Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe to press ahead with 13th Amendment for reconciliation with minority Tamils

The minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for devolution of power to it

August 02, 2023 05:17 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST - Colombo

President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe. | Photo Credit: ANI

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe plans to press ahead with his quest for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as part of his reconciliation efforts with the country's minority Tamil community, Presidential officials said on Wednesday.

The minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for devolution of power to it.

The 13th Amendment (13A) was brought in after the India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987. It created 9 provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Presidential officials said Mr. Wickremesinghe would deliver a speech in Parliament next week when it is reconvened for its regular session.

"The President will outline his plan to implement it with all powers that could be granted to provincial councils," an official said.

During an all-party meeting last month, Mr. Wickremesinghe had said that all powers, except police powers, could be granted to the councils.

He would also submit to Parliament all proposals received from different political parties on the full implementation of the 13A.

However, the main Tamil party — the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — was adamant about holding the stalled provincial council elections at the talks.

The TNA cited previous Sri Lankan government statements which said full powers would be granted.

The elections for the nine provinces have been on hold since 2018 following a move to introduce electoral reforms.

It now needs a Parliamentary Amendment to enable the elections to be held under the existing proportional representation system.

Mr. Wickremesinghe convened the all-party meeting immediately after his recent two-day visit to India during which 13A figured prominently in his wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr. Modi had reiterated India's wish to see the full implementation of the 13A.

The Sinhala majority parties have urged Mr. Wickremesinghe to hold the stalled council elections.

Some Sinhala parties have renewed their fears that full powers to councils would pave the way for the separation of the north and east from the island nation.

The President at the all-party meeting had asserted that cross-party consensus was needed through Parliament and urged parties to come on board to settle the issue.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s Parliamentary speech should happen on any day from Tuesday next week, officials said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe has come under fire from the majority Sinhala community parties for bringing forward the issue of devolution at a time when the country is grappling with its worst-ever economic crisis.

They say the President’s action is a political stunt to woo the Tamils ahead of the next Presidential election due in the last quarter of 2024.

Sri Lanka has had a long history of failed negotiations to end the Tamil claim of discrimination by allowing some form of political autonomy.

The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

According to Sri Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts, including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

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