SPEAKING FREELY Rajapaksa autonomy move risks harmony
By Sumanasiri Liyanage
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his closest associates have shown their determination to amend the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which promising autonomy to the Tamil minority, was enacted in 1987 as a part of an agreement between India and Sri Lanka. Whatever its political implications and repercussions, this attempt has proved the blatantly immoral nature of the present regime.
There is a glimmer of hope as this immoral determination has
been questioned by eight ministers. The Muslim Congress, the Lanka Samasamaja Party, The Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Democratic Left Front, constituent parties of the governmental coalition, have also already recorded their opposition to any amendment to dilute the 13th Amendment.
I hope they will be joined by ministers like Pavithra Vanniarachchi, S B Disanayaka and many others. I would portray the decision to dilute the 13th Amendment if put into practice as the most immoral and dissolute act in recent Sri Lankan political history for four reasons:
First, the 13th Amendment was enacted as part of an agreement between Sri Lanka and India in 1987. The countries came to an agreement after many rounds of talks and constant consultation with the Sri Lankan Tamil political parties that included Tamil militant organizations. So the 13th Amendment is the compromise outcome of a long process of consultation and discussions that took in to notice the conflicting interests of different parties.
The argument that Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation so that it has every right to change its constitution is a weak one since, when two or more sovereign nations enter into an agreement, they should all equally abide by it in order to maintain their sovereign status in the global order. It should be emphasized that the agreements cannot be contravened unilaterally by the whims and fancies of politicians who come to power for a specified period of time. Hence it is totally immoral to dissolve an agreement without consulting the parties that are party to the agreement, namely India and Tamil political parties.
Secondly, the Rajapaksa government and the president himself promised the country and its closest neighbor, India, that the government would take steps to improve the 13th Amendment with mechanisms that it called "13 plus". The government media spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, informed the media that what government and the president meant by "13 plus" was the 13th Amendment plus a second chamber.
One may pose a question whether "13 plus" defined in this way would be adequate to deal with the Sri Lankan national question, but it is not my intention here to deal with that tricky issue. None of the related Mahinda Chinthana ("Mahinda Vision") documents [setting out Rajapaksa's views prior to the 2005 presidential election] informed the people that his government intended to dilute the 13th Amendment.
It is interesting to note that the two documents did not tell the people that it would pass an amendment to negate the 17th Amendment to the constitution. Hence, the government is going not only to break the agreement reached with its neighbor but also to breach the promises it had given to its own people. Does such a government have the moral authority to stay in power?
Thirdly, last week I saw a poster at Wijerama junction about a meeting that was organized to support the dilution of the 13th Amendment. It said that "the victory that was gained by soldiers (rana viruwan) should not allow to be betrayed". If we recollect the statements of many army officers in the past, they all had a view that the security forces in Sri Lanka could achieve military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam but that military victory could be protected only if the politicians took necessary political steps in achieving and maintaining peace.
As Winston Churchill, war time British prime minister, once said, the party that achieves victory should be magnanimous. The Rajapaksa regime is doing the opposite.
Last, but by no means least, the immorality of amending the 13th Amendment stems from very simple and uncomplicated human reasoning that is valued in any civilized society. It has been argued that the many promises given by the governments dominated by Sinhala political leaders were broken due to multiple reasons. The post-colonial history has ample evidence to support this contention. In the late 1970s, district committees were set up to give a semblance of self-rule to provinces. We are all aware how district committee elections were conducted in the north.
In 1987, the provincial council system was established with limited powers enabling provinces to make decision on provincial matters. It is somewhat hilarious that Mahinda Rajapaksa regime wants to take those limited powers back from the provinces. Do these politicians acting on chosen ignorance have an iota of civility? This reminded me what John Keane once said: "If democracy is a continuous struggle against simplification of the world, then nationalism is a continuous struggle to undo complexity, a will not to know certain matters, a chosen ignorance, not the ignorance of innocence."
Sumanasiri Liyanage is a co-coordinator of Marx School, Colombo, Ratmalana, Negombo and Kandy. His email is email@example.com
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.