US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO198

Tentative indications that cohabitation deal is in the works, but no final agreement yet

Identifier: 04COLOMBO198
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO198 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-02-05 11:06:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
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 
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 
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). 
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. 

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