Lucien Rajakarunanayake is right to point out the difficulties that attended the 1987 India-Sri Lanka agreement. No doubt space constraints prevented him, as they do me, from recounting here the tragic events that led to the Indian intervention. The initial opposition to the 13th amendment notwithstanding, all parties that opposed it then, including the SLFP, the main constituent of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) today, and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), another constituent, have been enthusiastic participants in the provincial council elections held since then under the provisions of the amendment. Today, the UPFA controls all the provincial councils including in eastern Sri Lanka, where elections were held in 2008 for the first time after the collapse of the ill-fated North-East Provincial Council in 1990. No provincial council election has yet been held in the northern province. The JVP contested the provincial council elections for the first time in 1999 and hasn't looked back since. It is hard to detect the national abhorrence for the 13th amendment that Mr. Rajakarunanayake speaks about.

If it is really true that this particular provision is widely hated, and the SLFP and the JVP are still as opposed to it as they were in 1987, there could be no better time than the present to do away with it. For the first time since 1987 in Sri Lanka, a ruling party enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament and therefore, a unique opportunity to change the constitution to its liking. After all, the government has already demonstrated the ability to amend the constitution — in 2010 it used its majority to remove the two-term bar on the President. This too was opposed as being undemocratic — by the UNP, the JVP and the left parties in the ruling alliance, and the Tamil National Alliance, but the 18th amendment is now accepted as part and parcel of the Constitution.

All said and done, the 13th amendment represents the only constitutional measure towards the settlement of the Tamil question. In her first term as President, Chandrika Kumaratunga attempted to bring in constitutional reforms that would go far beyond the 13th Amendment in devolving powers to the provinces. After its tortuous passage through a parliamentary select committee, the package was scuppered at the last minute by the LTTE on the one side, and by the opposition and even by government members on the other. Since then, the only effort by the Sri Lankan polity at devising a “home-grown” devolution plan was the All Parties' Representative Committee. Its report, never made public, seems to have been quietly shelved. The 13th amendment is no silver bullet, but at least it exists on the books. Except for the LTTE, all Tamil groups accepted it. If implemented honestly in letter and spirit, with devolution of financial and police powers, and land rights, it could still go a long way in meeting Tamil aspirations. Such a move would be welcome not just in the north and east but also in the other seven provinces of Sri Lanka.

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