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Cablegate: Media Play: President Kumaratunga Claims Right To

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000104

SIPDIS

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

E.O.12958:N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP PREL CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: President Kumaratunga claims right to
serve until 2006

1. Summary. President Kumaratunga's 1/13 address to the
nation on government-owned Independent Television News
(ITN) in which she claimed the right to serve until 2006
sparked a firestorm of contradictory headlines in the Sri
Lankan media. Government-owned (and Kumaratunga-
controlled) English and vernacular newspapers predictably
supported the President's actions, while contrary reaction
from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's camp was swift and
came from multiple fronts. English and vernacular
editorialists criticized the President's disclosure of a
secret second swearing-in ceremony, arguing that the

SIPDIS
President is "clinging to power" and as one independent
English daily commented, "When constitutions are tailored
to suit persons rather than nations... what follows can be
horrendous..." Vernacular editors reacted predictably:
one Tamil editor noted that the President's actions, "show
her determination to strengthen her position," while
Sinhala editors focused on the Supreme Court's role in
deciding the issue. End Summary.

-----
Headlines
-----

2. President Kumaratunga's 1/13 address to the nation on
government-owned Independent Television News (ITN) in which
she claimed the right to serve until 2006 sparked a
firestorm of contradictory headlines in the Sri Lankan
media. The morning after (1/14) yielded predictably
supportive reporting in government-owned (and Kumaratunga-
controlled) English and vernacular newspapers. Government-
owned English DAILY NEWS reported, "President tells nation:
My term ends in 2006," while its Sinhala sister,
government-owned DINAMINA wrote, "'It's me who will decide
when to quit,' President clarifies why she was sworn in
twice." Pro-LTTE Tamil daily, SUDAR OLI's headline
reported, "My term of office can be extended by another
year - President," while Independent Sinhala daily,
LANKADEEPA elucidated (1/14), "My swearing-in in 2002 is
valid till 2006; PA is also agreeable to what Prime
Minister was ready to commit to LTTE."

3. Reaction from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's camp was
swift and came from multiple fronts. The independent press
ran headlines giving pride of place to the Prime Minister's
government. Independent English DAILY MIRROR reported
(1/15), "Govt. again insists CBK must go in 2005," while
independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL wrote (1/15), "'No
chance for compromise' - Government's stand on President's
term of office." Meanwhile, independent Sinhala daily,
DIVAINA added (1/15), "President has violated the
Constitution by swearing in thrice, says Minister Ravi
Karunanayake," and independent Sinhala daily, LANKADEEPA
added (1/16), "President's office ends in December 2005, we
will not tolerate any nonsense, says Minister Ravi
Karunanayake." Independent Sinhala daily, LANKADEEPA's
headline (1/15), "President's office ends in December,
2005, says Minister G L Peiris," was echoed by pro-LTTE
Tamil daily, SUDAR OLI's headline quoting Peiris (1/15),
"'The President's statement that she would decide on her
term of office is illegal' - Prof. G.L. Peiris."

4. The tit-for-tat in Sri Lanka's headlines continued for
several days. Government-owned Tamil daily, THINAKARAN
took the President's part, "Supreme Court is the decision
making body regarding the President's term of office - PA
spokesman." English DAILY NEWS, also government-owned,
seconded its Tamil sister's headline (1/17), "Legal
opinions support validity of President's second swearing-
in," and complained, "'Editorial writers not competent to
adjudicate' - PA spokesman." Independent Tamil weekly
VIRAKESARI carried the Prime Minister's perspective (1/18),
"The government decides to complain to the international
courts regarding President taking oaths," as did
independent Sinhala daily, DIVAINA in its headline, "UNP
about to seek help of international courts on President's
swearing-in thrice."

-----
Editorials
-----

5. English and vernacular editorialists criticized the
President's disclosure of a secret second swearing-in
ceremony and argued that the President is "clinging to
power." One independent English daily commented, "When
constitutions are tailored to suit persons rather than
nations... what follows can be horrendous..." Vernacular
editors reacted predictably: one Tamil editor noted that
the President's actions, "show her determination to
strengthen her position," while Sinhala editors focused on
the Supreme Court's role in deciding the issue.

----- Under the headline, "Clinging to power," independent
English daily ISLAND commented (1/15), "But all those who
hope for the restoration of law and order should realise
that this issue involves the extension of the term of
office of the head of state by one year by ignoring the
distortion of the supreme law of the land."
Editorial excerpts.
...It is quite clear that the constitution - the supreme
law of the land - cannot be kicked around as and when a
president pleases. In fact, the president of the country is
bound to protect and safeguard the law of the land,
particularly the constitution. In the oath the president
takes on being sworn in as president, she solemnly declares
and affirms that she 'will uphold and defend the
Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri
Lanka...' If President Kumaratunga wants the people to
think that she was not transgressing the Constitution with
her being sworn in twice, the question why absolute silence
was maintained on the issue for two long years has to be
explained by her. It was she who while campaigning for
presidency in 1994 spoke with much eloquence on the need
for transparency in governance... It will, no doubt, be
argued that the constitution has been violated an umpteen
number of times and this one instance is no reason to bring
the roof down. But all those who hope for the restoration
of law and order should realise that this issue involves
the extension of the term of office of the head of state by
one year by ignoring the distortion of the supreme law of
the land.
End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Morality not legality,"
Independent English weekly, SUNDAY ISLAND commented (1/18),
"When constitutions are tailored to suit persons rather
than nations... what follows can be horrendous..."
Editorial excerpts.
The situation certainly gets curiouser and curiouser as
Alice said in Wonderland. The president, her office and
various spokespersons have at last broken their deafening
silence and come back with a long delayed response to the
press reports that she was twice sworn-in as the President
of the Republic in an apparent manoeuvre to extend her
present term till the end of 2006.... As the accompanying
article on this page by our legal correspondent clearly
expounds, the president is dead right in her view that her
term extends till the end of 2006. Professor G. L. Peiris
thinks otherwise; but then he cannot be considered a
disinterested person in these matters... The issue that
has surfaced over this controversy is not one of legality
but one of morality. Given the expert interpretation, and
the president must surely have obtained an ironclad opinion
before her office declared that "the only body with
authority to deem the act (second swearing)
unconstitutional is the supreme court," as well as other
legal opinion appear united in the view that CBK can remain
at the wicket till the end of 2006 whatever the UNP and
those whom she says "are running amok in their haste to
become president'' think or want. When constitutions are
tailored to suit persons rather than nations, and this is a
major fault certainly in the third amendment to the 1977
constitution, what follows can be horrendous...
End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Why not seek legal help if
second swearing-in is wrong?" government-owned Sinhala
daily, DINAMINA commented (1/19), "The President does not
want to stick to the Presidency forever... But if anyone
feels that she is trying to do that, it's best to seek
legal help."

Editorial excerpts.

It's quite clear that the President's second swearing-in is
not against the Constitution. The sad part about this fact
is that the same party that seconded the Constitutional
amendment is now working against it. The goal of the
conflict is obvious. Those who want power want to create
havoc among the public. The President does not want to
stick to the Presidency forever. She has said so. But if
anyone feels that she is trying to do that, it's best to
seek legal help. It's much better than going ahead with
hundreds of arguments.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "President's term of office,"
independent Sinhala weekly SUNDAY LAKBIMA commented (1/18),
"This is a very dangerous situation since her not being
accepted by a large section of elected legislators could
create internal clashes. As such, rather than arguing about
the legality and ethics of this issue, the matter could be
resolved by taking it to the Supreme Court."
Editorial excerpts.

A major topic of discussion today is the term of office of
President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the news about her
having been sworn in twice. Long after the media reported
about this, the President explained at an interview with
the ITN channel that she had taken oaths in 1999 to show to
the people that she was in good health and was sworn in
again according to law in 2000. But the UNP has said that
it was not prepared to accept her as the President of the
country after 2005. This is a very dangerous situation
since her not being accepted by a large section of elected
legislators could create internal clashes. As such, rather
than arguing about the legality and ethics of this issue,
the matter could be resolved by taking it to the Supreme
Court.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "The new political alliances,"
independent Tamil daily THINAKKURAL commented about
President's Kumaratunga's secret oath-taking and the SLFP -
JVP alliance (1/20), "All these actions show her
determination to strengthen her position."

Editorial excerpts.

The political parties are doing everything possible to
build up their parties forgetting the future of the people
and the country. From the day the President took over the
three ministries, she has been rejecting the UNF government
elected by the people.. In the meantime, she took oaths in
a secret manner to extend her term of office by a further
year.. Amidst the political crisis she now enters into an
alliance with the JVP.. Looking at the present crisis, the
only solution left is the general election and the alliance
with the JVP is clear proof.. Under the present
circumstances, the UNF is not going to survive.. Whichever
party that comes into power will be subjected to
presidential executive powers.. Soon the President may
appoint an interim cabinet and dissolve the parliament to
face a new general election. Will the people accept all
these moves, as they seem to be un-democratic. The
President plans to meet the Chief Prelates to gather
support.. All these actions show her determination to
strengthen her position.

End editorial excerpts.


LUNSTEAD

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