US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO104

MEDIA PLAY: President Kumaratunga claims right to serve until 2006

Identifier: 04COLOMBO104
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO104 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-01-21 08:57:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP PREL 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.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000104 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR INR/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA 
SA/INS (CAMP, DEAN, WALLER); SA/PD (REINCKENS, LSCENSNY, 
HROGERS, STRYKER); SSA/PAS 
 
E.O.12958:N/A 
TAGS: KPAO, OPRC, KMDR, OIIP, PREL, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: President Kumaratunga claims right to 
serve until 2006 
 
1. Summary.  President Kumaratunga's 1/13 address to the 
nation on government-owned Independent Television News 
(ITN) in which she claimed the right to serve until 2006 
sparked a firestorm of contradictory headlines in the Sri 
Lankan media.  Government-owned (and Kumaratunga- 
controlled) English and vernacular newspapers predictably 
supported the President's actions, while contrary reaction 
from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's camp  was swift and 
came from multiple fronts.  English and vernacular 
editorialists criticized the President's disclosure of a 
secret second swearing-in ceremony, arguing that the 
 
SIPDIS 
President is "clinging to power" and as one independent 
English daily commented, "When constitutions are tailored 
to suit persons rather than nations... what follows can be 
horrendous..."  Vernacular editors reacted predictably: 
one Tamil editor noted that the President's actions, "show 
her determination to strengthen her position," while 
Sinhala editors focused on the Supreme Court's role in 
deciding the issue.  End Summary. 
 
----- 
Headlines 
----- 
 
2.  President Kumaratunga's 1/13 address to the nation on 
government-owned Independent Television News (ITN) in which 
she claimed the right to serve until 2006 sparked a 
firestorm of contradictory headlines in the Sri Lankan 
media.  The morning after (1/14) yielded predictably 
supportive reporting in government-owned (and Kumaratunga- 
controlled) English and vernacular newspapers.  Government- 
owned English DAILY NEWS reported, "President tells nation: 
My term ends in 2006," while its Sinhala sister, 
government-owned  DINAMINA wrote, "'It's me who will decide 
when to quit,' President clarifies why she was sworn in 
twice."   Pro-LTTE Tamil daily, SUDAR OLI's headline 
reported, "My term of office can be extended by another 
year - President," while  Independent Sinhala daily, 
LANKADEEPA elucidated (1/14), "My swearing-in in 2002 is 
valid till 2006; PA is also agreeable to what Prime 
Minister was ready to commit to LTTE." 
 
3.  Reaction from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's camp was 
swift and came from multiple fronts.  The independent press 
ran headlines giving pride of place to the Prime Minister's 
government.  Independent English DAILY MIRROR reported 
(1/15), "Govt. again insists CBK must go in 2005," while 
independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL wrote (1/15), "'No 
chance for compromise' - Government's stand on President's 
term of office."  Meanwhile, independent Sinhala daily, 
DIVAINA added (1/15), "President has violated the 
Constitution by swearing in thrice, says Minister Ravi 
Karunanayake," and independent Sinhala daily, LANKADEEPA 
added (1/16), "President's office ends in December 2005, we 
will not tolerate any nonsense, says Minister Ravi 
Karunanayake."  Independent Sinhala daily, LANKADEEPA's 
headline (1/15), "President's office ends in December, 
2005, says Minister G L Peiris,"  was echoed by pro-LTTE 
Tamil daily, SUDAR OLI's headline quoting Peiris (1/15), 
"'The President's statement that she would decide on her 
term of office is illegal' - Prof. G.L. Peiris." 
 
4.  The tit-for-tat in Sri Lanka's headlines continued for 
several days.   Government-owned Tamil daily, THINAKARAN 
took the President's part, "Supreme Court is the decision 
making body regarding the President's term of office - PA 
spokesman."  English DAILY NEWS, also government-owned, 
seconded its Tamil sister's headline (1/17), "Legal 
opinions support validity of President's second swearing- 
in," and complained, "'Editorial writers not competent to 
adjudicate' - PA spokesman."  Independent Tamil weekly 
VIRAKESARI carried the Prime Minister's perspective (1/18), 
"The government decides to complain to the international 
courts regarding President taking oaths," as did 
independent Sinhala daily, DIVAINA in its headline, "UNP 
about to seek help of international courts on President's 
swearing-in thrice." 
 
----- 
Editorials 
----- 
 
5.  English and vernacular editorialists criticized the 
President's disclosure of a secret second swearing-in 
ceremony and argued that the President is "clinging to 
power."  One independent English daily commented, "When 
constitutions are tailored to suit persons rather than 
nations... what follows can be horrendous..."  Vernacular 
editors reacted predictably: one Tamil editor noted that 
the President's actions, "show her determination to 
strengthen her position," while Sinhala editors focused on 
the Supreme Court's role in deciding the issue. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Clinging to power," independent 
English daily ISLAND commented (1/15), "But all those who 
hope for the restoration of law and order should realise 
that this issue involves the extension of the term of 
office of the head of state by one year by ignoring the 
distortion of the supreme law of the land." 
Editorial excerpts. 
...It is quite clear that the constitution - the supreme 
law of the land - cannot be kicked around as and when a 
president pleases. In fact, the president of the country is 
bound to protect and safeguard the law of the land, 
particularly the constitution. In the oath the president 
takes on being sworn in as president, she solemnly declares 
and affirms that she 'will uphold and defend the 
Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri 
Lanka...'  If President Kumaratunga wants the people to 
think that she was not transgressing the Constitution with 
her being sworn in twice, the question why absolute silence 
was maintained on the issue for two long years has to be 
explained by her. It was she who while campaigning for 
presidency in 1994 spoke with much eloquence on the need 
for transparency in governance... It will, no doubt, be 
argued that the constitution has been violated an umpteen 
number of times and this one instance is no reason to bring 
the roof down. But all those who hope for the restoration 
of law and order should realise that this issue involves 
the extension of the term of office of the head of state by 
one year by ignoring the distortion of the supreme law of 
the land. 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Morality not legality," 
Independent English weekly, SUNDAY ISLAND commented (1/18), 
"When constitutions are tailored to suit persons rather 
than nations... what follows can be horrendous..." 
Editorial excerpts. 
The situation certainly gets curiouser and curiouser as 
Alice said in Wonderland. The president, her office and 
various spokespersons have at last broken their deafening 
silence and come back with a long delayed response to the 
press reports that she was twice sworn-in as the President 
of the Republic in an apparent manoeuvre to extend her 
present term till the end of 2006.... As the accompanying 
article on this page by our legal correspondent clearly 
expounds, the president is dead right in her view that her 
term extends till the end of 2006. Professor G. L. Peiris 
thinks otherwise; but then he cannot be considered a 
disinterested person in these matters...  The issue that 
has surfaced over this controversy is not one of legality 
but one of morality. Given the expert interpretation, and 
the president must surely have obtained an ironclad opinion 
before her office declared that "the only body with 
authority to deem the act (second swearing) 
unconstitutional is the supreme court," as well as other 
legal opinion appear united in the view that CBK can remain 
at the wicket till the end of 2006 whatever the UNP and 
those whom she says "are running amok in their haste to 
become president'' think or want. When constitutions are 
tailored to suit persons rather than nations, and this is a 
major fault certainly in the third amendment to the 1977 
constitution, what follows can be horrendous... 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Why not seek legal help if 
second swearing-in is wrong?" government-owned Sinhala 
daily, DINAMINA commented (1/19), "The President does not 
want to stick to the Presidency forever... But if anyone 
feels that she is trying to do that, it's best to seek 
legal help." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
It's quite clear that the President's second swearing-in is 
not against the Constitution.  The sad part about this fact 
is that the same party that seconded the Constitutional 
amendment is now working against it.  The goal of the 
conflict is obvious.  Those who want power want to create 
havoc among the public.  The President does not want to 
stick to the Presidency forever.  She has said so.  But if 
anyone feels that she is trying to do that, it's best to 
seek legal help.  It's much better than going ahead with 
hundreds of arguments. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "President's term of office," 
independent Sinhala weekly SUNDAY LAKBIMA commented (1/18), 
"This is a very dangerous situation since her not being 
accepted by a large section of elected legislators could 
create internal clashes. As such, rather than arguing about 
the legality and ethics of this issue, the matter could be 
resolved by taking it to the Supreme Court." 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
A major topic of discussion today is the term of office of 
President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the news about her 
having been sworn in twice.  Long after the media reported 
about this, the President explained at an interview with 
the ITN channel that she had taken oaths in 1999 to show to 
the people that she was in good health and was sworn in 
again according to law in 2000.  But the UNP has said that 
it was not prepared to accept her as the President of the 
country after 2005.  This is a very dangerous situation 
since her not being accepted by a large section of elected 
legislators could create internal clashes. As such, rather 
than arguing about the legality and ethics of this issue, 
the matter could be resolved by taking it to the Supreme 
Court. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "The new political alliances," 
independent Tamil daily THINAKKURAL commented about 
President's Kumaratunga's secret oath-taking and the SLFP - 
JVP alliance (1/20), "All these actions show her 
determination to strengthen her position." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
The political parties are doing everything possible to 
build up their parties forgetting the future of the people 
and the country.  From the day the President took over the 
three ministries, she has been rejecting the UNF government 
elected by the people..  In the meantime, she took oaths in 
a secret manner to extend her term of office by a further 
year.. Amidst the political crisis she now enters into an 
alliance with the JVP..  Looking at the present crisis, the 
only solution left is the general election and the alliance 
with the JVP is  clear proof..  Under the present 
circumstances, the UNF is not going to survive..  Whichever 
party that comes into power will be subjected to 
presidential executive powers..  Soon the President may 
appoint an interim cabinet and dissolve the parliament to 
face a new general election.  Will the people accept all 
these moves, as they seem to be un-democratic.  The 
President plans to meet the Chief Prelates to gather 
support..  All these actions show her determination to 
strengthen her position. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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