Home » As talks with Tamil parties drag, Ranil pledges full implementation of 13th Amendment – The Hindu

As talks with Tamil parties drag, Ranil pledges full implementation of 13th Amendment – The Hindu

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The Sri Lankan government will “fully implement” the 13 th Amendment, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday, making a familiar promise to the Tamils on the nearly 40-year-old legislation guaranteeing a measure of power devolution to the island’s provinces.

“We hope to fully implement the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Not only in the North but also in the South, the Chief Ministers are demanding that it be implemented,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said, speaking at a Pongal event organised in Jaffna, in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province.

His remarks come even as his government is engaged in talks with the Tamil political leadership to find a durable political solution to the civil war-scarred island nation’s long-pending national question. The President has pledged to resolve the ethnic conflict— tied to the historic demand of Sri Lanka’s Tamils for equality and self-determination— before February 4, 2023, when Sri Lanka marks its 75 th anniversary of Independence.

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s announcement on Sunday also assumes significance before the scheduled visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who has earlier emphasized that addressing Tamil concerns and implementing the 13th Amendment was in Sri Lanka’s interest. While several past leaders have made the promise, none has kept it.

What is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and why is it contentious?

‘No tangible action’

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main grouping representing Tamils in the north and east in Parliament, has participated in four rounds of discussions with the President since December 2022, including one last week.  The Alliance has urged the government to fully implement the 13 th Amendment, passed consequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, as a necessary first step while negotiating a final political settlement. With no movement on it so far, and little tangible action on its other urgent demands pertaining to land grabs in the north and east, prolonged detention of political prisoners, and answers to enforced disappearances, the TNA said it has little hope left in the process.  

Watch: TNA Leader R. Sampanthan speaks on the Indo-Lanka Accord

On the President’s renewed promise to implement the 13 th Amendment in full, TNA spokesman and Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran said several presidents have “threatened to implement” it in the past. “That’s not the solution to the national question, implementing what is already in the Constitution is the least they can do. And they have not done even that,” he said. In the last meeting, the TNA presented a document of five specific actions that can be taken immediately in this regard, such as setting up a national land commission and provincial police forces; amending or reversing certain acts to restore power to the provincial councils; and giving provincial councils the necessary administrative powers to run schools and hospitals. “Let them take those steps first, otherwise we see no point in just continuing talks with the government,” Mr. Sumanthiran said.

Meanwhile, the TNA is faced with internal challenges, following a clash among its constituents over contesting the imminent local government elections. With its chief constituent Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) opting to contest alone, partners People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) have said they would contest with a few other groups, under a different form called the Democratic Tamil National Alliance.

Tamil National Alliance | An Alliance fraught with challenges

While the ITAK has pitched its decision as a necessary poll strategy to strengthen its base, the decision only weakens the TNA’s bargaining power on the political solution, according to PLOTE leader and Jaffna MP Dharmalingam Sithadthan. All the same, despite differences, the PLOTE would still work with all parties in the Tamil nationalist arena towards a just political solution for the Tamils, he said. “Successive governments have fooled us by promising a political solution. We can’t be engaged in talks indefinitely. President Wickremesinghe must implement the 13 th Amendment in full and address our immediate demands if he is serious about resolving this issue,” he told The Hindu.

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