US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO242

Campaign Snapshot: President sacks all non- cabinet ministers; Key Minister Moragoda resigns

Identifier: 04COLOMBO242
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO242 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-02-11 10:32:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PINS PINR PHUM 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 03 COLOMBO 000242 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA, SA/PD 
 
NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
E.O. 12958:           DECL:  02/12/14 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINS, PINR, PHUM, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  Campaign Snapshot:  President sacks all non- 
cabinet ministers; Key Minister Moragoda resigns 
 
Refs:  (A) FBIS Reston Va DTG 111032Z Feb 04 
 
-      (B) Colombo 226, and previous 
 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. 
Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1.  (C) In this message, Mission reviews the following 
items revolving around Sri Lanka's parliamentary 
election campaign: 
 
-- In transparent bid to circumscribe GSL's powers 
before election, President Kumaratunga fires junior 
ministers; 
 
-- Protesting that move, key Minister Milinda Moragoda 
resigns from office, but will contest election; 
 
-- Ambassador urges campaign restraint in separate 
meetings with key presidential adviser and President's 
brother; 
 
-- Tamil tea estate workers' party agrees to run joint 
campaign with Prime Minister's UNP party; and, 
 
-- "The Flavor of the Campaign":  The battle of party 
symbols and colors begins. 
 
==================================== 
President Fires all Junior Ministers 
==================================== 
 
2.  (U) Late February 11, President Chandrika 
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga sacked 27 non-Cabinet ministers 
and 12 deputy ministers.  Only those ministers who are 
part of the 34-member Cabinet retained their positions, 
including Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Foreign 
Minister Fernando, and Finance Minister Choksy.  The 
sacked ministers and deputy ministers have also been 
ordered to return their official vehicles.  According to 
Janadasa Peiris, presidential media spokesman, President 
Kumaratunga herself now is in charge of all the non- 
Cabinet ministries.  Practically speaking, day-to-day 
decision-making will probably devolve to the level of 
the secretaries (the chief civil servants) in each 
ministry. 
 
3.  (C) COMMENT:  The President's move appears to be 
legal under the terms of Sri Lankan law and it was not a 
surprise:  there have been reports from her office since 
elections were called on February 7 that she planned to 
cut the PM's ministerial cohort down.  That said, 
although cost-cutting was cited as the rationale, her 
move was quite transparent in its political intent:  the 
President is clearly trying to circumscribe the Prime 
Minister's ability to distribute largesse and favors 
ahead of the April 2 election.  For his part, the PM 
publicly complained on February 12 that the President's 
action undermined the peace process and made it 
impossible for the GSL "to fulfill its responsibilities" 
under the terms of the February 2002 ceasefire accord 
with the Tigers.  END COMMENT. 
 
================================= 
In response, Key Minister Resigns 
================================= 
 
4.  (U) In response to President Kumaratunga's move to 
sack the junior ministers, Milinda Moragoda, Economic 
Reform Minister and a key adviser to the PM, resigned 
his ministerial positions late February 11.  Moragoda's 
sudden resignation came in protest of his removal, per 
the order by the President earlier in the day, as Deputy 
Minister of Policy Development and Implementation.  In 
tendering his resignation to Prime Minister Ranil 
Wickremesinghe, Moragoda said in a letter:  "Given the 
current situation, I do not think it would be possible 
in anyway for me to contribute to the progress of the 
country and the welfare of our people."  In his letter, 
Moragoda added that he looked forward to running for 
Parliament from his Colombo electoral district on the 
Prime Minister's United National Party (UNP) ticket. 
 
5.  (C) COMMENT:  Moragoda was clearly taken aback by 
the President's decision to remove his deputy 
ministerial portfolio.  He told the Ambassador on 
February 12 that he did not feel he could do any useful 
work in his Economic Reform portfolio under the current 
circumstances.  A very proud man, Moragoda apparently 
decided in a fit of pique to take the opportunity to 
clear his slate clean.  His resignation is not a 
surprise, however:  On several occasions since he took 
office in December 2001, Moragoda has threatened to 
resign due to presidential and other slights.  Though he 
is now out of office, Moragoda appears set to continue 
to serve the PM as an adviser on foreign policy and 
peace process issues, as well as all-round 
troubleshooter.  END COMMENT. 
 
===================================== 
Ambassador Presses Campaign Restraint 
===================================== 
 
6.  (C) On February 11, Ambassador Lunstead met with 
Lakshman Kadirgamar, key presidential adviser and the 
newly appointed Minister for Information and Media 
(Note:  Additionally, Kadirgamar was Sri Lanka's foreign 
minister from 1994-2001).  The Ambassador also met 
February 12 with Anura Bandaranaike, President 
Kumaratunga's brother and a senior MP in her Sri Lanka 
Freedom Party (SLFP).  The Ambassador used both meetings 
to underscore the point that the upcoming parliamentary 
election campaign should not be a divisive one.  The 
Ambassador noted that attacks on the peace process 
during the campaign could have a long-lasting negative 
impact and he urged that the state media act with 
restraint.  Kadirgamar said he took the point, remarking 
that he had issued instructions to state media outlets 
to be fair.  He added, though, that he could "not 
control everything said during the campaign."  The 
Ambassador also expressed concern about the Janatha 
Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) -- now allied with the SLFP -- 
and its extremist policies, noting in particular its 
comments on economic issues.  Both Kadirgamar and 
Bandaranaike responded that the JVP may use heated 
rhetoric, but the group would not be in position to act 
in a negative manner if the SLFP-JVP combine won the 
election. 
 
7.  (C) COMMENT:  Since taking over state media in 
November (via sacking the then-information minister), 
the President and her party have ensured that state TV 
and the press hew a strongly pro-SLFP, anti-UNP line. 
This line is mixed in with a dose of anti-peace process 
rhetoric.  For example, a newscast on state media on 
February 8 referred to "the so-called peace process," a 
point which the Ambassador raised with Kadirgamar and 
Bandaranaike.  If these trends are not reversed or, at 
worst, continue to torque up, the tone of the campaign 
will degenerate quickly and the peace process could take 
a lot of hits.  Regarding the JVP, Bandaranaike has 
played a key role in the SLFP in working with the 
radical group.  He heard our message regarding 
restraint, but it is as yet unclear whether he will act 
on it.  END COMMENT. 
 
======================================== 
Tamil Estate Workers ally again with UNP 
======================================== 
 
8.  (SBU) In a boost for the Prime Minister, the Ceylon 
Worker's Congress (CWC) has agreed to support the UNP in 
the upcoming parliamentary elections.  The CWC, 
representing tea-estate Tamils from Sri Lanka's interior 
highland region, supported the UNP in the previous 
December 2001 parliamentary elections and is a current 
member of the governing United National Front (UNF) 
coalition.  Joining the CWC will be V. Puthrasigamoney, 
a SLFP MP from the tea-estate region, who broke ties 
with the President's party after a series of public 
disagreements in late 2003.  (Note:  The Upcountry 
People's Front, another party representing tea-estate 
Tamils, will likely give its support to the Tamil 
National Alliance.) 
 
9.  (C) COMMENT:  The UNP campaign organization has been 
slow to get in gear.  This has helped lead to a feeling 
of seeming dejection among some UNP stalwarts.  G.L. 
Peiris, a key minister, for example, appeared to lack 
confidence when he discussed the campaign with the 
Ambassador on February 11.  It is still very early in 
the campaign cycle, however.  The fact that the CWC -- a 
party with solid backing in the tea estate region (and 
which usually wins several seats in Parliament) -- plans 
to remain allied with the UNP is a positive sign for the 
Prime Minister.  It is also important for the UNP that 
the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) come on board.  The 
SLMC allied with the UNP in the last election, but has 
not yet finally agreed to work with the UNP this time 
around.  END COMMENT. 
 
============================================= ==== 
"The Flavor of the Campaign":  Symbols and Colors 
============================================= ==== 
 
10.  (U) In our "flavor of the campaign" section:  Party 
symbols and colors are a large part of "brand 
recognition" in Sri Lankan political campaigns and Sri 
Lanka appears in for burst of sensory overload.  In the 
vibrant world of symbols and colors, the UNP plans to 
retain its traditional elephant symbol and green color 
motif.  In the meantime, the United People's Freedom 
Alliance (UPFA), the name for the recent SLFP-JVP 
linkup, has already changed their symbol thrice from the 
lotus to the butterfly to the betel leaf.  Although the 
betel leaf is green, the UPFA's colors are blue and red. 
Most of the Tamil parties have agreed to unite under the 
Tamil National Alliance/Tamil United Liberation Front 
(TULF) "rising sun" symbol and accompanying yellow/red 
color motif.  The CWC is represented by a cockerel and 
its color is dark green, while the Sri Lanka Muslim 
Congress goes by a tree symbol with green and yellow 
colors. 
 
11.  (SBU) COMMENT:  In general, Sri Lankans love 
election campaigns, and go all out in holding colorful, 
loud rallies and marches (voter turnout is usually quite 
high, hovering at about 70 percent).  This campaign may 
not be quite as popular as past campaigns because the 
election was called years early and it is Sri Lanka's 
fourth in under five years.  Despite that, Sri Lankans 
will probably go for the gusto this campaign, too, if 
all the attention being paid to party symbols and colors 
is any guide.  END COMMENT. 
 
12.  (U) Minimize considered. 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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