13th Amendment to Constitution not the solution – ACMC

The securing of seats by the Muslims at the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council Elections will be affected if the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) goes it alone, said Y.L.S Hameed Secretary General, All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

Question: The SLMC has a strong vote base in the North. Would the SLMC be a challenge to your party at the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council Election?

Answer: The vote base the SLMC had during the time of its late leader M.H.M Ashraff has now diminished as was witnessed in the recent successive elections. However, the SLMC going it alone will have a negative impact on the prospects of returning the entitled number of seats by the Muslims as experienced at the last Local Government Elections in the North where the SLMC could not secure even a single council nor return any significant number of seats as opposed to the ACMC, but succeeded in successfully ensuring that the Mannar and Vavuniya urban councils went to the TNA thus achieving its undeclared objective.

This time around too we do not consider the SLMC a challenge to the ACMC in terms of votes. However, given the peculiarities of the Proportional Representation System even the few hundred votes the SLMC might poll in the North may have an adverse impact on the possibility of ensuring the entitled Muslim representation in the council.

Q: You made a statement at a press briefing that you would be opposed to the holding of the Northern Provincial Council Elections until the displaced Muslims are resettled. On what basis has the ACMC now decided to contest the Election?

A: I didn’t say so. What I said was the ACMC would oppose the Northern poll until the rights of all displaced Muslims to vote at the said Election is ensured. Now that the Registration of Electors (special provisions) Act has been passed to accommodate the IDPs in the electoral list we have no objection. However, we would still prefer the delaying of the election until the resettlement is complete since there may be resistance to the speedy and smooth resettlement of the Muslims if the NPC were to be controlled by the TNA whose Members of Parliament are currently placing numerous obstacles to the resettlement of the battered Muslims, even without any administrative power in the North.

Q: What is your stance in relation to the proposed amendment to the 13th Amendment?

A: The proposed amendment that is speculated and much discussed about in the media is supposed to contain a clause for the removal of Article 154 A3 which empowers Parliament to provide for two or more adjoining provinces to form one administrative unit with one Chief Minister and a single Board of Ministers, and another clause to modify Article 154 G3 which requires the consent of all Provincial Councils to enable Parliament to legislate in respect of subjects in the Provincial Council List. These are besides the likely removal of Land and Police powers. As far as the ACMC is concerned as regards the first clause it is not only necessary but also urgent to remove Article 154 A3 relating to the merger in view of the fact that the merger of the North and the East remains to be within the capacity of a simple majority in Parliament and that the international pressure keeps intensifying inter alia for the merger.

The Land and Police powers are not only detrimental to the interest of the Muslims but will also put into jeopardy the security of the Muslims outside the East.

However, with regard to the second clause in the proposed amendment relating to Article 154 G3 requiring the consent of Provincial Councils we believe the select committee could come up with a formula acceptable to all.

What is paradoxical in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic question is that all protagonists to the Provincial Council System are conditioned to think in terms of devolution and devolution alone and nothing beyond that. No one thinks of a formula that would ensure mandatory stakeholdership to all communities in the governing process at the centre as a viable alternative.

Q: The ACMC is represented in the Parliamentary Select Committee, but the SLMC has been left out. What is your comment on this issue?

A: Of course, the SLMC has to be in the Committee. We don’t know why the SLMC is left out from the UPFA. I believe it is due to the fact that the SLMC was not a constituent party of the UPFA and it did not contest under the UPFA symbol at the last General Election but contested on the UNP ticket. However, the SLMC reserves the right to be represented in the committee either through the opposition or on its own.

Q: Is the ACMC collaborating with the Government?

A: We are in the Government but not collaborating. In the select Committee we will make representation which we consider is in the best interest of the people that we represent.

Q: The SLMC strongly defends the 13th Amendment and supports the demand for greater power to Provincial Councils. What have you got to say about this?

A: This is a very important question. The SLMC’s stand on the 13th Amendment is contrary to the stance taken by its late leader and founder M.H.M. Ashraff. Ashraff had outrightly rejected the Indo-Lanka accord and the 13th Amendment on the ground that the Muslim community which was an integral part of the North East population had not been consulted prior to the Indo-Lanka Accord and the enactment of the 13th Amendment. Therefore, Muslim interest was not taken into account in the formulation of the Provincial Council System. However, the late leader participated in subsequent deliberation in the form of round table conferences to safeguard the interests of the Muslims in the already established Provincial Council System.

Q: There is a need for all communities to come together to forge ahead in the development march spearheaded by the government. Do you think the recent events that appear to create communal dissensions auger well for reconciliation?

A: The whole country would bear testimony to the support extended by the Muslim community to eradicate terrorism in the process of which the Muslims paid dearly in terms of lives and property as was witnessed in several parts of the East such as the Kattankudy mosque and the forcible eviction of the Northern Muslims.

With peace having dawned in the country following the successful conclusion of the war against terrorism it is unfortunate that certain communal elements have chosen to take on the Muslims aimed at driving a wedge between the Sinhala and Muslim communities who have hitherto enjoyed a cordial relationship and continue to do so.

However, we should be thankful to the majority community which was not carried away by the hate campaign.

It is incumbent on all political parties, civil society groups and every peace loving citizen to isolate these communal elements and take the country on a forward march.

Q: The 13th Amendment should be abolished. What is your view in this regard?

A: We say the 13th Amendment is not the solution to the ethnic problem in the country. There has to be a viable alternative acceptable to all communities. However, abolishing the 13th amendment abruptly without a replacement will not be in the best interests of the country.