Northern Polls vs. 13 Minus

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By Easwaran Rutnam

From 13 plus the government is now proposing 13 minus in order to pacify the allies in the government on the 13th Amendment to the constitution ahead of the scheduled northern provincial council elections.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had once said he is keen to go beyond the 13th Amendment, had confirmed to a visiting Indian opposition delegation last Friday that the elections to the Northern Province will go ahead as scheduled in September.

However, ahead of the polls the government is now looking at changing some key clauses in the 13th Amendment.

Among them is removing the land and police powers given to the provinces under the 13th Amendment, a move which the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) does not favour.

TNA MP M.A Sumanthiran said that his party had also informed the Indian delegation headed by the deputy leader of the opposition Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP), Ravi Shankar Prasad, that removing some provisions in the 13th Amendment will have a negative impact.

“The whole purpose of the 13th Amendment will be lost of the land and police powers are removed. The provinces will not be able to enjoy the full powers and it will nullify the idea of devolution of powers,” Sumanthiran told The Sunday Leader.

Asked about the elections, Sumanthiran said that the TNA will wait till the dates are announced for the election for it to decide on its stance.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said it is also is deeply perturbed by reports that the government is planning on amending several provisions of the 13th Amendment to the constitution.

The CPA said that the proposed amendments have far reaching implications both in terms of preserving democratic values and achieving post-war reconciliation.

“As such it is highly disconcerting that the proposed amendment is a result of a process that was shrouded in secrecy and only limited to some constituent elements of the UPFA government. CPA has critiqued the lack of transparency and public participation in the law making process – the process that formulates constitutional amendments and broad sweeping legislation–since its inception. However despite promises– including the proposals of the present government in terms of its ‘National Human Rights Action Plan’ – successive governments have exploited these deficiencies in the law making process and have not demonstrated any willingness to remedy these failings,” the CPA said.

The CPA says the incumbent government has repeatedly adopted the process of classifying constitutional amendments as ‘urgent bills’ and thereby further limited the existing space for public debate and judicial scrutiny. Considering the serious and irreversible impact the present amendment would have on the post-war reconciliation process. CPA strongly urges the government that in the event they do propose legislation amending the 13th Amendment to the constitution, they desist from adopting the proposed urgent bill procedure.

CPA further states that such a unilateral act would amount to a violation of specific undertakings of the present government to the international community that it would work to formulate a political solution acceptable to all communities, and specifically to the undertakings given to the government of India that any future political solution would go beyond the framework of the 13th Amendment. CPA says regardless of these statements of intent, the government has demonstrated no credible commitment to negotiating a post-war power-sharing settlement.

Therefore CPA strongly urges the government to not proceed with the proposed constitutional amendment and to recommence an inclusive dialogue with a view to developing a consensus amongst all major stakeholders on a political solution acceptable to all communities.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is among the government constituent parties who have been demanding for clauses in the 13th Amendment to be changed.
JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe said that the JHU is not against elections being held for the northern provincial council, but those elections should be held once the provincial councils system is abolished.

“If the government is unable to abolish the system then we are ready to accept amendments to it. We want the land and police powers removed from the 13th Amendment,” he said.

He said that the central government should have the authority to abolish the provincial council in power if the need arises.

The JHU spokesman also said that his party will strongly object to any pressure being exerted by the Indian government on Sri Lanka over the 13th Amendment issue.

He also accused India of failing to abide by the Indo-Lanka agreement which led to the 13th Amendment being created.

“Under the agreement India proposed to devolve powers to the provinces which the Sri Lankan government has followed. However India was told to disarm the LTTE which they failed to do. So basically we did our part but India did not do what it had to do so India has no right to pressure on the government even if some clauses in the 13th Amendment are changed,” he said.

The National Freedom Front (NFF), another constituent party of the government, said it would also push for the proposed changes to the 13th Amendment before elections are held in the Northern Province.
NFF member Piyasiri Wijeynayake said that his party view is that holding elections before the 13th Amendment is either abolished or changed could pose a threat to national security.

He said that holding an election in the Northern Province under the current 13th Amendment would also be a betrayal to the peace won by the security forces.

“Land and police powers are not something the provinces need to have. That will not be helpful to the central government or the country. Such powers to the provinces will lead to a rift in the political arena as well,” he said.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), also an ally of the government, however wants the 13th Amendment to remain as it is.

SLMC General Secretary Hassan Ali said that they will oppose any changes being made to the 13th Amendment and will also push for the elections to be held as scheduled for the Northern Province. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)

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