US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO1573

Amendment limiting President's powers before Parliament soon; PA divided; alternatives considered

Identifier: 02COLOMBO1573
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO1573 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-08-26 10:51:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV 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 02 COLOMBO 001573 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 
TAGS: PGOV, CE, Elections 
SUBJECT:  Amendment limiting President's powers before 
Parliament soon; PA divided; alternatives considered 
Ref: (A) Colombo 1555 
     (B) Colombo 1551 
     (C) Colombo 1441 
(U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, DCM.  Reasons 1.5 
1. (C) Summary:  A proposed amendment to limit the 
President's power to dissolve Parliament and to permit 
voting outside of party lines is to be considered this 
week.  PA representatives split on the amendment.  While 
supporting the amendment, minority parties still 
concerned with some issues.  Alternatives to the 
amendment are still being considered.  If the amendment 
passes it may have a profound long-term effect on Sri 
Lankan politics.  End summary. 
2. (U) The United National Front (UNF) is expected to 
table the 18th Amendment before Parliament on August 29. 
The amendment, as it is currently being discussed, will 
strip the President's power to dissolve Parliament one 
year after it was elected and will permit individuals to 
vote outside of party lines (commonly referred to as 
conscience voting). 
3. (C) As recently as August 23, representatives of the 
People's Alliance (PA) maintained that the UNF could not 
get enough cross-over votes to pass the amendment (Ref 
A).  Harim Peiris, the Presidential Spokesman, assured 
poloff that with the support of the minority parties 
aligned with the PA the amendment would fail.  As of 
August 26, they are no longer as confident. 
4. (C) The minority parties are divided on the issue. 
Members of the TNA have stated that they will vote with 
the UNF government in support of the amendment, despite 
their reservations.  K. Ponnambalam summed up TNA 
concerns when he stated they did not support the 
sections of the amendment concerning conscience voting, 
but the TNA's distrust of the President was so great 
that they had to compromise.  As a counterpoint, Douglas 
Devananda, Leader of the Eelam People's Democratic 
Party, states that his party will vote with the 
President.  In addition, Devananda believes that the 
amendment will have to be presented before the Supreme 
Court, which will rule that the amendment must be put 
before the people as a referendum.  Desmond Fernando, a 
highly regarded constitutional lawyer, confirmed that 
the amendment will have to go before the Supreme Court, 
but without seeing the final version of the amendment he 
was unwilling to speculate on whether or not a 
referendum would be needed.  (Note:  The constitution 
gives explicit instruction on which issues need a 2/3 
majority in Parliament and which a referendum to come 
into law.) 
5. (C) Despite the public debate on the expected 
amendment, there is no guarantee that the version 
finally submitted will match the contours of the current 
debate.  Milinda Moragoda, Minister of Economic Reform, 
informed the DCM that the UNF might split the amendment 
into two separate amendments.  A.M. Hizbullah a PA MP 
and Dayaratna of the Prime Minister's office, both state 
that the President's and Prime Minister's 
representatives are talking to each other about a 
compromise amendment.  (Note:  This coincides with what 
former Foreign Minister Kadirgamar told the Deputy 
Secretary last week, Ref A.)  Hizbullah believes that 
they will, of necessity, find a compromise amendment to 
present to Parliament. 
6. (C) Comment:  Although much of the immediate focus is 
on limiting the President's power to dissolve 
Parliament, the possible inclusion of conscience voting 
may have a more substantial change in Sri Lankan 
politics.  Currently party members are tied more to the 
party leader than their electorate.  If a person were 
permitted to vote outside of party lines without being 
expelled from parliament their responsiveness to the 
community they represent may well increase.  Having said 
that, what the amendment will actually have in it is 
still speculation, the only issue that almost everyone 
seems to agree on is that Sri Lanka is not ready for 
another election in the near future.  End Comment. 

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