US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO147

President-PM joint committee meets after month's hiatus; Some progress, but no breakthrough yet

Identifier: 04COLOMBO147
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO147 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-01-26 11:41:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINS PINR 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 02 COLOMBO 000147 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS; NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
PLEASE ALSO PASS TOPEC 
 
E.O. 12958:       DECL: 01-26-14 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PINR, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  President-PM joint committee meets after 
month's hiatus; Some progress, but no breakthrough yet 
 
Refs:  Colombo 127, and previous 
 
(U) Classified by James F. Entwistle, Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  After a month's hiatus, the joint 
committee formed by the President and the Prime Minister 
recommenced meetings on January 23.  Contacts report 
that the meeting did not result in a breakthrough on 
control of the Defense Ministry, the key issue dividing 
the two sides.  Contacts agreed, however, that progress 
had been made on other matters, including setting a date 
for Provincial Council elections and possible changes in 
the electoral system.  In related news, the President 
gave a TV interview on January 23 in which she 
downplayed cohabitation tensions.  The fact that the 
joint committee is meeting again is a potentially 
positive sign that there may be a way out of the 
cohabitation impasse yet.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (SBU) JOINT COMMITTEE MEETS AGAIN:  On January 23, 
the joint committee formed in November 2003 by President 
Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to examine 
ways to resolve cohabitation tensions met.  The 
January 23 meeting was the first meeting of the 
committee since mid-December, when it put on hold its 
regular schedule of meetings due to the holiday season. 
At the January 23 meeting, the President was represented 
by Mano Tittawella, a senior advisor, and W.J.S. 
Karunaratne, the President's Secretary.  The PM was 
represented by Malik Samarawickrama, who is chairman of 
the United National Party (UNP), and Bradman Weerakoon, 
the PM's Secretary.  The committee is slated to meet 
again late January 26. 
 
3.  (C) NO BREAKTHROUGHS:  Contacts report that the 
committee's January 23 discussions did not result in a 
breakthrough on control of the Defense Ministry, the 
core issue dividing the two sides.  Malik Samarawickrama 
told us that he had briefly raised the topic in the 
meeting, arguing that the President should return 
control of the ministry to the PM so that he could move 
forward with the peace process.  Tittawella did not 
budge from the President's stance that she would hold on 
the Defense portfolio, although she was willing to 
discuss ways to involve the PM in defense decision- 
making regarding the peace process.  (Note:  Minister 
Milinda Moragoda had told the Ambassador January 21 that 
the PM had directed Samarawickrama to go easy on the 
defense matter and let the meeting focus on other 
issues.)  Confirming the basic thread of 
Samarawickrama's remarks, Harim Peiris, a presidential 
assistant on press matters and the head of the TV 
channel, Rupavahini, told polchief that Defense issues 
had been discussed, but there had been no agreement on 
how to proceed on the matter. 
 
4.  (C) SOME PROGRESS ON OTHER ISSUES:  Although there 
was no progress on defense issues, both Samarawickrama 
and Peiris agreed that some progress had been made in 
the following areas: 
 
-- Date for Provincial Council (PC) elections:  The two 
sides made progress in agreeing to a date to hold the PC 
elections that are due to take place in the first half 
of 2004.  April 28th was discussed as a likely date, but 
was not finally agreed to.  Discussions will continue on 
this subject. 
 
-- Possible Electoral Reforms:  The two sides discussed 
possible parliamentary electoral reforms that would move 
Sri Lanka away from a mainly proportional representation 
("PR") system toward a mixed "PR" and "first-pass-the- 
post" system.  Agreement was not reached in this area, 
but the two sides agreed to continue consultations on 
the issue.  (Note:  The idea of moving away somewhat 
from the "PR" system has been bruited about for years in 
Sri Lanka.  The "PR" system was implemented in 1978, and 
many Sri Lankans believe that it helped create a 
fragmented political system that strengthens fringe 
parties in Parliament.  At the same time, Sri Lankans 
are reluctant to go back to the pre-1978 "first-past- 
the-post" system, which led to huge majorities in 
Parliament for the winner of the popular vote.  The idea 
now is to mix the two systems, perhaps per the German 
model.) 
 
-- Bribery and Corruption Commission:  The two sides 
also discussed naming a new head for this commission, 
which has been leaderless for some months now. 
 
5.  (U) PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS TENSIONS:  In other 
cohabitation-related developments, President Kumaratunga 
downplayed the sense of "crisis" in Sri Lanka over the 
ongoing cohabitation impasse in an interview televised 
late January 23 on state-run television.  Responding to 
a question by her spokesman, Harim Peiris (who is also 
chairman of the state-run Rupavahini television network, 
which the interview aired on), Kumaratunga said there 
was no crisis in the country, stating:  "What crisis, 
where?  What is this crisis?"  In addition, when queried 
about the recent alliance between the Sri Lanka Freedom 
Party (SLFP) and radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna 
(JVP), Kumaratunga dismissed allegations that it was 
anti-peace process in intent.  She stated: "We do not in 
any way encourage an armed conflict or war, and the JVP 
has also accepted the SLFP's and People's Alliance's 
consistent and never changing stand for the last twelve 
years which is that we are against war and we are for a 
negotiated settlement."  Turning to the ceasefire 
agreement, Kumaratunga noted that since she took over 
the Ministry of Defense in November, there had been no 
change to the agreement and the ceasefire remained 
intact. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
6.  (C) The fact that the joint committee is meeting 
again is a potentially positive sign that there may be a 
way out of the cohabitation impasse yet.  (Note:  The 
committee's meetings have been delayed for some time. 
Some attribute this to political disagreement between 
the President and PM on whether their team should meet 
at all.  There were also reports that Mano Tittawella 
was unwell and needed time to recover from a fever.) 
Cohabitation has endured many body blows in past weeks, 
including the President's recent public announcement 
that she believes that she is entitled to another year 
in office and the controversial SLFP-JVP alliance, which 
is anti-UNP in intent.  Given that the two sides are 
back meeting again, however, it appears there is a solid 
chance that they can overcome their disagreements and 
work together in the national interest.  That said, it 
will take a lot of effort and the willingness of both 
sides to make things happen.  END COMMENT. 
 
7.  (U) Minimize considered. 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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