US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO1479

Amidst vehement rhetoric, President leaves door open for cohabitation negotiations

Identifier: 02COLOMBO1479
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO1479 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-08-10 06:39:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINS PINR CE 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 02 COLOMBO 001479 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/12/12 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PINR, CE, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  Amidst vehement rhetoric, President leaves 
door open for cohabitation negotiations 
REF:  (A) FBIS Reston VA dtg 120351Z Aug 02 
-     (B) FBIS Reston VA dtg 100639Z Aug 02 
-     (C) Colombo 1433 
-     (D) Colombo 1403 
(U) Classified by Ambassador E. Ashley Wills.  Reasons 
1.5 (b,d). 
1. (C)  Summary:  On August 9, the President delivered a 
televised speech to the nation that focused on 
cohabitation with the ruling United National Front (UNF) 
and the peace process.  The President opened her 
national address with conciliatory remarks, but halfway 
through morphed into attack mode, assailing her 
cohabitant - the UNF.  Political observers differ on 
their interpretation of the President's present 
position, but overall there is some faint hope that 
cohabitation may yet work.  End Summary. 
2. (U)  On the evening of August 9, President 
Kumaratunga addressed the nation on national TV on the 
current peace process and cohabitation with the UNF led 
government.  (Please see Ref B for the full text.)  The 
speech began in conciliatory tones.  To Wit: 
--  As Executive President I have the duty to work in 
cohabitation with a Cabinet comprised of a different 
--  ... the ability to put country before self, become 
essential pre-requisites in the political leadership of 
both sides. 
--  Throughout my political career I have remained 
resolute that the ethnic issue requires a political 
settlement.  Accordingly, I have extended my fullest 
support to the peace process. 
--  I am not prepared to aggravate the state of 
political confusion prevailing today by holding another 
3. (C)  After this promising beginning, the President 
changed moods mid-speech.  She referred to the UNF's 
"mockery of democracy."  She repeatedly insinuated that 
the PM was naive in his handling of the peace process. 
And she threatened to use her presidential powers to 
prevent the dismemberment of the state, implying that 
the PM was prepared to consider breaking Sri Lanka apart 
if not for her steadfastness.  In a happy conclusion, 
she stated she would continue to support the peace 
process for the good of the country. 
4.  (C)  Just as the President's speech delivered two 
distinct and opposing messages, reactions to it have 
been divided.  Harim Peiris, the Presidential Spokesman, 
stated that the primary message that Kumaratunga was 
trying to relay in the speech was conciliatory.  The 
President, he asserted, is willing to work with the UNF, 
as long as the UNF accepts that she will not give up her 
presidential powers piece-by-piece.  Kumaratunga, like 
the UNF, believes the Executive Presidency should be 
abolished, but - unlike the UNF - only as part of a 
comprehensive change in the constitution.  Peiris 
stressed that the President has no intention of 
dissolving Parliament and that she believes cohabitation 
will work if the UNF is willing to let it work along 
current constitutional lines.  (Note:  Kumaratunga's 
office is planning to release a statement emphasizing 
these two points later this evening.) 
5. (C) Our soundings around town otherwise were mixed. 
The Center for Policy Alternatives' Kethesh Loganathan 
commented that the conciliatory part of the speech was 
the political message that Kumaratunga was delivering 
and, in the end, is the rational choice she will take. 
He added that the more aggressive statements were merely 
her venting some personal frustration.  He believes the 
UNF will have to mollify Kumaratunga in some manner and 
that it can and will be done. 
6. (C)  MP R. Sampanthan of the Tamil National Alliance 
stated that if CBK uses her presidential powers as 
threatened in her speech the government will not be able 
to function.  M.C.M. Iqbal of the Law and Society Trust, 
normally neutral on the President, does not believe her 
promises of cohabitation and will not believe them until 
she accepts a constitutional change. 
7. (C)  Comment:  The President's address to the nation 
was not a bracing splash of conciliation and optimism. 
It was equivocal and general enough, however, to leave 
hope that reconciliation is possible.  In this 
connection, we understand the PM and President will be 
meeting August 12 or 13 to try to come to terms on a 
more peaceful coexistence and cooperation.  End comment. 

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