Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declared last week that his government would implement the 13th amendment to the country’s constitution. After nearly three decades, the amendment, which provided for the limited devolution of powers to the Tamil elite on a provincial level in the island’s north and east, has never been carried out fully.
Wickremesinghe made the statement on January 19 while explaining the government’s agenda to the first parliamentary sitting following Maithripala Sirisena’s election as president on January 8. Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe, leader of pro-US United National Party (UNP), as prime minister based on a new ruling coalition, the National Democratic Front, which includes a number of right-wing parties.
Wickremesinghe’s promise to implement the 13th amendment is in the first instance a pitch for the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil bourgeois party. More fundamentally, however, it underscores the shift in foreign policy toward the US and India that was ushered in by Sirisena’s election. India, supported by the US, has repeatedly demanded the amendment’s implementation as part of a “political solution” to the protracted Sri Lankan civil war that ended with the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
The presidential election had the character of a regime-change operation backed by both the US and India against former President Mahinda Rajapakse. Sirisena, a key cabinet minister and general secretary of Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), defected to the opposition as soon as the election was announced in a move orchestrated by Wickremesinghe and ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Washington was hostile to Rajapakse’s ties with Beijing in conditions where it is seeking to strategically encircle China as part of the US “pivot to Asia.”