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Forthcoming election provides a historic opportunity to resolve ethnic conflict

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Sri Lanka is witnessing a positive transformation of electoral politics in relation to its long standing ethnic conflict that commenced with the economic collapse of 2022.  The notion that the country required a “system change” was promoted by the student-led protest movement that publicly eschewed racism and upheld the rights of equal citizenship in their slogans.  In a manner inconceivable in the past, the three main candidates for the presidential election in October appear to be outbidding each other in support of the 13th Amendment to the constitution and devolution of power to the provinces. This is an aspect of the change that has taken place in contrast to the politics of the past when narrow ethnic nationalism was used to foment violence and harvest votes.

The National Peace Council appreciates the stance taken by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa that he will support the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.  The devolution of police and land powers has not taken place since the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1987 on the grounds that this would pose a threat to national unity and sovereignty. NPC holds that such fears have no basis 15 years after the end of the civil war and the non-implementation, indeed violation, of the constitution should cease.  A rational analysis of the powers devolved under the 13th Amendment such as that undertaken by independent scholars such as Prof Arulanantham Sarveswaran would make this clear.

We are also happy that the NPP candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake has affirmed that he would support the implementation of the 13th Amendment and the provincial council system in the event of being elected to the presidency. This is a remarkable change in position from the oppositional role of the JVP which was once a fierce opponent of the 13th Amendment.  We also appreciate the consistent position taken by President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the issue of devolution of power and his pledge, shortly after being elected president, that he was in favour of the implementation of the 13th Amendment including the devolution of police and land powers.

A bipartisan and multi-party consensus on resolving the ethnic conflict has long eluded Sri Lanka. Government leaders in the past who signed agreements with Tamil leaders were unable to deliver on their promises due to opposition from rival political parties that sought to exploit ethnic nationalist fears. Civil society can join the national effort to secure a consensus on arriving at a political settlement through its own initiatives such as the initiative of Diaspora members and Buddhist monks who have agreed on a joint set of principles in the “Himalaya Declaration” to resolve the conflict in an equitable and sustainable manner.  Such initiatives could evolve into the formulation of a new constitution with all party and civil society participation.

The National Peace Council believes that the present time is opportune for a pledge to be taken together by the prospective candidates at the presidential election to support the implementation of the 13th Amendment and take forward the larger reconciliation process whatever the outcome of the presidential election. The president and government will then be able to focus on how they would stabilize the current economic crisis, build a stronger safety net to protect the most vulnerable, unlock the country’s growth potential, and address governance and corruption issues.

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