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Cablegate: Media Play: Political Crisis in Sri Lanka

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

101118Z Nov 03

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001940

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR INR/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA
SA/INS (CAMP, DEAN, WALLER); SA/PD (REINCKENS, SCENSNY,
STRYKER; SSA/PAS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: POLITICAL CRISIS IN SRI LANKA


1. Summary. Since the eruption of Sri Lanka's latest
political crisis, the English and vernacular media have
been in a frenzy. Over the weekend, television stations
and newspapers in Sri Lanka avidly chronicled the political
tug-of-war between President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Meanwhile, security concerns, the LTTE's reaction, and the
economy also elicited interest. Reaction from the
international community enjoyed prominent coverage.
Editorial comment in English and vernacular newspapers was
heavy and focused on cohabitation issues. Government-owned
newspapers promoted the President's stance, and the
"...need to explore ways of cohabiting harmoniously in the
name of the common good." Independent commentary was
varied: some editors urged an attempt at cohabitation,
others were openly skeptical. "We will not make ourselves
appear to be damned fools by once again appealing for co-
operation between the two personalities," said one daily.
End summary.

-----
Headlines
-----

2. Over the weekend, television stations and newspapers in
Sri Lanka avidly chronicled the political tug-of-war
between President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The government-owned
English DAILY NEWS soothed (11/7), "Govt. will continue
talks with the LTTE, no return to war - President."
Meanwhile, independent English DAILY MIRROR reminded
readers (11/8), "PM arrives to Hero's welcome," reinforced
by independent Maharaja Television's English and vernacular
newscasts (11/7-8) of the tens of thousands of people
lining the Prime Minister's motorcade route from the
airport. Unsurprisingly, independent Tamil daily,
VIRAKESARI's headline was also supportive of Wickremesinghe
(11/8), "Whatever obstacles may come, peace efforts will be
carried forward - Prime Minister."

3. The next obstacle was not far behind. Government-owned
Sri Lanka Rupavahini Television carried the President's
address to the nation (11/7), in which she proposed a
national government. Government-owned Sinhala daily,
DINAMINA, headlined (11/8), "President invited patriotic
forces to build the nation, ready to talk with PM and UNP
leaders." The Prime Minister's response was swift, as
independent Tamil weekly THINAKKURAL reported (11/9), "UNF
rejects President's invitation for a national government."
Independent English weekly, SUNDAY ISLAND added (11/9),
"Ranil not ready to play second fiddle, wants CBK to take
charge of peace process alone." Finally, President
Kumaratunga gave an interview to the BBC (11/9) in which
she declared the cease fire agreement unconstitutional
because she had not signed it. Independent Tamil daily,
VIRAKESARI headlined (11/10), "President attempts to
disrupt peace process."

4. Meanwhile, security concerns and the LTTE's reaction
were also of interest. Government-owned English SUNDAY
OBSERVER headlined (11/9), "Armed forces on the alert,"
and independent Tamil weekly, THINAKKURAL (11/9) warned,
"Security arrangements on the increase." LTTE reaction was
muted, primarily quoting LTTE eastern military commander
Karuna. Pro-LTTE website TAMILNET headlined late last week
(11/7), "We are strong, we will be patient - Col. Karuna."
Government-owned Tamil daily THINAKARAN (11/8) quoted
Karuna, "We are observing the political situation in the
south with concern," while independent English daily,
ISLAND expanded his sentiments more critically (11/8), "CBK
smashed up the pot while the milk was churning into
butter." Independent English DAILY MIRROR paraphrased
(11/8), "LTTE: we will watch and wait."

5. Reactions from the international community were also
prominently covered. Independent English DAILY MIRROR
reported (11/8), " Vajpayee expressed concern to CBK," but
independent English weekly, SUNDAY LEADER weighed in
strongly (11/9), "India, US put brakes on CBK." Independent
Sinhala weekly, SUNDAY LANKADEEPA noted (11/9), "USG
confident in PM government." Independent English weekly,
SUNDAY ISLAND reported on US and Sri Lankan military
training exercises (11/9), "Army confident US troops won't
leave," but independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL fretted
(11/8), "British government upset about the political
crisis in Sri Lanka," and (11/10) "International community
urges President to strengthen cohabitation agreement."

6. The media frenzy did not neglect the economic impact of
the crisis. Government-owned English DAILY NEWS
optimistically wrote (11/8), "Bourse soars to new heights,"
and continued the theme in government-owned English weekly,
SUNDAY OBSERVER (11/9), "Stocks recover: highest gain in
single day." Although independent English DAILY NEWS also
cheered (11/8), "Stock market booms after Ranil lands,"
the next morning its headline was more dire (11/9), "Crisis
threatens economic recovery." Independent English weekly,
SUNDAY LEADER revisited a particular worry in Sri Lanka
(11/9), "FTA with US in jeopardy."

-----
Editorials
-----
7. Editorial comment in English and vernacular newspapers
was heavy and focused on cohabitation issues. Government-
owned newspapers promoted the President's stance.
Independent commentary was varied: some editors urged an
attempt at cohabitation, others were openly skeptical.

----- Under the headline, "Turn current problems into
opportunities," government-owned English DAILY NEWS (11/8)
predictably commented that the President and Prime
Minister, "...Need to explore ways of cohabiting
harmoniously in the name of the common good."

Block quotes:
It is obvious that the issues at the heart of the present
political crisis pertain principally to power, prestige and
control. The parties to the conflict need to pause awhile
to ascertain whether they intend placing power over the
well-being of the country. If not, the President, the Prime
Minister and their respective parties need to explore ways
of cohabiting harmoniously in the name of the common good.
We strongly urge that these problems are turned into
opportunities.
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "President's invitation to form a
national government, government-owned Tamil weekly,
THINAKARAN VAARA MANJARI (11/09) urged cohabitation and
commented, " the political situation in the country...is an
internal problem."

Block quote.
Many foreign countries are watching the political situation
in the country and they are of the opinion that it is an
internal problem. This is the truth. The two leaders who
have been chosen by the people should solve their dispute
through talks. The President and the Prime Minister should
unitedly undertake future peace activities to establish
peace in the country.
End block quote.

----- Under the headline, "Wanted: A peace of another
kind," independent English daily, ISLAND (11/8) disparaged
cohabitation between the President and Prime Minister, "We
will not make ourselves appear to be damned fools by once
again appealing for co-operation between the two
personalities."
Block quotes:
This encounter has already cost the nation dearly. The
stock market which took years to recover has crashed in
just two days. Travel warnings have been issued by many
nations and businessmen are in a dizzy spin trying to
fathom the damage. The stupid declaration of an emergency
has been cancelled. Why it was done defies a logical
answer.
We will not make ourselves appear to be damned fools by
once again appealing for co-operation between the two
personalities. If they can't, it would be far better to go
to the polls. Perhaps the same results may ensue but it
would be better to have tried and failed than to watch the
nation falling apart.
End block quotes.
----- Under the headline, "Wanted: A miracle," independent
English daily, ISLAND (11/10) commented that, "...Only a
miracle can bring about a Government of Reconstruction and
Rehabilitation."
Block quotes:
If President Kumaratunga wants to be in charge of defence
matters, the prime minister is of the view that she should
also be in charge of the `Peace Process'. The argument that
one person should be in charge of both defence and the
peace process, indeed stands to reason. But there is a
third factor involved: the LTTE, which will certainly not
want the involvement of the president.
President Kumaratunga cannot be faulted for her call for a
Government of National Reconstruction and Rehabilitation,
however far fetched it may be at the moment. But, there
will be problems in her own camp as well , with the JVP
objecting to compliance with the Oslo and Tokyo
Declarations. Ranil Wickremasinghe will have to be a
Vessantara to make the sacrifice of three key ministerial
portfolios and three state media institutions to his arch
rival and still go into political co- habitation.
We do not believe in miracles. Right now, however only a
miracle can bring about a Government of Reconstruction and
Rehabilitation.
End block quotes.
----- Under the headline, "What is national interest?"
independent Tamil weekly, VIRAKESARI (10/9) commented, "It
is the Tamils who will be affected by the political
struggle for power by the two major parties in the
country."
Block quote.
The President's conscience will tell her how the security
and the economic condition of the country were when she was
in charge. It is due to the ethnic problem Sri Lanka
earned a bad name among the world countries. The President
is attempting to place impediments against peace. The
President's request for the removal of the Head of the SLMM
and creating a political crisis soon after the LTTE placed
its proposals for interim administration are glaring
examples of her attempt to block peace. If there is a true
interest in national affairs, prominence should be given to
the solving of the ethnic issue. It is the Tamils who will
be affected by the political struggle for power by the two
major parties in the country.
End block quote.
----- Under the headline, "National Govt. A romantic
notion?" independent English weekly, SUNDAY TIMES (11/9)
pessimistically opined, " The cry of millions of peoples
for the country's parallel governments to work together for
the common good is just only music to the deaf."

Block quotes:
So, the country plunges into another period of uncertainty
as the politicians play out their games of one-upmanship
and intrigue. The days ahead will see back-stabbing and
bribery at the highest levels of Government indulged in by
the highest in the land.
An invitation to treat as lawyers would say, was made last
Friday by President Kumaratunga in the form of a National
Reconciliation Government, a romantic notion nevertheless
even among those middle of the road leaders in both the PA
and the UNF.
The hard-liners on both sides of the political divide just
want it that way, and neither the leader of the PA nor the
UNF has the courage to provide the leadership that this
country wants from them. The cry of millions of peoples for
the country's parallel governments to work together for the
common good is just only music to the deaf.
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "Mrs. Debacle Strikes Again,"
independent English weekly, SUNDAY LEADER (11/9) scathingly
dressed down the President, "It is time to pack this
malicious mama off: we are done with her."
Block quotes:
Kumaratunga is a woman - nay, a greedy, power-hungry woman
- full up to her Adam's apple in envy and spite, growing
sick of the prosperity knocking on Sri Lanka's door, a
prosperity that flees at the very sight of her. And on the
eve of the budget, with her rival safely in Washington, the
coward Chandrika struck in true Bandaranaike style, from
behind the back. Within hours, the stock market crashed:
that is how much confidence the nation has in her. Within
hours, she sent her storm troopers in to seize key media
installations. Now its back to Lake House, Rupavahini and
ITN trumpeting her propaganda. Enjoy, fellow citizens, the
curse of Sri Lanka is back!
That is why it is essential that we set politics aside and
truly look to the national interest and, above all, act
responsibly, unlike the spoilt child Kumaratunga is, ever
ready to pee on the carpet to gain attention.
Kumaratunga has given the LTTE the best justification to
continue rearming until a final settlement is
constitutionally approved.
With the President running amok it is some consolation that
the Prime Minister kept his head and remained calm under
pressure. Wickremesinghe's systematic approach to
Kumaratunga's provocation was masterly. Displaying his
overwhelming parliamentary majority, he laid bare
Kumaratunga's claim to authority. Now it is up to him to
muster parliament to defy the fraudster we call
President... If Kumaratunga stands in [his] way through
self interest, well, she must be moved aside.
It is time to pack this malicious mama off: we are done
with her. Take a bow, Mrs. Debacle.
End block quotes.
----- Under the headline, "Current confusion and solution,"
independent Sinhala daily, LAKBIMA (11/10) commented,
"...it is the duty and responsibility of all leaders to put
country before their personal political agendas and make a
united and honest effort to solve the problem at hand..."
Block quotes.
The current political crisis has caused a stressful and
unstable situation in political, economic and
administrative sectors of the country. This turmoil has
unfortunately occurred at a time when the economy was
taking a progressive turn with vast improvements in the
Stock Market. But this unexpected crisis has pulled down
everything into an abyss of uncertainty and instability. It
is
imperative to resolve this political crisis to avoid the
country and the people from being drawn into a very
unfortunate situation.

At this critical juncture it is the duty and responsibility
of all leaders to put country before their personal
political agendas and make a united and honest effort to
solve the problem at hand in a manner favourable to the
country and the people.
End block quotes. LUNSTEAD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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