US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO217

President sets parliamentary elections for April 2; Tigers reiterate support for ceasefire

Identifier: 04COLOMBO217
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO217 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-02-09 10:56:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PINR PHUM ASEC CE 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 04 COLOMBO 000217 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR D, SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA, DS; 
NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
PLEASE ALSO PASS TOPEC 
 
E.O. 12958:         DECL:  02/09/14 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, PHUM, ASEC, CE, Elections 
SUBJECT:  President sets parliamentary elections for 
April 2; Tigers reiterate support for ceasefire 
 
Refs:  (A) Colombo - Ops Center 02/07-09/04 telecons 
 
-      (B) Colombo 198, and previous 
 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. 
Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Late February 7, President Kumaratunga 
dissolved Parliament and called early general elections 
for April 2.  The GSL remains in place, but is now a 
"caretaker" government and there may be some large-scale 
ministerial changes at the President's request.  Sri 
Lanka's political parties are gearing up for what many 
expect will be a hard fought, violent campaign.  The 
Tamil Tigers have called the President's decision "a 
grave setback" for the peace process, but have 
reiterated support for the ceasefire and peace.  The 
elections are expected to delay any possible restarting 
of GSL-LTTE negotiations for another several months. 
Mission believes that the February 17 meeting of Tokyo 
process co-chairs should go ahead.  Septels contain 
reports on media play and Mission's EAC meeting.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
------------------------- 
President Calls Elections 
------------------------- 
 
2.  (SBU) President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 
dissolved Sri Lanka's Parliament late February 7 and 
called for general elections to take place on April 2. 
The elections are several years early (the current 
Parliament was seated in December 2001 and its five-year 
term was set to end December 2006).  The President's 
"gazette" order was formally delivered to the government 
printing office in Colombo just before midnight on 
February 7 where it was printed and thus brought into 
effect.  The printing office was surrounded by police 
during this process to ensure that there were no 
problems and there were not.  In fact, since the 
President's action, there have been no reports of 
political violence or other turbulence in the country. 
All in all, Sri Lankans seem to have been taking the 
situation in stride so far.  This is understandable 
inasmuch as the calling of elections has been mooted as 
a very real possibility since the cohabitation impasse 
between the President and the Prime Minister began in 
November 2003 (see Ref B). 
 
3.  (SBU) (Note:  There had been talk that Provincial 
Council, "PC," elections might be held the same day in 
April as parliamentary elections if the latter were 
called.  It now appears that the PC elections will take 
place at some point after the parliamentary elections, 
perhaps in a staggered fashion.) 
 
--------------------------------- 
GSL is now "Caretaker" Government 
--------------------------------- 
 
4.  (SBU) With the calling of elections, the Sri Lankan 
government (GSL) remains in place, with Prime Minister 
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando, 
and Finance Minister K.N. Choksy, for example, remaining 
in their positions.  The GSL, however, is now formally a 
"caretaker" government, waiting until a new government 
is formed to take its place after the April elections. 
There are reports that the President is pressing the PM 
to make large-scale ministerial changes.  Already, on 
February 7, Kumaratunga had sworn in two new ministers: 
former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was named 
Minister of Information and Media, and senior Sri Lanka 
Freedom Party (SLFP, the President's party) MP D.M. 
Jayaratne was named Minister of Posts and Mass 
Communication. (Note:  At this time, the Defense 
Ministry remains in the hands of the President.  How to 
allocate this ministry's key functions was the focus of 
the cohabitation impasse, which included months of now- 
cancelled discussions between the two sides.) 
Kumaratunga, in the meantime, is also reportedly 
pressing the PM to take immediate steps to cut down on 
the number of ministers and deputy ministers in his 
government to a total of 15 (down from the current 60- 
plus). 
 
---------------------------- 
Parties Gear Up for Campaign 
---------------------------- 
 
5.  (C) Sri Lanka's political parties are gearing up for 
what many expect will be a hard fought, violent 
campaign.  (Note:  Over 50 people died in the last 
parliamentary election campaign in December 2001.)  In a 
February 8 conversation with Ambassador Lunstead, 
Bradman Weerakoon, the PM's Secretary, related that the 
PM and key aides were in a "war-room" meeting discussing 
the coming campaign.  (In reaction to the news, the PM 
has canceled his planned February 9-11 visit to 
Thailand.)  In a February 9 conversation with Polchief, 
Malik Samarawickrama, the chief of the PM's United 
National Party (UNP), reported that he was in touch with 
the party's organizers and financial backers.  He said 
the UNP was ready with a "war chest" of USD 5.0 million 
and he estimated that elections would cost the 
government USD 8.0 million to hold. 
 
6.  (SBU) As the UNP reviews next steps, its allies in 
its "United National Front" (UNF), including the tea 
estate Tamil Ceylon Worker's Congress (CWC) and the Sri 
Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), are also meeting and 
making plans.  The SLFP and the radical Janatha Vimukthi 
Peramuna (JVP), newly allied in the "United People's 
Freedom Alliance" (UPFA), are also holding meetings. 
The key issue that all the parties are focused on in the 
near-term is the drawing up of candidate nomination 
lists which must be submitted to the Elections 
Commissioner between February 17-24.  (Note:  Septel 
will detail Sri Lanka's election process and 
procedures.)  For the UNF and the UPFA coalitions this 
process involves hours of hard bargaining and 
compromises.  While the SLFP-JVP linkup seems strong at 
this time, the UNP still has to confirm that its 
coalition partners like the CWC and the SLMC are still 
on board and willing to form joint electoral tickets as 
necessary. 
 
------------------------------------- 
LTTE Reiterates Support for Ceasefire 
------------------------------------- 
 
7.  (SBU) The pro-Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) 
website "TamilNet" has been reporting on the situation 
in the south in a largely factual manner.  There has 
been one key thread of commentary, however, and that 
emerged from Anton Balasingham, the group's London-based 
spokesman.  Balasingham was quoted on TamilNet as making 
the following comments that are at once sharply critical 
about the situation in the south but reassuring about 
the LTTE's continued commitment to the peace track: 
 
"The dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament and the 
call for a snap election constitutes a grave setback to 
the peace process.  The decision to seek another mandate 
from the people clearly demonstrates the fact that the 
Sinhala political leadership lacks the political will 
and vision to resolve the country's burning issue -- the 
Tamil national question.  The irrational power struggle 
and the lack of consensus among the Sinhala ruling 
elites on the resolution of the ethnic conflict have 
plunged the entire country into serious political 
instability and endangers the prospects of peace and 
security of the Tamil people. 
The LTTE leadership has amply demonstrated to the world 
their sincere dedication and commitment to peace and 
peaceful resolution of the conflict.  In spite of the 
political turmoil and uncertainty in Colombo, our 
liberation organization will rigidly observe the 
ceasefire regulations and maintain peace.  Since the 
decision to call for elections might further delay the 
resumption of the peace talks, we call upon the 
international community to take immediate measures to 
assist the Tamil people faced with urgent humanitarian 
needs. 
 
At this critical juncture we call upon the Sinhala 
masses to express their solid support to those forces 
who recognize the legitimate rights and aspirations of 
the Tamil people and are seriously committed to peace 
and peaceful resolution of the Tamil ethnic conflict. 
It is the majority Sinhala people who has the final 
choice in the forthcoming elections to decide as to co- 
exist with the Tamils in peace, harmony and prosperity 
or compel them to seek the path of political 
independence on the basis of their right to self- 
determination." 
 
8.  (C) LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran and Political Chief 
S.P. Thamilchelvam have not been quoted by TamilNet on 
the situation as of yet.  Thamilchelvam is now in Europe 
and expected to return to Sri Lanka on February 14.  In 
other Tamil-related developments, the Tamil National 
Alliance (TNA), the generally pro-LTTE group that 
represents about 16 MPs, has come out foursquare against 
the President's action.  Senior TNA MP R. Sampathan was 
quoted as stating that the election would only lead to 
more "confusion" in the south about policy toward the 
peace process.  In a February 7 conversation, A. 
Chandranehru, a TNA MP, told polchief that he worried 
that the JVP would gain more seats in the election and 
would work to derail the peace process. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
9.  (C) As touched on in Balasingham's comments, the big 
downside of the elections is that they are expected to 
delay any possible restarting of GSL-LTTE negotiations 
for another several months.  (Note:  The talks have been 
on hold since the Tigers pulled out of the negotiating 
track in April 2003.  The group indicated that it was 
willing to restart talks late last year, but the 
November 2003 cohabitation crisis intervened.)  It is 
not immediately apparent why Kumaratunga chose to go for 
elections at this time, especially since it appeared 
that the "Mano-Malik" talks were on the verge of 
reaching agreement on a mechanism for sharing defense 
powers.  Elections will be expensive and probably 
violent, and may well not result in much political 
clarity.  It appears that the President threw in her lot 
over the weekend with hard-liners in her party and in 
the JVP, who have been pressing for elections for months 
now.  Indian High Commissioner Sen told the Ambassador 
that in his estimation the President was swayed by these 
elements, which want, he said, "the immediate prospect 
of power."  It is not clear why the SLFP-JVP thinks it 
can win elections; most observers believe, at this time, 
that there will be a real dogfight that will most likely 
result in a hung Parliament. 
 
10.  (C) Mission believes that the February 17 meeting 
of Tokyo process co-chairs should go ahead.  The meeting 
would serve, in our view, as a very useful forum to urge 
that the elections be peaceful, to reiterate the 
international community's support for the peace process 
and a timely resumption of peace talks, and to highlight 
the need for assistance to all areas.  Mission will be 
providing further thoughts regarding the February 17 
meeting shortly.  END COMMENT. 
 
11.  (U) Minimize considered. 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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