By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his closest associates have shown their determination to amend the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that 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 blatant immoral nature of the present regime. However, there is a glimmer of hope as this immoral determination was questioned and challenged within the governmental front by 8 ministers. The Muslim Congress, the Lanka Samasamaja Party, The Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Democratic Left Front, those are constituent parties of the governmental coalition have already recorded their opposition to any amendment to dilute the 13th Amendment. Naturally those who were politically associated with late Vijaya Kumaranathunga have also expressed that they would oppose vehemently such a move. I welcome the courage of Ministers Rajitha Senarathna, Reginald Cooray and Dilan Perra. I hope, they will be joined by Ministers like Ms Pavithra Vanniarachchi, Mr S B Disanayaka and many others. There is no doubt that the constitutional dilution of the 13th Amendment that has been already diluted in practice by all the governments since 1987 will be a major political blunder that would bring about more dangerous outcome than those of the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayaham Pact of 1958. 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. Two 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 a 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 all are equally abide by it in order to maintain their sovereign status in the global order. So 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, Mahinda Rajapakse government and the president himself promised the country and its closest neighbor, India, that the government would take steps to improve the 13th Amendment mechanisms that it portrayed as 13+. True it was not clear what it meant by 13+. However, once the government media spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, informed the media that what government and the President meant by 13+ was 13th Amendment + a second chamber. One may pose a question whether 13+ 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 Mahinda Chinthana documents informed the people that it had an intention for the dilution of the 13th Amendment. Well, 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 a moral ground stay in power?
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 LTTE but that military victory could be protected only if the politicians take necessary political steps in achieving and maintaining peace. It should be noted that was the moral ground for the sacrifices made by the members of the security forces. If someone reread the interviews given by the prominent military leaders such as Major Denzil Koobbekaduwa, my point would be clear. Once I went to a military academy to give a talk, and many junior level army officers were in hundred percent agreement with this position. If it was the way in which the military encounter was legitimized by the security forces or at least its conscious leaders, it would be a moral duty of the politicians to deal with the political dimension of the national question after the military victory. As Winston Churchill, war time British Prime Minister once said the party that achieve victory should be magnanimous. 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 it any civilized society. When we were kids, we were taught by or parents, teachers and Buddhist monks that when thou give something to someone thou shall not take it back. It has been argued that the many promises given by the governments dominated by Sinhala political leaders for were broken by them 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 was 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.”
*The writer is a co-cordiantor of Marx School, Colombo, Ratmalana, Negombo and Kandy. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org