Political unity essential for National Reconciliation through 13A | Sunday Observer

Political unity essential for National Reconciliation through 13A

30 July, 2023
The All Party Conference (APC) in progress
The All Party Conference (APC) in progress

“I have fulfilled my duty, and now it is in the hands of Parliament to fulfil theirs.”

This is what President Ranil Wickremesinghe said addressing the gathering at the conclusion of the All-Party Conference (APC) held on July 26. The primary objective of this conference was to apprise the Parliament’s Party Leaders about the National Reconciliation Program (NRP) and the North-East Development Plan (NEDP), both of which were initiated under the administration of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

However, the reaction from the Opposition, as published the following day, reveals doubts in certain sections about the sincerity of the President’s efforts to foster national harmony. Some view it as a political move rather than a genuine effort. Consequently, they demand clarity on the Government’s position before expressing their own.

Besides the Opposition’s suspicions, there is also a significant issue regarding the lack of transparency in their stance on national reconciliation efforts. This is primarily due to the contentious 13th Constitutional Amendment, a subject of much debate and controversy in Sri Lanka. The Opposition may perceive any support for it as a political risk.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that regardless of who holds power, the country must address the economic crisis and resolve the national issue to establish harmony. This necessitates a decision on the 13th Constitutional Amendment, considering the current global political landscape.

Collective aspiration

It is the nation’s collective aspiration to recover from the economic crisis and contribute to national reconciliation. This matter should not be trivialised, but rather embraced without dismissal. Moreover, the political composition of both the Government and the Opposition seems favourable for making a decision on the 13th Constitutional Amendment without compromising the goal of national reconciliation.

Hence, this historical decision should be made jointly by both the Government and the Opposition, setting aside their differences. Otherwise, the people of the North and the East may continue to suffer, leading to mistrust, while efforts for national unity and reconciliation may be viewed with suspicion by those in the South. Ultimately, everyone will be held accountable for any historical mistakes in prioritizing personal political power over the national problem and efforts for harmony.

Given the current political landscape, it remains uncertain whether the Government and the Opposition will seize the opportunity to make a decision on the 13th Constitutional Amendment and commit to national reconciliation efforts.

Throughout his political career, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has maintained a steadfast position regarding solving the national problem in Sri Lanka. Unlike other political parties that may have revised their policies based on political needs, the President has remained unwavering in his stance, even at the cost of electoral politics.

One of the crucial aspects of his position is the distinction he makes between terrorism against the state of Sri Lanka and the issue faced by the North and East Tamils. President Wickremesinghe firmly believes that defeating terrorism is essential, but it alone will not address the underlying problem of the Tamil people. He advocates for decisions to be made, considering these individuals as citizens of the country, without marginalising or treating them as second-class citizens.

The President recognises the interconnectedness of democracy, national harmony, and development. He has consistently prioritised efforts in this direction whenever he has held power in the country. Even after being elected as the Eighth Executive President during a severe economic crisis and chaotic times, he took immediate measures to stabilise law and order and alleviate the basic hardships faced by the people.

During the National Thai Pongal Festival in Jaffna on January 15, 2023, President Wickremesinghe expressed his commitment to fully implement the 13th Constitutional Amendment. He emphasized that this amendment’s significance goes beyond the north and is also being sought by Chief Ministers in the South.

Despite strong protests from certain Sinhala racist-nationalist factions, the President remained resolute and convened an APC on January 26, 2023. During this conference, he stressed the importance of fulfilling essential conditions for nation-building, with particular emphasis on the 13th Constitutional Amendment, which has been part of the Constitution for 37 years but not fully implemented. The President even suggested that if full implementation is not achievable, the amendment should be abolished through Parliament. Additionally, he noted that running Provincial Councils (PCs) without complete implementation is costly and ineffective.

While affirming his opposition to a Federal State, President Wickremesinghe expressed his willingness to share power. He reassured the nation that he has no intention of dividing the country and would never betray the majority community.

President Wickremesinghe’s consistent and principled approach to national issues reflects his dedication to achieving democracy, national unity, and development in Sri Lanka.

During the APC held on January 26, 2023, President Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered a speech, outlining his approach to resolving political and economic issues in a manner agreeable to all. He emphasized the commitment not to betray or lose anyone, ensuring the country remains united without division.

The President stated his intention to engage with Tamil political party leaders to address North-Eastern issues. A proposal containing crucial matters requiring attention would be submitted within six months, and a decisive solution would be pursued by the upcoming Independence Day.

In addition, President Wickremesinghe expressed the plan to make a special statement to Parliament on February 8, discussing important matters, including land ownership and police powers. He encouraged proposals to be submitted before February 4.

During the opening of the fourth session of the Ninth Parliament on February 8, 2023, President Wickremesinghe reiterated the importance of unity among nations to overcome economic challenges and foster development in the country. He recalled a shared dream with MP R. Sampanthan dating back to 1977, aiming to provide a sustainable solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem, expressing hope for success this time.

To streamline the delegation of power, draft amendments to several Acts related to the Provincial Councils were proposed.

President’s efforts

The President’s efforts for national problem-solving and reconciliation were underscored as sincere, despite doubts raised by some in the opposition. In alignment with his promise at the APC, President Wickremesinghe met North-East Tamil political leaders on July 18, 2023. A program document, reaffirming his commitment to national reconciliation, was presented during the meeting.

The document covered various issues, including anti-terrorism measures, anti-corruption initiatives, truth-finding mechanisms, the establishment of the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), reparations, pardon for prisoners involved in LTTE activities, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), the National Land Commission (NLC), sustainable forest management for land issues, a national plan for archaeology, travel permits for Sri Lankans in rehabilitation camps in South India, resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Northern and Eastern areas, returning land occupied by the Armed Forces in the Northern Province, devolution, and a complete development plan for the North.

These efforts demonstrated President Wickremesinghe’s genuine commitment to achieving national reconciliation and resolving the country’s longstanding issues.

During a meeting with North and East Tamil political leaders on July 18, 2023, President Wickremesinghe said that the Government is already taking steps to address matters A to M in the presented document. However, achieving issues N (Devolution of Power) and O (Development Plan for the North) requires a common agreement in Parliament.

Regarding the full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, the President highlighted that it can only happen if all Party Leaders representing Parliament agree to a complete division of powers. He assured that he would not be unjust to the people of the North and the East and emphasized the importance of discussing and reaching a consensus through Parliament’s full support for any further actions benefiting them.

Notably, the President stressed his determination to fully implement the 13th Constitutional Amendment, making an unprecedented commitment to solving the vexed national problem openly.

To emphasize the significance of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, another APC was convened on July 26, 2023, where the President presented his clear position and views. He asserted that discussing the amendment only with Tamil Party MPs is insufficient since it is a matter affecting the entire country. Hence, he advocated for decision-making after discussions with all parties.

The President acknowledged that, like his predecessors, he alone cannot pass new laws to address existing problems. Instead, it is Parliament’s collective power to bring relevant proposals for the country’s benefit.

President Wickremesinghe highlighted that he possesses only one vote in Parliament, emphasizing the need for all representatives to work together in moving forward with various initiatives.

The President recalled a report from 2017, where Chief Ministers of Provinces (other than the North and the East) proposed giving more powers to PCs, which predominantly represent areas where the majority of Sinhalese people live. This historical context demonstrated the on-going efforts to address regional concerns.

In summary, President Wickremesinghe’s approach revolves around consensus-building and collaboration with all stakeholders in Parliament to effectively address national issues, particularly in the implementation of the 13th Constitutional Amendment and achieving lasting solutions for the country.

Consistent efforts

President Wickremesinghe’s consistent efforts towards national reconciliation deserve recognition, but the focus should now shift towards the political dynamics involving the Government and the Opposition. Presently, the ruling party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), is led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. As MP Sumanthiran rightly pointed out at the APC, Mahinda Rajapaksa has openly expressed readiness for power-sharing beyond the 13th Amendment. This indicates that the Podujana Peramuna should not harbour any apprehension regarding the 13th Amendment, especially considering their past support for a 13+ proposal when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power.

The current Members of the Opposition, namely Prof. G.L. Peiris and Dallas Alahapperuma, did not raise any objections to the 13+ proposition back then, and there have been no such objections to date. Thus, the fear of the 13th Amendment is unfounded for them, even as an Opposition group now.

Similarly, the United National Party (UNP) has historically not opposed the 13th Amendment. Many members of the current Opposition, including the Opposition Leader, were once part of the UNP. Throughout their tenure with the UNP, none of them ever objected to the 13th Amendment. Therefore, there is no reason for any new apprehension concerning the 13th Amendment at this juncture. Given the political composition of both the Government and the Opposition, supporting the implementation of the 13th Amendment would not result in any losses for anyone.

Hence, it is everyone’s responsibility to seize this historical moment and fulfil the duty towards implementing the 13th Amendment.

Failing to do so would result in repeating the cursed mistake of using the national problem as a political tool in history and missing a significant opportunity. Avoiding the curse of history is impossible, even if one can escape divine retribution.

In conclusion, the time is ripe for both the Government and the Opposition to come together and embrace the 13th Amendment as a crucial step towards national reconciliation and lasting peace.