The talks on power devolution between Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Tamil legislators yielded no positive outcome, according to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest grouping of MPs from the island’s north and east.
Following his renewed pledge on May Day to address Sri Lanka’s long-pending national question, President Wickremesinghe met almost all MPs from the Tamil-majority areas, including from the TNA, on Monday (May 15) as part of his latest round of discussions.
The Tamil National People’s Front, which has two MPs, stayed out of the talks that it said were “simply aimed at appeasing the international community”.
After his ascent to Presidency last year amid a debilitating crisis, Mr. Wickremesinghe vowed to resolve Sri Lanka’s national question before February 4, 2023, when the island nation marked 75 years of Independence. After having failed to meet his deadline, the 74-year-old leader has renewed his promise to solve the ethnic problem by the end of the year, even as the Tamil leadership remains sceptical of his outreach.
A meeting on issues pertaining to reconciliation was convened by the President last week, where TNA lawmakers pointed to growing attacks on Tamils’ religious sites and lands, while strongly opposing the government’s proposed legislation to combat terrorism.
Defunct Provincial Councils
Monday’s meeting was to focus on power devolution. Veteran Tamil politician and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, who turned 90 this year, yet again emphasised the need for a political solution based on the Tamils’ right to internal self-determination, while highlighting successive governments’ failure in addressing it.
Former Chief Minister of the Northern Province C. V. Wigneswaran, now a legislator representing Jaffna in Parliament proposed, among other things, an interim administrative arrangement at the provincial level, until elections are held. While the President suggested appointing a committee to study the proposal, the TNA squarely rejected the idea, its MPs said.
“From our point of view, we demand a new Constitution based on the right to internal self-determination. Much work has been done on this, there are reports and even a draft. We told him [President] it is pointless to engage in talks on administrative aspects without addressing the basic political question,” TNA spokesman and Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran told media after the talks. “If there is any effort to bring a new Constitution, we will participate. But no agreement was reached on our demand for a new Constitution, or for the early conduct of provincial council elections,” he added.
It is nearly five years since the terms of all nine provincial councils in Sri Lanka ended, and successive governments have postponed holding elections to them. India has repeatedly urged Sri Lankan authorities to hold the delayed polls to the provincial councils, and the UN Human Rights Council, too, in its resolution called upon the Sri Lankan government to “fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority”, including through the holding of elections for provincial councils.
“Many of us agree that the provincial councils don’t have adequate powers, but they have a historic context and have been part of our Constitution. Even then, the government is reluctant to hold elections to them. Clearly, the President has set his eyes on a national election,” TNA MP Sivagnanam Shritharan told The Hindu, adding: “This exercise [talks] is only to show the international community that he is a leader who is willing to engage with the Tamils. That is all.”
Referring to “so many committees” set up in the past, Mr. Shritharan contended that the current round of talks was “nothing but a time-wasting tactic” by the President. “We are always willing to discuss power devolution based on federal principles, but if they respond with just another committee, what is the point?” he asked.