ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41
Columns - Lobby  

13th Vs 17th: The rising toll

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

Although all Parliamentarians take an oath to defend and uphold the entire contents of the Sri Lankan Constitution when they are sworn in, different political parties seem to want to implement its provisions on a selective basis.

Lal Kanatha

The Government now wants to fully implement the 13th Amendment so that more powers can be devolved to the provinces, the JVP does not want that but wants the 17th Amendment fully implemented by way of appointment of the Constitutional Council (CC), while the UNP wants both these amendments implemented. Given this conflicting state of affairs, when Parliament met last week, it was down to the business of the 13th Vs the 17th with all the main political parties playing a tug-o-war with the two issues, obviously driven more by their own political interests than that of the people or the country.

The Government’s sudden love for the 13th Amendment has to do with its desperation to come up with some sort of political arrangement to go hand in hand with its military drive in the north, but this has not gone down well with its on- again, off-again electoral ally, the JVP, which is once again blowing its anti Indian trumpet loudly. The discord that the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 caused in the country is common knowledge but 21 years down the line, the JVP, as it did then, is seeing the hidden Indian hand as being behind the Government’s move to latch onto the 13th Amendment as its saviour in its time of need.

The JVP’s India bashing in Parliament was led by its Anuradhapura district MP K.D.Lal Kantha, who said former President J.R.Jayewardene was pressurized into signing the Accord by the Indians and now the same thing is being done to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement the 13th Amendment. “India wants to install its puppet administrations in the north and east. After the Norwegians and others left, India now wants to step into their shoes,” the JVP MP charged.

Despite the rhetoric, the fact that there is a perception of Indian interference in Sri Lankan affairs is more of a blessing in disguise for the JVP which is looking for a devil in some form to exorcise from time to time. With the Norwegians and the SLMM out of the way, the CFA gone and the north east demerged, having the Indian factor around may not be such a bad thing for them to focus their attention on at least for a while.

The JVP’s anti-Indian stance drew strong criticism from Justice (Non Cabinet) Minister Dilan Perera who said, this is a conspiracy to strain the good relations between India and Sri Lanka. ”Those who are criticising India are helping the terrorists by their actions. We will not allow such conspiracies to succeed,” he said. Given the blow hot, blow cold attitude of the JVP, it’s unlikely that their strong words will have much of an impact on either the President nor the government which seems confident that they can always count on the comrades to bail them out if and when the need arises. Another JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanyaka took up the non appointment of the CC, lambasting the President for acting in a “stubborn” and “dictatorial” manner by ignoring the opposition demands to reactivate the Council.

“This Government got its mandate in 2004 to bring about good governance in the country and not act in this shameful manner’, MP Dissanayake said. The UNP is as equally keen as the JVP to get the CC going and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe himself led the attack on the Government for dragging its feet on the issue. He, along with Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera and MP Lakshman Kiriella expressed the UNP’s ire at the Government’s indifference towards this issue. Neither the UNP nor the JVP are willing to accept the position taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he is awaiting the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to look into the operation of the 17th Amendment, before appointing the CC.

Meanwhile, the Tamil National Congress (TNA) thinks the Government’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment is a futile exercise. Its Jaffna district MP N.Srikantha said that this move is intended to hoodwink the Intentional Community (IC) and shy away from addressing the real grievances of the Tamil people. “Will the President announce that he is willing to commence peace talks? If he does that we will put political pressure on the LTTE to come for talks, but we know the President will not make such an announcement,” the TNA Legislator said.

The Government maintains that it is on its way to empowering the people of the northern and eastern provinces in managing their own affairs. “The election of the local bodies in the Batticaloa district would be a significant first step towards democratisation of areas which were previously terrorised by the LTTE. It will also be a curtain raiser for the Provincial Council elections which will be held shortly,” Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told Parliament. The high human cost of the on going war in the country was illustrated when Leader of the House Nimal Siripala De Silva told the House on Wednesday when the emergency debate was taken, that 104 soldiers and 80 civilians have been killed and 822 soldiers and 201 civilians injured in violence in the past month.

As the week ended, another parliamentarian TNA Jaffna district MP K.Sivanesan was killed in a claymore mine while he was returning home to Kilinochchi after two days of Parliamentary sittings, bringing to three the total number of MPs killed this year. These tragic deaths coupled with the lack of movement on political issues in the country does not augur well for parliamentary democracy in the country.

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