US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO73

In further roiling of cohabitation waters, President Kumaratunga claims right to serve until 2006

Identifier: 04COLOMBO73
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO73 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-01-14 04:11:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINS PINR PHUM KPAO CE Elections Political Parties
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000073 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA; NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
PLEASE ALSO PASS TOPEC 
 
E.O. 12958:       DECL: 01-14-14 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PINR, PHUM, KPAO, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  In further roiling of cohabitation waters, 
President Kumaratunga claims right to serve until 2006 
 
Refs:    (A) FBIS Reston Va DTG 140411Z Jan 04 
-        (B) SA/INS-Colombo 01/13/04 class e-mail 
-        (C) Colombo 69, and previous 
 
(U) Classified by James F. Entwistle, Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Late January 13, Sri Lanka's state-run 
ITN television network broadcast a taped interview with 
President Kumaratunga.  In the interview, Kumaratunga 
claimed the constitutional right to serve until late 
2006.  The President also defended her takeover of three 
ministries in November 2003, but indicated that she 
remained open to discussing the matter with the PM. 
Contacts said her assertion of the right to serve until 
2006 would prove controversial, as it long had been 
thought she could only serve until late 2005.  Clearly, 
Kumaratunga's claim regarding her term has opened up 
another front in the cohabitation wars.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (C) PRESIDENT SAYS SHE CAN SERVE UNTIL 2006:  Late 
January 13, the state-run ITN television network 
broadcast an interview with President Chandrika 
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.  The lengthy interview, which 
was taped, was conducted entirely in Sinhala.  The most 
noteworthy item emerging from the interview was the 
President's claim that she had the constitutional right 
to serve until late 2006 (versus late 2005 as widely 
thought).  In defending this view (also see Ref C), 
Kumaratunga asserted that her right to serve until 2006 
stemmed from the fact that she had been sworn in a 
second time for her second term as President in 2000. 
(Her first swearing in took place in public in 1999. 
This second ceremony in 2000 was not made public at the 
time and was only recently disclosed -- see Ref C.) 
Kumaratunga stated that she was initially sworn in for 
her second term in 1999 only in order to "calm down the 
people" and reassure them that she was fit enough to 
serve as President following an attempt on her life by 
the Tigers. 
 
3.  (C) (Note:  As touched on in Ref C messages, this 
issue is quite complex:  In 1999, Kumaratunga called for 
early presidential elections, which the Sri Lankan 
Constitution allows.  Her call for elections came one 
year before the end of her first presidential term in 
2000.  In December 1999, after winning the election for 
another six-year term, Kumaratunga was publicly sworn in 
for her second term.  Taking this public swearing-in as 
the starting point of her second term, observers widely 
assumed that Kumaratunga's term would run from 1999 to 
2005.  Kumaratunga's confirmation of a second swearing 
in ceremony in late 2000 has now complicated the 
situation.  End Note.) 
 
4.  (C) OTHER ISSUES DISCUSSED IN INTERVIEW:  During the 
wide-ranging interview, the President also discussed the 
ongoing cohabitation impasse and its impact on the peace 
process.  Her key points on these and other issues 
included the following: 
 
-- Cohabitation Impasse:  The President defended her 
November 2003 takeover of three key ministries (Defense, 
Interior, Mass Communications).  She indicated that she 
remained willing to discuss how to resolve the issue of 
who should control these ministries.  In this regard, 
she said discussions involving a joint committee formed 
by the President and the PM "had not broken down" and 
would "resume talks this week." 
 
-- Peace Process:  Kumaratunga rejected Prime Minister 
Wickremesinghe's public assertions (see Ref C) that she 
should take responsibility for the ceasefire accord with 
the Tamil Tigers as long as she continued to control the 
Defense Ministry.  In unbridled language, the President 
was cited as saying that this argument was "idiotic." 
Without further explanation, she added that she was 
ready to give the PM the powers he needed in order to 
move the peace process forward. 
 
-- Possible Parliamentary Elections:  The President 
indicated that she had no immediate plans to dissolve 
Parliament and call national parliamentary elections. 
Given the ongoing cohabitation impasse, however, she 
allowed that parliamentary elections were possible.  At 
this point, she said her party, the People's Alliance 
(PA), was getting ready for Provincial Council elections 
slated to take place in April. 
 
-- Possible alliance with radical party:  Kumaratunga 
said an alliance between her PA party and the radical 
Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party would be 
announced  "soon," but she did not mention an exact 
date. 
 
5.  (C) REACTION TO INTERVIEW:  Reaction among Mission 
contacts focused mainly on the President's assertion 
that she had the right to serve until 2006.  While there 
was no immediate reaction by the Prime Minister or his 
closest advisers to the President's claim regarding the 
length of her term, their reaction is expected to be 
negative.  (Late January 14, in his weekly media 
briefing, key Minister G.L. Peiris harshly rejected 
Kumaratunga's assertion of a right to serve until 2006.) 
In a hint of this, Upul Jayasuriya, a legal advisor to 
the PM's United National Party (UNP), told us that he 
totally rejected the President's claim and he promised 
that the UNP would fight her on this matter if she 
pressed further.  In his opinion, the second swearing-in 
could not be taken as legally valid, as there was no 
precedent for two such ceremonies for one term. 
 
6.  (C) In remarks from a more neutral observer, Jehan 
Perera, media director for the National Peace Council, a 
local think-tank, told poloff on January 13 that he felt 
the President's desire to serve until 2006 would spark a 
serious political row.  Admitting that the matter was 
confusing, Perera said she may have "the legal right" to 
serve until 2006, but not "the moral right."  Kethesh 
Loganathan, an analyst at the Center for Policy 
Alternatives, another local think-tank, said the 
question of the President's tenure in office would 
create a big controversy, which would serve to further 
complicate cohabitation tensions.  Loganathan added that 
the second swearing-in might damage Kumaratunga's image, 
as people might regard it as an "underhanded move" on 
the President's part. 
 
7.  (C) Another close contact, Suresh Premachandran, a 
member of the pro-Tiger Tamil National Alliance, told 
Mission that the President's serving another year in 
office "would create problems" for the peace process. 
Explaining his point, he said the President was seen by 
Tamils "as uncooperative" in dealing with important 
issues in the north and east, such as the resettlement 
of internally displaced persons (IDPs).  Premachandran 
added that he felt the cohabitation struggle between the 
President and PM would continue, and that another year 
in office for the President would only serve to 
exacerbate tensions between the two. 
 
8.  (C) COMMENT:  It is not precisely clear whether the 
Sri Lankan Constitution allows Kumaratunga to serve 
until 2006, as she asserts.  It is confusing, but some 
articles in the Constitution seem to argue in favor of 
her claim and some do not (most experts tentatively 
believe that the law may be on her side).  Also in her 
favor is the fact that the Chief Justice is a close ally 
and she might well win if this matter goes to the 
Supreme Court.  The Chief Justice does not totally 
control each and every decision of the 11-member court, 
however, as smaller "benches" with a different mix of 
justices often rule on cases, so it is not clear what 
would happen if there is a legal challenge.  With 
respect to politics, suffice it to say that 
Kumaratunga's claim has opened up another front in the 
cohabitation wars.  END COMMENT. 
 
9.  (U) Minimize considered. 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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