US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO1450

Cohabitation standoff continues, with no firm indication of whether snap elections are in the cards

Identifier: 02COLOMBO1450
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO1450 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-08-07 11:38:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN
Tags: PGOV PINS PINR PREL 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.

071138Z Aug 02
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001450 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NOFORN 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS; LONDON FOR POL/RIEDEL; NSC 
FOR E. MILLARD 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08-07-12 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PINR, PREL, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  Cohabitation standoff continues, with no firm 
indication of whether snap elections are in the cards 
 
Refs:  Colombo 1441, and previous 
 
(U) Classified by Long Lee, Acting Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons: 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  The cohabitation standoff between 
Sri Lanka's two major political parties continues.  The 
PM reportedly met August 6 with former FM Kadirgamar, a 
close adviser to President Kumaratunga, in a bid to 
resolve the situation.  A readout of that meeting was 
not available, but a presidential assistant indicated to 
us that Kumaratunga was looking for ways to avoid an 
all-out confrontation.  There is still no firm word on 
whether snap elections are in the cards, but there is a 
growing feeling that they would be disruptive for the 
country.  End Summary. 
 
=============================== 
Cohabitation Standoff continues 
=============================== 
 
2.  (C) The cohabitation standoff between the two major 
parties continues.  As foreshadowed in Reftel, Prime 
Minster Wickremesinghe reportedly met with former 
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a close adviser to 
President Kumaratunga, on August 6.  A readout of that 
meeting was not available.  Milinda Moragoda, a senior 
minister who is close to the PM, told us the following: 
 
-- As far as he knew, the PM had delivered to Kadirgamar 
the ultimatum reviewed in Reftel, i.e., that the 
president had to agree to a constitutional amendment 
voiding her right to call parliamentary elections or 
face a snap election now.  (Note:  The president could 
call for new elections at any point one year after the 
last election, which took place in December 2001.) 
 
-- The PM's United National Party (UNP) was serious in 
its resolve that the current cohabitation situation 
could not continue.  Both sides were constantly 
bickering and that made it tough to govern the country. 
There had to be a resolution now. 
 
-- Kadirgamar had almost certainly taken the PM's 
comments "aboard" and referred them back to the 
president for review.  Moragoda said he planned to check 
with the PM on the situation and would keep us updated. 
 
(Note:  There are press reports that the Prime Minister 
plans to meet Kumaratunga one-on-one to discuss the 
situation at some point this week, perhaps as early as 
on the margins of the regular Wednesday cabinet 
meeting.) 
 
================================ 
President's Aide takes Soft-line 
================================ 
 
3.  (C) Meanwhile, in potentially positive news, a 
contact in the Presidential Secretariat indicated to us 
that the president wanted to avoid an all-out 
confrontation.  Harim Peiris, a presidential spokesman, 
told us that Kumaratunga did not see the need for snap 
elections.  An election campaign at this time would only 
take away from efforts to deal with the country's many 
pressing issues, such as the peace process and the cost 
of living.  The president was willing to work with the 
PM to ease tensions and was willing to compromise as 
necessary.  She would not, however, agree to any effort 
aimed at undermining her powers, including her right to 
call elections.  Polchief underscored that the U.S. 
continued to urge both sides to show restraint and 
maintain focus on key issues, such as the peace process. 
(Note:  Peiris confirmed press reports that the 
president's office had requested time on TV on 
August 11.  When asked, he said the president or one of 
her advisers would speak at that time.  There was no 
plan to make any "dramatic announcements."  The idea was 
simply to explain the president's side of the story.) 
 
------------------------ 
Both Parties trade Barbs 
------------------------ 
 
4.  (SBU) In public, both the PA and the UNP continue to 
exchange accusations.  Sarath Amunugama, the PA's media 
spokesman, told the press August 6 that the UNP had no 
right to call elections on its own volition.  Amunugama 
said only the president could dissolve the Parliament 
and call elections -- "He (the PM) can dissolve himself 
and he can dissolve the cabinet.  That is within his 
ambit."  (Note:  There seems to be a lack of clarity in 
the Sri Lankan Constitution on whether or not the 
president needs to sign off on the calling of 
elections.)  For its part, UNP representatives continued 
to make hay out of a memo, apparently drawn up by the 
PA, that outlined a plan to topple the PM and install a 
new government headed by Kadirgamar (see Reftel). 
(Note:  In his August 6 press conference, Amunugama 
seemed to confirm that someone in the PA had indeed 
drafted the memo in question.  PA sources had earlier 
strongly denied involvement.) 
 
======= 
Comment 
======= 
 
5.  (C) With all of the political jockeying, there is 
still no firm word on whether snap elections are in the 
cards.  There is a growing feeling that they would be 
disruptive for the country, however, and would not solve 
much in any case.  Jehan Perera, a well-known local 
commentator, told us that he thought that elections 
would be "useless" because at the end of the day the 
president and the PM would still have to work together. 
In addition, the peace process would only suffer, as the 
two sides put all their efforts into an election 
campaign that was likely to be violent.  That said, the 
real possibility remains that the two parties may choose 
snap polls as the only option.  End Comment. 
 
6. (U) Minimize considered.    WILLS 

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