To Escape 13A
Posted on August 14th, 2023

By Shirani ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

It is no secret that President Ranil Wickremesinghe always rooted for a federal solution. Nevertheless, regardless of his own personal beliefs, he, as an astute politician, is also aware that majority of the country (which is not to be read as ‘majority community’) bitterly oppose such a power-sharing structure that will effectively castrate the Central Government.

13A opposed more by the minority communities than the majority

This has not stopped him from trying to dabble with it and the last time he did, it almost cost him his political career. Even at that time, he knew he was taking a dangerous gamble. Therefore, he never took ownership of the proposed constitution that TNA Spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran penned. In that document, a question mark was designed to be cast on the word ‘unitary’. Even in the English translation, the word ‘unitary’, that had established legal context, was replaced with the Sinhala word for unitary with a slash and a Tamil word that translates as a collective. As such, the Yahapalana Government tried to play a mean trick on both sides of the divide on the question of unitary status of the country.

Of course, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s then political debacle was not simply due to the promotion of federalism or the attempted chicanery. The Central Bank bond scams, treacherously co-sponsoring the UNHRC 30/1 Resolution, persecuting war heroes, retarding the robust economic growth of seven per cent to a mere two per cent and the Easter Sunday Attack were the primary factors that almost booted out of politics.

However, it is notable that the minority parties, who he had been unashamedly and unreservedly serenading and courting, did not come to his rescue at his hour of need. This is because federalism is opposed more by the minority communities than the majority.

RW’s rise to power from the ashes

In 2019, voters sent him to the ‘naughty boy’s corner’ with only one national list seat for UNP – the oldest political party. Not a single UNP member won at the 2020 General Election that was held on 5 August. Everyone in that party, including Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, failed to win enough votes even to warrant a count.

By that time, the UNP had been reduced to a ‘ghost town’ as the then Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa left to form his own party, the SJB. He took with him majority of the UNP MPs, who were only too happy to escape the sinking ship.

It was with this one national list seat that Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the lone UNPer, entered the 16th Parliament of Sri Lanka. Undeterred, he used his wit, honed by over 50 years in politics, to turn every opportunity to his advantage. Two years later, on 21.07.2022, Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the eighth Executive President of Sri Lanka.

A country like Japan would have included into their textbooks the fall and rise of Ranil Wickremesinghe to teach their children the value of perseverance. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka we do not teach these kinds of life lessons to anyone.

The man of the hour

It was a jarring moment when Ranil Wickremesinghe became the President. The man we got rid of two and half years ago was back. However, there were more pressing issues. Our country was in near anarchy and he might be the only person who could save us.

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was voted into Office in 2019 with one of the strongest mandates, he was expected to lead our country into prosperity and instill discipline. While not everyone blames him for the near economic collapse, almost none exonerates him for mismanaging anti-government protests.

When he resigned on 14.07.2022, every essence of democracy was under siege and was about to be overrun by anarchists. The situation needed to be rolled back quickly and the only man who could do it at that moment was Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He was a prominent member of the Ranasinghe Premadasa Government, who played a pivotal role to break the 1988-89 JVP insurgency. His methods were not popular then and still have the power to send shivers down anyone’s back. Everyone knew he would not tolerate any nonsense. Therefore, even those who worked hard to depose him in 2019 were not totally opposed to Ranil Wickremesinghe assuming the presidency.

As expected, as President, he restored order and put everyone – including foreign diplomats, who were running interference with internal affairs, in their place. This time there was no bloodshed and within days the country was back in business. This earned him a second glance from those who despised him.

The hour has passed. what now?

President Wickremasinghe was indeed the man of the hour. However, even at that crucial moment, the question remained as to what he would do when the hour passes. He always felt that rather than the Sinhala Buddhist majority community, his meal ticket came from the minority parties. As such, he was always an ardent supporter of federalism and hence the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (13A).

Last July-August, it was desperately hoped that the era of the Yahapalana Government would have served him as a valuable lesson and he would never traverse that path again. In many ways, he did seem to have reformed. During his one year in Office, anyone who mocked or ridiculed Buddhism has found themselves in deep trouble with the law. This must be compared to the productions as ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’ by KK Srinath, which key characters of Yahapalana Government endorsed.

Exactly a year has passed since the last protester had been packed off home. According to Verité Research (Pvt) Ltd survey, 60 per cent believe that the ‘Aragalaya’ was a flop. Thus, any threat of anarchy has been nullified for the moment. Unfortunately, the other threat, the threat of federalism, which was feared by many when Ranil Wickremesinghe became President, has manifested.

Late 2022, President Wickremesinghe broached the possibility of implementing the 13A in full. There were some discussions with all the parties on this subject. Other than a promise for a definite solution by February 2023, nothing really came out of it. Last week, President again pledged to implement the 13A.

Strengthen the economy to bin 13A

This has again agitated the nationalists. Whether they will be able to quell it as they did last time remains to be seen.

It is noteworthy that the 13A is India’s pet project. This is the reason for the TNA to demand it even though their one time master, the LTTE rejected it and accused India of betraying the Tamil aspirations.

India has been our superhero during our economic crisis. Since then, we have entered into a number of agreements with India. As such, even if President Wickremesinghe might no longer believe in the 13A, he might not be in a position to reject it.

Therefore, there is an important task for all those who oppose the 13A. That is, we must get our act together and strengthen our economy. This must be a national and not a mere government effort. While depending on another economy, it is just not feasible for our government to act independently.

(The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of
Ceylon Today)

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

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