Playing with fire



Saturday 05th August 2023

The UNP is reported to have said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is scheduled to make a special statement in Parliament next week on the 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution. It has said a divergence of views among the Tamil political parties on devolution has stood in the way of the full implementation of 13A. Its statement has come two weeks after the conclusion of an all-party conference (APC) summoned by President Wickremesinghe to discuss the implementation of 13A. All participants save those who represented the UNP have said the APC was a flop.

It is not only the Tamil political parties that have failed to speak with one voice about 13A; the constituents of the ruling alliance are also at loggerheads, the prominent among them being the SLPP, which has questioned the President’s wisdom of trying to implement 13A fully, given the fact that seven Presidents before him refrained from doing so.

It looks as if the incumbent dispensation had a knack for testing the people’s patience. Having increased taxes exponentially, it is now jacking up tariffs in the name of economic recovery. The latest water tariff hike has sent the public reeling. It has come close on the heels of a fuel price increase, which will push the prices of other commodities up again.

It is against this backdrop that the President’s efforts to address the issue of devolution should be viewed. The government is all out to dispose of vital state enterprises, claiming that they are a drain on the state coffers, but at the same time it is allocating huge amounts of public funds for the maintenance of the Provincial Councils, which serve no useful purpose as such. Now, President Wickremesinghe has undertaken to implement 13A fully although neither he nor the SLPP, which props him up, has a popular mandate to do so.

What the government should do at this juncture is to concentrate on its efforts to resolve, or at least contain, the economic crisis and grant relief to the public instead of undertaking tasks which are fraught with the danger of triggering political upheavals like the ones we witnessed in the late 1980s. It should not lose sight of the fact that public resentment is welling up, and political forces with anarchical agendas are active again. It is playing with fire.

The Opposition has accused President Wickremesinghe of trying to woo the Tamil votes with an eye to the next presidential election by offering to implement 13A fully. But unless he gets his act together on the economic front, he might end up losing votes of all communities as he did at the 2020 general election, for devolution is no substitute for victuals and what the people including those in the North and the East are crying out for is economic relief. The majority community is accused of having a monopolistic hold on state power, but it is the same predicament as the minority communities. So, the question is whether the devolution of more powers to the Provincial Councils will benefit anyone.


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