|Wikileaks:||View 04COLOMBO198 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||PGOV PREL PINR CE Political Parties Elections|
|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 000198 SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR D, SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA; NSC FOR E. MILLARD PLEASE ALSO PASS TOPEC E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/05/14 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, CE, Political Parties, Elections SUBJECT: Tentative indications that cohabitation deal is in the works, but no final agreement yet Refs: Colombo 185, and previous (U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 1. (C) SUMMARY: Bradman Weerakoon, the PM's Secretary, told Ambassador Lunstead February 4 that a cohabitation deal was in the works. The deal, which would provide for sharing Defense Ministry powers, is under review by the President and the PM. In another potentially positive signal, the President's speech at Sri Lanka's National Day ceremony on February 4 stressed the need for cohabitation cooperation. On the flip side, members of her party continue to make a strong push for national elections. Overall, with no deal yet sealed, the cohabitation situation remains highly charged and volatile. END SUMMARY. ================== Deal in the Works? ================== 2. (C) In a conversation at President Kumaratunga's National Day reception on February 4, Bradman Weerakoon, PM Wickremesinghe's Secretary, told the Ambassador that a cohabitation deal was in the works. Weerakoon did not go into the details of the possible deal, but indicated that it provided for the sharing of Defense Ministry powers between the President and the Prime Minister. (Note: The President now controls the Defense Ministry, which she took over from the PM's government in November 2003. The PM has demanded Defense Ministry powers back, so he can move the peace track with the Tamil Tigers forward.) 3. (C) In a February 4 conversation with Pol FSN, Malik Samarawickrama, the chairman of the PM's United National Party (UNP), also said that a cohabitation deal may be at hand. Samarawickrama explained that the February 3 meeting of the President-PM joint committee formed to discuss cohabitation issues had gone well (Samarawickrama and Weerakoon represent the PM on the committee). The President and the PM were now examining the committee's proposals. It might take several days for their review to be completed, especially in light of the PM's February 9-11 visit to Thailand, so there may not be any imminent announcement of a breakthrough. If they are not/not on board with the committee's proposals, Samrawickrama allowed, it would be back to square one. The joint committee is scheduled to meet again early next week, he said. 4. (C) On the President's side, Mission has not been able to get in touch with her team of negotiators in the joint committee (Mano Tittawella and W.J.S. Karunanatne). The President's website did announce, however, that the joint committee's February 3 meeting had reviewed its "earlier work and formulated fresh proposals for consideration by the President and the Prime Minister." Janadasa Peiris, chief of the President's Media Unit, told Pol FSN on February 5 that "the UNP is now taking a different approach and is looking for possible ways to compromise" with the President. (Note: The positive tone of Peiris' comments were a far cry from a long, detailed statement issued by the President's Office on February 3 that accused the PM and the UNP of working to prevent a cohabitation agreement.) ======================================= President's Upbeat National Day Address ======================================= 5. (SBU) In other potentially positive signals, President Kumaratunga's speech at Sri Lanka's National Day ceremony on February 4 stressed the need for cohabitation cooperation and was less combative in tone than usual. The President stated, in part: "I wish to stress here that the responsibility for ensuring the end of negative political culture lies with the leadership of the two main political parties...I believe that all political forces should be united to find solutions to the serious problems our nation faces. Although the task of forming an alliance between the People's Alliance and the United National Front for this purpose has failed so far, it has been possible for the People's Alliance to rally around it several other political forces with this view. This is the first step we have been able to take towards forming a grander national alliance." 6. (C) The President went on to note that she had not yet been able "to secure the agreement of the government" to her proposal for political cooperation, but that she would keep trying. In her speech, Kumaratunga also underscored her support for the peace process. She stated: "The nation appreciates the ceasefire agreement that has continued for two years. Yet let us not forget that the absence of war is not peace...The process of dialogue must be inclusive and we must work toward a pluralist and democratic solution within a united Sri Lanka." (Note: The President made her address on a dais she shared with PM Wickremesinghe. The two appeared to get along amicably, which -- if that was the case -- is good news given their abysmal personal chemistry. The PM also attended the President's National Day reception late February 4 at her residence, which may perhaps be a sign of an easing of tensions.) ====================== Pressure for Elections ====================== 7. (C) Despite the relatively positive indicators, Sri Lanka is not out of the woods quite yet. Members of the President's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) continue to make a strong push for parliamentary elections, for example. Contacts have confirmed press reports that the SLFP Executive Committee met late February 2 to discuss next steps. In that meeting, senior SLFP MPs reportedly pressed President Kumaratunga -- who chairs the regular meeting -- to dissolve Parliament right away and announce elections that would take place simultaneously with the Provincial Council elections slated for April 2004. Kumaratunga apparently listened carefully, but was noncommittal in her response. In the meantime, the SLFP's electoral ally, the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), is also pressing hard for elections. The National Unity Alliance (NUA), a small Muslim party which recently joined the SLFP/JVP alliance, has also called for early elections. There are unconfirmed reports that the President is reluctant to call elections because she feels that the SLFP has not yet collected enough funds for a campaign (Sri Lankan elections are very expensive). ======= COMMENT ======= 8. (C) Overall, since the cohabitation impasse began in November 2003, there have been hints of a deal on several occasions, but they have not panned out. Thus, the cohabitation situation, at this point, still remains highly charged and volatile (indeed, cohabitation will almost certainly remain stressful even if a deal is reached). There appears to be a reluctance on the part of the President to go for parliamentary elections. That is good news, as elections would probably not resolve much. That said, as noted above, she is under a lot of pressure to call elections. The situation could go either way, but it appears that the tea leaves are leaning toward accommodation between the parties for the moment. END COMMENT. 9. (U) Minimize considered. LUNSTEAD
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