TNA members in conversation with a EU delegation last September
Members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are scheduled to fly to the United States of America (USA) this week to engage in talks with the State Department regarding the proposed new constitution.
It is expected that the TNA delegation would advocate for more expansive provisions for autonomy than the present constitution allows.
Provincial elections have not taken place since 2017 supposedly because of the changes being considered in the electoral system.
The 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution, underwritten by neighbouring India, was supposed to provide autonomy for the Tamil provinces. However, Colombo has repeatedly eroded the provisions for self-rule through a variety of means, most recently through the passing of the 20th Amendment which strengthens the hand of the executive branch of the government.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, an accused war-criminal, recently announced that his administration is planning to introduce a new constitution by next year.
As the island reels from an acute economic crisis, talk of a new constitution drew widespread opprobrium. One writer wrote, “The fixation to fiddle with the constitution amidst a raging economic crisis can only be explained in the egoistic fantasies that have already done so much damage to the country. That seems to be the new normal of Sri Lanka as of now.”
In a debate in parliament last year, Tamil politicians from the Tamil National People's Front (TNPF) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) called for the upholding of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, in the wake of renewed discussion between India and Sri Lanka around the 13th Amendment and devolution of power to Tamil regions of the island.
“The primary purpose of the Indo-Lanka Accord was to address the Tamil national question,” said TNPF leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. “India, as a country that intervened on behalf of the Tamil people, has a burden to make sure that the accord it signed in the name of the Tamil people is fully upheld.” The accord led to Sri Lanka to bring about the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which pledged to devolve power to a merged North-East. “We are a party that rejects the 13th Amendment and we reject it on the basis that it doesn’t even form a starting point to finding a solution to the Tamil national question,” he added. “The president and prime minister might be thinking that just because the Tamil people reject they 13th amendment that they have an opportunity to throw away the accord. That will never happen. That will never happen because the accord is something totally different and the 13th amendment is totally different.”
“I wish to reiterate the point made by the honourable GG Ponnambalam about the Indo-Lanka Accord,” said Sumanthiran in his address. “It has to be honoured. There is no question that one or the other can get away from their obligations under that accord.”
“The undermining of devolution continues,” continued the parliamentarian.
“The 13th Amendment may have been a starting point… but Mahinda Rajapaksa during his tenure when he was in office himself has admitted that this is not a meaningful process of devolution. That is why both joint statements said going beyond and making devolution meaningful.”