage to be had here. The plan would be a road-show by some put-up cockroaches petitioning courts that, for this reason or that, NPC elections should be postponed. The courts may oblige; I am not sure. I drew attention to this as the most likely scam the regime will try in my June 2 column and am doubling my bets. Mutton heads in Delhi, Whitehall and Canberra, and their dim-witted diplomatic entourage in Colombo, will declare: “Oh well, the (Raja) Paksas had to respect the law”. (Ha, haa; since when?). After CHOGM it will be the usual game and back to normal; not one of these international worthies will bat an eye.

(c) The fallback option, if I am too sanguine and (b) does not succeed, the next option is the hard way. Amend 13A, repealing up to four provisions. Remove explicit references to (i) police and (ii) land powers; (iii) repeal the provision allowing two or more PCs to merge; (iv) prevent a PC from evading legislation that it opposes but other PCs accept.

Readers will observe that there are two suggestions doing the round of the political circuit that I have excluded; call-off the NPC elections explicitly, not by trickery as in (b); repeal 13A in its entirety. These are non starters though much loved by Gota, JVP, JHU and the monk and chauvinist brigades referred to in my opening paragraph. They are not doable; CHOGM will be kaput, the US and UK won’t be able to play dead any longer, and even spineless Delhi will have an erection. If NPC elections are to be called off, the likely ploy is via the judiciary. But the regime defecated all over the Supreme Court in the CJ impeachment affair; the court’s subsequent majority mood remains untested.

Allow me to comment on options (a) and (c). If NPC elections are held without any amendment to 13A, it will put the JHU in a very difficult position where it may consider leaving the government. The JHU is not a clown like Wimal; it has a political position pertaining to the place of Sinhala-Buddhism in Sri Lanka, which if seriously eroded would render its position in government moot. The JHU is not in government for perks, petrol allowances, jobs for the boys and goodies like Dead Left, SLMC and Thonda; at least not to the same extent. Though JHU departure would cost Rajapaksa only a few MPs, the psychological impact would be huge; hence desperate efforts to thwart it, and the thankless assignment given to Gota. All this makes option (a) a tough call.

The SLMC has, after some toing-and-froing, had to bend to pressure from its Eastern Province ranks and oppose amending 13A. On Sunday (9) the LSSP Central Committee decided likewise, unanimously. The Communist Party will join; and Vasudeva, though servile to Mahinda, will have little choice but to follow the two larger parties. Rumour has it some SLFP MPs and the Liberal Party may duck. The JVP will not back Mahinda’s amendments though it detests 13A. The gist is that amending 13A – option (c) – may fall short of the required two-thirds majority, and more seriously, attempting to do so and failing will impact adversely on the regime. Whichever way he approaches the imbroglio, Rajapakse faces a difficult three months to September.

What should the Tamils and the TNA do if NPC elections are called after deep amendments are made to 13A curtailing devolved powers? My position remains unchanged; contest nevertheless, but make the campaign a great deal more aggressive and rouse the people to rage at the injustice to Tamils yet again while Sinhalese councils enjoyed privileges for 25 years. The yell that methods which once created a Prabakharan and an LTTE are being repeated must be uttered loud and clear. But to do this, perish any thought of boycott; enter the fray, contest and fight.

Colonial Motors not Panchikawatte: I will summarise what I said last week about the UNP constitutional proposal of 29 May because it is important and bears repetition. It is not a hodgepodge of parts and pieces picked from Panchikawatte and stuck into a document. If anything an analogy with Colonial Motors is more appropriate as generous dollops of Donoughmore have been stirred in, nationally and provincially. Whether partisan politics has so soiled and corrupted the national ethos that the soothing hand of shared responsibilities and committees envisaged in Donoughmore can be restored, I do not know. But it is worth a try.

There are three valuable elements in the UNP proposals. It puts forward options for the executive (a Westminster option, a directly elected PM option, a directly elected Head of State – HoS – option). In all three cases a dispersion of powers between Parliament (via a Speaker’s Council; hence shades of Donoughmore), PM and HoS is envisaged; a big step forward. This is also a good opportunity for public debate on alternative models of executive power. Later the Opposition can zero in on one.

The second valuable element is that it explicitly takes up the question of devolution of power to the provincial level. Devolution is a dirty word in the Sinhalese dictionary and the JVP is the spokesman proclaiming its pornographic status. Now the cat has been belled; even Sobitha cannot hide his candle behind an “Oh let’s talk about it later” bushel. The devolution issue has hit the streets and everybody, JVP included needs to grasp the nettle. Excellent!

The third useful feature of the UNP draft is the injection of Donoughmore concepts. I have made mention at the level of the central executive, but there are also proposals to inject them into Provincial Councils and Provincial Boards of Ministers. It is would require superhuman efforts in the months ahead to take these ideas down to Lanka’s half brain-dead public, and I doubt if the UNP has sufficient non brain-dead manpower for the job. The best thing is lots of discussion where public interest organisations take the initiative. No, you don’t have to be for or against any specific item; I am asking that independent groups, including the left and the Socialist Study Circle, fashion forums for sharing views.

TWO: 13th Amendment issues discussed at German foreign policy think tank in Berlin …. Sunday Island, June 15, 2013

Current developments relating to the 13th Amendment were discussed by Professor G. L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, at his interaction with diplomats, academics, officials and the media at the German Association for Foreign Policy in Berlin on Friday. This was one of the events in the Minister’s official programme which included bilateral discussions with Dr. Guido Westerwelle, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Prof. Peiris highlighted the fact that the 13th Amendment, although enacted more than a quarter of a century ago, had not been implemented by any of Sri Lanka’s governments since that time. Indeed, legislation passed by Parliament in 1990 to give effect to some key aspects of the 13th Amendment was never brought into operation at any time, he said.

With the elections contemplated for the Provincial Council of the Northern Province later this year, there is naturally a lively debate in the country on the question whether any changes, reflecting developments in Sri Lanka during the last two decades, are necessary prior to implementation on the ground. As expected, a wide variety of views has been expressed on this subject in recent weeks by varying shades of political opinion.

Minister Peiris stressed that an essential condition for implementation is an adequate level of public support. It is because of lack of the required threshold of support that different governments, guided by divergent convictions and priorities, all felt unable to implement major provisions of the 13th Amendment during the last 25 years. What is now happening in the country is that, on the eve of Provincial Council elections in the Northern Province, some critical issues are being debated in earnest with a view to ensuring broad public support.

It is with this objective in mind that some amendments have been formulated for consideration by the Cabinet of Ministers, Prof. Peiris remarked.

The Minister, in his address to the distinguished German audience, placed in perspective the approach by the Government of Sri Lanka on implementation of the LLRC proposals.

He emphasized the structured character of this process, based on priorities. Having dealt effectively with the humanitarian issues relating to the resettlement of internally displaced persons, the re-integration of ex-combatants and the challenging demining process, as well as revival of the economy of the Northern Province by means of a massive emphasis on the development of infrastructure, the political issues are now coming to the fore in a timely manner, he noted.

It is in this context that commencement of deliberations on these issues in the Parliamentary Select Committee assumes heightened importance, he said. “Since constitutional reform is a matter within the responsibility of Parliament and requires a special majority, there is no substitute for an all-inclusive Parliamentary Select Committee Process”.


THREE: Some interesting political maneuvering ahead …..

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