US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO216

MEDIA PLAY: President Kumaratunga dissolves Parliament

Identifier: 04COLOMBO216
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO216 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-02-09 10:40:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP PREL 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.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000216 
 
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, Political Parties, Elections 
SUBJECT:  MEDIA PLAY: President Kumaratunga dissolves 
Parliament 
 
1.  (U) Summary.  On February 7, President Kumaratunga 
dissolved Sri Lanka's Parliament.  Newspaper reporting was 
partisan, particularly in government-owned (and 
Kumaratunga-controlled) media outlets.  The independent 
press carried Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his UNP 
party's story, as well as more nuanced reporting about the 
President's decision.  Newspaper headlines reported concern 
for free and fair elections from both the President's and 
the Prime Minister's perspectives; not surprisingly the 
media has begun covering newly campaigning parties.  Media 
reports showed Tamil and Muslim political parties already 
in the fray.  Concern about the economy and donor money for 
development also dominated media headlines, particularly in 
the Tamil press.  Editorial comment was heavy in both 
government-owned and independent newspapers, although each 
camp offered wildly divergent opinions.  Government-owned 
newspapers in all languages reflected the President's 
agenda, reiterating that her decision to dissolve 
Parliament was the right decision, because, as one editor 
wrote (2/9), "If she waited any longer the nation would 
have totally collapsed."   Independent commentary in all 
languages was critical of the President's actions and 
focused on elections. One independent Sinhala editor 
commanded, (2/9) "Now all should pay attention to a free 
and fair election,"  while a Tamil commentator cautioned, 
"The fresh elections should not be a barrier for peace..." 
End summary. 
 
2.  (U) On February 7, President Kumaratunga dissolved Sri 
Lanka's Parliament.  In the days after, most newspaper 
headlines echoed independent Sinhala daily DIVAINA's lead 
(2/9), "Parliament dissolved, elections on April 2; 
Nominations from February 17-24; new parliament to meet on 
April 22."   Newspaper reporting in (Kumaratunga- 
controlled) government-owned and independent media quickly 
became partisan.  Government-owned English DAILY NEWS 
headlined (2/9), "Country saved from anarchy," while its 
vernacular sibling government-owned Sinhala daily DINAMINA 
crowed (2/9), "People celebrate government dissolution," 
and government-owned Tamil daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9), 
"Country welcomes the dissolution of the parliament." 
Reporting about the President's decision from non- 
government media sources was more nuanced.  Independent 
English website LANKA ACADEMIC headlined (2/8), "President 
was 'forced' to dissolve parliament by her party 
stalwarts."  Pro-LTTE website TAMILNET noted (2/7), 
"President intervened to save nation from Premier's anti 
national sabotage - Opposition Leader."  Independent Tamil 
daily THINAKKURAL lead with (2/9), "The President expects 
the stalled political situation to change with the 
elections." 
 
3.  (U) The independent press carried Prime Minister 
Wickremesinghe and his UNP party's story.  Independent 
English weekly SUNDAY TIMES headlined (2/8), "Panic 
decision: PM," while it's daily sister Independent English 
DAILY MIRROR continued (2/9), "Dissolution dictatorial: 
UNP."  Independent Maharajah Television (MTV) reported in 
all languages (2/8), "The UNP says an unnecessary election 
will have a negative impact on peace development." 
Independent Tamil newspaper coverage was especially 
supportive of the UNP message.  Independent Tamil daily 
THINAKKURAL reported (2/9), "Dissolution of the parliament 
is a signal of war from the south - UNP,' while independent 
Tamil daily VIRAKESARI's main headline (2/9) read, "We will 
win the elections and form a stronger government and teach 
a good lesson to the President - UNF." 
 
4.  (U) In the meantime, independent English daily ISLAND 
reported on the composition of the government before the 
elections (2/9), "Caretaker govt. cabinet of 15 ministers," 
while independent English DAILY MIRROR asked (2/9), "More 
Cabinet heads to roll?"  The President appointed two of her 
closest advisors to the caretaker cabinet.  Government- 
owned English DAILY NEWS' photo lead was captioned (2/9), 
"Two new ministers," (Media Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar; 
Post and Telecommunications Minister D. M. Jayaratne).  The 
President's newly appointed ministers quickly found their 
voices.  Independent English website LANKA ACADEMIC 
reported the new Media Minister's comments (2/9), "My goal 
is a well balanced media- Kadirgamar," while independent 
Sinhala daily LAKBIMA did the same for the new Post and 
Telecommunications Minister (2/9), "Government failed to 
address people's issues - D. M. Jayaratne." 
 
5.  (U) Newspaper headlines reported concern for free and 
fair elections from both the President's and the Prime 
Minister's perspectives. Independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI 
noted (2/9), "The President will give orders to conduct a 
free and fair election - New Minister Kadirgamar," while 
independent English daily ISLAND reported Power and Energy 
Minister Karu Jayasuriya's comments (2/9), "Karu stresses 
need for violence free polls, calls for foreign monitors." 
Newspapers gave space to coverage of local election 
monitors as well.  Independent English DAILY MIRROR wrote 
(2/9), "PAFFREL swings into action," (People's Action for 
Free and Fair Elections), while independent Tamil daily 
THINAKKURAL continued (2/9), "PAFFREL to deploy 20,000 
local observers at the general election." 
 
6.  (U) Not surprisingly, campaigning in the media has 
begun. Independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI reported (2/9), 
"Political parties are seriously engaged in setting their 
strategies for the general elections - UNP meets under PM - 
TNA to meet tomorrow."  Independent English website LANKA 
ACADEMIC reported UNP chairman Malik Samarwickrema's 
comments (2/8), "UNP Confident of Winning Elections- 
Malik," while independent Sinhala daily DIVAINA continued 
the UNP line (2/9), "Will get people's mandate to let 
people-friendly program win - UNP Deputy Leader Karu 
Jayasuriya."  Government-owned Sinhala daily DINAMINA's 
headline dismissed UNP optimism (2/9), "Even though we'll 
lose this election, we'll win next time, says Rajitha," 
(Minister of Lands Rajitha Senaratne); and went further 
still (2/9), "Group of UNPers ask for a new leader for 
UNP." 
 
7.  (U) Although independent English DAILY MIRROR reported 
(2/9), "Minority groups still on the fence, " media 
headlines showed Tamil and Muslim political parties already 
in the fray. Pro-LTTE Tamil daily SUDAR OLI led with (2/9), 
"TNA to adopt a new strategy at the general elections - no 
preferential votes," even though independent Tamil daily 
THINAKKURAL cautioned (2/9), "Today there are no Sinhala 
leaders who think that there should be solution to the 
Tamils' problems - Elections will further aggravate the 
situation - TNA Secretary General Sampanthan MP." 
THINAKKURAL also reported (2/9), "Upcountry Peoples' Front 
trying hard to get all Tamil parties to contest under one 
banner," while pro-LTTE Tamil daily SUDAR OLI added (2/9), 
"Some of the upcountry Tamil parties to join the UNF."  The 
LTTE's reaction was muted.  Pro-LTTE website TAMILNET 
reported (2/8), "LTTE blames Sinhala leaders for lack of 
political will and vision,"  and government-owned Tamil 
daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9), "Government that can grant 
the Tamils a permanent solution is needed - Vavuniya LTTE 
leader S. Elilan."  On the Muslim front, government-owned 
Tamil daily THINAKARAN reported, "SLMC is ready to face the 
elections - Minister Hakeem, " while independent English 
daily ISLAND added (2/9), "SLMC says Muslims should unite," 
and "SLMC to go it alone." 
 
8.  (U) Concern about the economy and donor money for 
development also dominated media headlines, particularly in 
the Tamil press.   Independent Tamil daily THINAKKURAL 
cautioned (2/9), "Further fall in finance market expected." 
Independent English DAILY MIRROR's Financial Times section 
headlined (2/9), "'Dissolution unnecessary' echo business 
leaders - Cohabitation would have seen the nation through; 
Urge next Govt to ensure stability and development oriented 
economy while ensuring peace process."    Government-owned 
Tamil daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9), "The development work 
will come to a standstill with the dissolution of 
parliament - Minister Karu Jayasuriya."  Independent 
English daily ISLAND reported (2/9), "Crisis puts donor 
confab in balance,"  while independent Tamil daily 
VIRAKESARI worried (2/9), "Snap elections would delay USD 
4.5 billion aid - Diplomats and intellectuals." 
 
9.  (U) Editorial comment was heavy in both government- 
owned and independent newspapers, although each camp 
offered wildly divergent opinions.  Government-owned 
newspapers in all languages reflected the President's 
agenda, reiterating that her decision to dissolve 
Parliament was the right decision, because, as one editor 
wrote (2/9), " If she waited any longer the nation would 
have totally collapsed."   Government-owned papers noted 
that the President had "no choice," and commented on the 
"dangerous situation [Sri Lanka] was pushed into by the UNF 
trying to satisfy the developed nations," and stressed 
elections as the "first step toward an independent Sri 
Lanka."  Independent commentary in all languages was 
critical of the President's actions.  English commentary 
focused on free and fair elections and the importance of 
international monitoring and the role of the media. 
Independent Sinhala editors fretted over the upcoming 
election and commanded, (2/9) "Now all should pay attention 
to a free and fair election,"  while Tamil commentators 
characterized the President's actions as a "wrong act" and 
"undemocratic," and cautioned, "The fresh elections should 
not be a barrier for peace..." 
 
----- Under the headline, "The right decision, " 
government-owned English DAILY NEWS  commented (2/9), "With 
the country facing near-anarchy due to a breakdown in 
governance... Providentially, the people have now been 
given a chance to decide as to who is best suited to rule 
this country and restore peace and stability." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
With the country facing near-anarchy due to a breakdown in 
governance, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 
has had no alternative but to dissolve Parliament.  The 
collapse of the peace process and the Shylock-like 
irrational demand for the portfolio of defence, widespread 
worker unrest for reasons ranging from low wages, a 
spiralling cost of living to insecurity of employment, 
rampant corruption at levels hitherto unheard of, the 
prohibitive cost of fertiliser to farmers, incompetence, 
inefficiency, thuggery, a trail of broken promises to the 
people and a total disinterest in the rule of law made the 
Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Front (UNF) 
government's continuance in office untenable.. 
Providentially, the people have now been given a chance to 
decide as to who is best suited to rule this country and 
restore peace and stability. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Dissolution of parliament," 
government-owned Tamil daily THINAKARAN  commented (2/9), 
"The President had no other options than to dissolve the 
parliament as the UNF government was inactive..  So, the 
decision taken by the President to dissolve the parliament 
is correct." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
The parliament has been dissolved and fresh polls are to be 
held on April 2nd..  The President had no other options than 
to dissolve the parliament as the UNF government was 
inactive..  The UNF ministers, who challenged the President 
to hold fresh elections suddenly became silent because a 
survey conducted by the UNP sources showed a negative 
result..  All UNF strategies to postpone the dissolution of 
the parliament failed..  Certain political analysts, 
patriotic artistes and many trade union leaders requested 
the President not to fall prey to the UNF ploy, as they 
realized the dangerous situation that the country was 
pushed into by the UNF in trying to satisfy the developed 
nations..  It is the duty of the President to give an 
opportunity to the citizens to decide the fate of an 
inactive government.  So, the decision taken by the 
President to dissolve the parliament is correct. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Save the country from 
politicians," independent English DAILY MIRROR commented 
(2/9), "...We humbly call on the international community to 
play a bigger role in the monitoring of this next election 
from north to south and east to west.  Otherwise our vile 
political morons will further plunge this country with so 
much promise into eternal chaos." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
Now that President Chandrika Kumaratunga has dissolved 
Parliament and fixed fresh elections, the third in four 
years, on April 02, what is of utmost necessity is a free 
and fair election without senseless bloodletting..  One 
thing is certain.  Virtually all politicians are in this 
foray not for the country, but for their own 
aggrandisement..  Therefore, more than ever, we need a free 
and fair election to really feel the pulse of the nation. 
All recent elections have been marred by violence 
perpetrated by none other than these so-called democratic 
parties.  So once again, knowing our politicians, we humbly 
call on the international community to play a bigger role 
in the monitoring of this next election from north to south 
and east to west.  Otherwise our vile political morons will 
further plunge this country with so much promise into 
eternal chaos. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Is dissolution of parliament a 
wise decision?" independent Sinhala daily LANKADEEPA 
commented (2/9), "Who can justify the dissolution of a 
government that had the majority in the Parliament? Isn't 
this act ridiculing the people's mandate?  If this election 
also brings a government of this nature, are going to have 
eternal elections?  ....Now all should pay attention to a 
free and fair election." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
The step to dissolve parliament and hold a general election 
can never be regarded as prudent.  Why?  This is not the 
time for the Sri Lankan sectors to be at loggerheads.  The 
rectifying of bitter political instability that arose since 
November 4 was crucial.  Another crucial factor is the 
country's poor economic instability.  Conflicts in the 
economic and trade areas with the upcoming election is 
inevitable. investments will be low, foreign aid will be 
scarce.  For years, the majority of the people have been 
suffering.  Who can justify the dissolution of a government 
that had the majority in the Parliament? Isn't this act 
ridiculing the people's mandate?  If this election also 
brings a government of this nature, are going to have 
eternal elections?  This dissolution has happened at a time 
when the peace process has halted.  What will happen to the 
peace process?  Who can give the guarantee that a war will 
not occur?  What will happen if it happens?  Whatever it 
is, the bad has already happened.  Now all should pay 
attention to a free and fair election.  This won't be 
possible if violence and rigging continues.  Who would then 
be penalized? The public. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
----- Under the headline, "General Election and the 
national problem," independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI 
commented (2/9), "The fresh elections should not be a 
barrier for peace and the new elected government should 
take forward the peace process or else the country will 
face economic hardships." 
 
Editorial excerpts. 
 
After consulting some of SLFP stalwarts and the Elections 
Commissioner, the President dissolved the parliament using 
her executive powers..  The President has also appointed 
two of her closest allies as Ministers in the caretaker 
government..  Snap polls were expected but not so soon, 
judging from the President's address at independence 
celebrations..  As in the past, where her views and 
promises never lasted, here too, her stand has changed 
immediately..  The national problem during the last two 
decades was the ethnic problem..  That is the cause of all 
the destruction..  During PM Ranil Wickremasinghe's short 
spell as the PM, a lot of effort was taken to solve this 
problem..  The fresh elections should not be a barrier for 
peace and the new elected government should take forward 
the peace process or else the country will  face economic 
hardships.. 
 
End editorial excerpts. 
 
Lunstead 

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