US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO1989

In conversation with Ambassador, key ministers review possible next steps after adverse court ruling

Identifier: 02COLOMBO1989
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO1989 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-10-24 11:30:00
Tags: PGOV PINS PHUM PINR CE Political Parties 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 03 COLOMBO 001989 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  10-24-12 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PHUM, PINR, CE, Political Parties, Elections 
SUBJECT:  In conversation with Ambassador, key ministers 
review possible next steps after adverse court ruling 
Refs:  Colombo 1982, and previous 
(U) Classified by Ambassador E. Ashley Wills.  Reasons 
1.5 (b, d). 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  In separate conversations with the 
Ambassador, key ministers Peiris and Moragoda reviewed 
GSL thinking in the wake of the Supreme Court's 
rejection of the government's effort to rein in 
executive powers.  In terms of next steps for the GSL, 
Peiris outlined five options, which included impeaching 
the president or going for an election.  Taking a softer 
tack, Moragoda indicated that the two sides should try 
to make cohabitation work.  Neither minister knew what 
the PM planned to do.  Based on these soundings, there 
is little doubt that the government is confused on how 
to react and in a bit of a funk.  END SUMMARY. 
A Defensive G.L. Peiris Attacks the Court 
2.  (C) In separate conversations with the Ambassador, 
key ministers G.L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda discussed 
GSL thinking in the wake of the Supreme Court's 
rejection of its effort to rein in executive powers. 
(Note:  In its complicated decision, the court held that 
the GSL's proposed "19th" amendment to the constitution 
voiding the power of the president to call an election 
one-year after the last election required a national 
referendum.  The court also ruled against another 
proposal allowing crossover voting in Parliament -- see 
Reftels for more details.  End Note.)  At lunch with the 
Ambassador on October 23, Peiris, the Minister of 
Constitutional Affairs (among other portfolios), was 
dismissive of the court's ruling, asserting that the 
decision was clearly political in nature.  The Chief 
Justice (Sarath Silva), Peiris related, had packed the 
bench with seven supporters, edging out four justices 
who had more neutral views.  This made a mockery of 
President Kumaratunga's and her allies' claims that the 
court's decision was close to unanimous, when, in fact, 
it was not, Peiris alleged. 
3.  (C/NF) Weaving a strange tale, Peiris had more 
opprobrium to spill on Chief Justice Silva.  He said 
Silva had sent a message to Prime Minister 
Wickremesinghe three weeks ago to the effect that the 
GSL "has nothing to worry about" regarding the proposed 
amendment.  Clearly, based on the court's decision, 
Silva had broken his word.  Peiris commented that he had 
information that indicated that President Kumaratunga 
had met with Silva and reviewed with him how she wanted 
the case to be decided.  In any case, the government 
knew that Silva was probably not its friend.  Silva was 
known to be close to Kumaratunga and he knew that some 
in the government had long wanted to impeach him on 
various charges, Peiris added. 
Five Options 
4.  (C) Queried by the Ambassador about the government's 
next steps, Peiris set out the following five options: 
-- (1) The government takes no action. 
-- (2) The government works with the president and her 
People's Alliance (PA) party with the objective of 
agreeing on a proposed amendment allowing the president 
to call a new election three years after the last 
election (versus the current one-year).  (Note:  Per 
Reftel, the Supreme Court indicated in its decision that 
such a proposal would pass constitutional review.) 
Peiris was not sure the president would agree to this 
idea.  If she did not, the proposal would not get 
through Parliament (where two-thirds support was 
-- (3) The government could try to impeach the president 
on long-standing abuse of power charges. 
-- (4) The government could dissolve Parliament and ask 
the president to call a parliamentary election.  If 
Kumaratunga refused to do this, the GSL could take steps 
to cut her budget. 
-- (5) After obtaining President Kumaratunga's 
agreement, the government could dissolve Parliament and 
call an election. 
5.  (C) Peiris said the PM had not yet decided which 
path to take.  For his part, Peiris indicated that he 
wanted to take a hard-line position toward Kumaratunga. 
He averred that it was impossible for anyone to trust 
anything she said, as everything she did was politically 
expedient.  Given this, Peiris indicated that the best 
course of action probably involved pressing for an 
election, per options 4-5 above. 
Moragoda Takes a Softer Tack 
6.  (C) In his October 24 conversation with Ambassador 
Wills, Milinda Moragoda, the Minister of Economic 
Reform, took a softer tack than Peiris did.  Moragoda 
related that he had met on October 23 with former 
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a key aide to the 
president.  Based on Kadirgamar's comments, Moragoda 
felt that the president might be in a cooperative mood 
and perhaps it might be possible to work with her. 
Agreeing with Peiris, Moragoda said he was not sure of 
where the prime minister would come down on the 
situation.  The PM was still mulling over the options. 
7.  (C) (((Note:  Both Moragoda and Peiris also expressed 
concerns about the ongoing tensions in the Sri Lanka 
Muslim Congress "SLMC" -- see Reftels.  Moragoda said he 
had heard that the leader of the rebel SLMC faction had 
given the government a letter signed by nine MPs 
outlining deep concerns about the peace process.  While 
the SLMC's apparent fracturing threatened the 
government's majority in Parliament, Moragoda did not 
think the government would fall because it could rely on 
the support of the Tamil National Alliance.  Peiris said 
he thought Kumaratunga was using the SLMC rebels in a 
bid to destabilize the government.  End Note.))) 
8.  (C) (((Note:  For her part, President Kumaratunga is 
scheduled to give an address to the nation on TV 
tonight.  While expressing her support for the court's 
decision, Kumaratunga is said to be planning to use the 
speech to set a cooperative tone re cohabitation, 
according to sources.  It is not clear whether she plans 
to make any remarks regarding the peace process.))) 
9.  (C) We had heard that the government was confused 
about how to respond to the court's ruling and these 
conversations confirmed it.  Peiris, who was the primary 
author of the proposed amendment shot down by the court, 
was defensive, indicating that he thought the government 
had to take the fight to Kumaratunga.  (Note:  Peiris 
defected from the Kumaratunga's PA party last year and 
has a deep grudge against her.)  Moragoda -- clearly 
resentful of Peiris, feeling that his animus toward the 
president was getting in the way of sounder judgement -- 
wanted a renewed effort to make cohabitation work.  In 
the meantime, the PM seems to have fallen back into his 
Hamlet-like ways, after months of appearing decisive on 
such matters as the peace process.  The winner in all 
this confusion is clearly Kumaratunga, who has given the 
government a real black eye.  The peace process itself 
does not appear to have been effected as of yet.  That 
might not last, however:  If the GSL becomes focused on 
mere survival, its peace initiative could well take a 
back seat.  END COMMENT. 
10.  (U) Minimize considered. 

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