Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party TNA has demanded “enhanced and meaningful” devolution of power under the full implementation of the contentious 13th Amendment to the country’s Constitution.
The minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for devolution of power to it.
The 13th Amendment (13A) was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987. It created 9 provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
“Our position is that power-sharing must be in a federal structure consistent with the aspirations of the Tamil people expressed at every election since 1956,” the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said in a statement.
The TNA urged the government to hold the provincial council elections and demanded “enhanced and meaningful” devolution of power under the 13A.
The statement came in response to the last week’s All Party Conference on reconciliation called by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe at the all-party meeting told parties that he was for full implementation of the 13A, subject to parliamentary consensus across parties.
However, the opposition parties were adamant about holding the stalled provincial council elections at the talks.
The elections for the nine provinces have been on hold since 2018 following a move to introduce electoral reforms.
It now needs a parliamentary amendment to enable the elections to be held under the existing proportional representation system.
Wickremesinghe convened the all-party meeting immediately after his recent two-day visit to India during which 13A figured prominently in his wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi had reiterated India’s wish to see the full implementation of the 13A.
The 13A was India’s pioneering move in 1987 to try and bring a settlement to the issue of political autonomy to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It created nine provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the northern and eastern provinces The all-party meeting called by Wickremesinghe aimed at reconciliation and conferring full powers to Sri Lanka’s provincial councils failed to yield any agreements and will be reconvened in a month.
Wickremesinghe has come under fire from the majority Sinhala community parties for bringing forward the issue of devolution at a time when the country is grappling with its worst-ever economic crisis.
They say the president’s action is a political stunt to woo the Tamils ahead of the next presidential election due in the last quarter of 2024.
Sri Lanka has had a long history of failed negotiations to end the Tamil claim of discrimination by allowing some form of political autonomy.
The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
According to Sri Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts, including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.