Amid a raging debate on the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) has been formed to study and suggest possible changes to the landmark amendment that created a provincial council system within the unitary state based on a 1987 agreement with India.
Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa on Friday appointed Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) veteran and senior Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva as chairman of the committee, which has 19 members, all drawn from the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance, for now.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP), the Marxist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress are not part of it now for different reasons. The Speaker wants various parties in Parliament to name representatives.
Key PSC members include Foreign Minister and legal expert G.L. Peiris, Basil Rajapaksa and Douglas Devananda, a political rival of the TNA.
The UNP, headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe, has said it will not nominate a representative to the parliamentary panel until the government announces its stance regarding the understanding with the TNA.
The TNA and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), too, have boycotted the PSC for different reasons. The TNA says it has little faith in the PSC, as it is dominated by ruling party members, while the JVP has, for long, sought the repeal of the 13th Amendment that followed the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka signed between Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayawardene.
In an interview to The Hindu in July 2011, President Rajapaksa had said: “I have asked my party and others to propose a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into a political solution, any amendments to the Constitution. Whatever the Parliamentary Committee recommends to me, I will accept — and ultimately it has to go to Parliament.”
The appointment comes just two months ahead of the Northern Provincial Council elections scheduled for September.
The UPFA is divided on the 13th Amendment. While parties such as the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) demand its abrogation, some socialist allies have opposed proposals to dilute the 13th Amendment, which devolves certain powers for the provinces.
A TNA delegation was in India recently to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and seek his help in ensuring that the amendment was not diluted and Sri Lanka honoured its commitment on finding a political solution.
Speaking to The Hindu on Friday, TNA sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told them that the Indian government had sent a message to the Sri Lankan government at “the high-level”, and that it would do all it can to ensure the 13th Amendment was implemented.
There were also reports of Dr. Singh expressing concern over certain sections seeking dilution of the Constitutional Amendment.
National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon will visit Sri Lanka early next month to hold meetings with senior government leaders here.
According to a report in Daily News here, President Rajapaksa said Mr. Menon was here only on a “regular visit” for discussions on regional defence arrangements. It also reliably learnt that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is likely to visit Sri Lanka soon for high-level deliberations.