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Cablegate: Media Play: President Kumaratunga Dissolves

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000216

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 dissolves
Parliament

1. (U) Summary. On February 7, President Kumaratunga
dissolved Sri Lanka's Parliament. Newspaper reporting was
partisan, particularly in government-owned (and
Kumaratunga-controlled) media outlets. The independent
press carried Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his UNP
party's story, as well as more nuanced reporting about the
President's decision. Newspaper headlines reported concern
for free and fair elections from both the President's and
the Prime Minister's perspectives; not surprisingly the
media has begun covering newly campaigning parties. Media
reports showed Tamil and Muslim political parties already
in the fray. Concern about the economy and donor money for
development also dominated media headlines, particularly in
the Tamil press. Editorial comment was heavy in both
government-owned and independent newspapers, although each
camp offered wildly divergent opinions. Government-owned
newspapers in all languages reflected the President's
agenda, reiterating that her decision to dissolve
Parliament was the right decision, because, as one editor
wrote (2/9), "If she waited any longer the nation would
have totally collapsed." Independent commentary in all
languages was critical of the President's actions and
focused on elections. One independent Sinhala editor
commanded, (2/9) "Now all should pay attention to a free
and fair election," while a Tamil commentator cautioned,
"The fresh elections should not be a barrier for peace..."
End summary.

2. (U) On February 7, President Kumaratunga dissolved Sri
Lanka's Parliament. In the days after, most newspaper
headlines echoed independent Sinhala daily DIVAINA's lead
(2/9), "Parliament dissolved, elections on April 2;
Nominations from February 17-24; new parliament to meet on
April 22." Newspaper reporting in (Kumaratunga-
controlled) government-owned and independent media quickly
became partisan. Government-owned English DAILY NEWS
headlined (2/9), "Country saved from anarchy," while its
vernacular sibling government-owned Sinhala daily DINAMINA
crowed (2/9), "People celebrate government dissolution,"
and government-owned Tamil daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9),
"Country welcomes the dissolution of the parliament."
Reporting about the President's decision from non-
government media sources was more nuanced. Independent
English website LANKA ACADEMIC headlined (2/8), "President
was 'forced' to dissolve parliament by her party
stalwarts." Pro-LTTE website TAMILNET noted (2/7),
"President intervened to save nation from Premier's anti
national sabotage - Opposition Leader." Independent Tamil
daily THINAKKURAL lead with (2/9), "The President expects
the stalled political situation to change with the
elections."

3. (U) The independent press carried Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe and his UNP party's story. Independent
English weekly SUNDAY TIMES headlined (2/8), "Panic
decision: PM," while it's daily sister Independent English
DAILY MIRROR continued (2/9), "Dissolution dictatorial:
UNP." Independent Maharajah Television (MTV) reported in
all languages (2/8), "The UNP says an unnecessary election
will have a negative impact on peace development."
Independent Tamil newspaper coverage was especially
supportive of the UNP message. Independent Tamil daily
THINAKKURAL reported (2/9), "Dissolution of the parliament
is a signal of war from the south - UNP,' while independent
Tamil daily VIRAKESARI's main headline (2/9) read, "We will
win the elections and form a stronger government and teach
a good lesson to the President - UNF."

4. (U) In the meantime, independent English daily ISLAND
reported on the composition of the government before the
elections (2/9), "Caretaker govt. cabinet of 15 ministers,"
while independent English DAILY MIRROR asked (2/9), "More
Cabinet heads to roll?" The President appointed two of her
closest advisors to the caretaker cabinet. Government-
owned English DAILY NEWS' photo lead was captioned (2/9),
"Two new ministers," (Media Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar;
Post and Telecommunications Minister D. M. Jayaratne). The
President's newly appointed ministers quickly found their
voices. Independent English website LANKA ACADEMIC
reported the new Media Minister's comments (2/9), "My goal
is a well balanced media- Kadirgamar," while independent
Sinhala daily LAKBIMA did the same for the new Post and
Telecommunications Minister (2/9), "Government failed to
address people's issues - D. M. Jayaratne."

5. (U) Newspaper headlines reported concern for free and
fair elections from both the President's and the Prime
Minister's perspectives. Independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI
noted (2/9), "The President will give orders to conduct a
free and fair election - New Minister Kadirgamar," while
independent English daily ISLAND reported Power and Energy
Minister Karu Jayasuriya's comments (2/9), "Karu stresses
need for violence free polls, calls for foreign monitors."
Newspapers gave space to coverage of local election
monitors as well. Independent English DAILY MIRROR wrote
(2/9), "PAFFREL swings into action," (People's Action for
Free and Fair Elections), while independent Tamil daily
THINAKKURAL continued (2/9), "PAFFREL to deploy 20,000
local observers at the general election."

6. (U) Not surprisingly, campaigning in the media has
begun. Independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI reported (2/9),
"Political parties are seriously engaged in setting their
strategies for the general elections - UNP meets under PM -
TNA to meet tomorrow." Independent English website LANKA
ACADEMIC reported UNP chairman Malik Samarwickrema's
comments (2/8), "UNP Confident of Winning Elections-
Malik," while independent Sinhala daily DIVAINA continued
the UNP line (2/9), "Will get people's mandate to let
people-friendly program win - UNP Deputy Leader Karu
Jayasuriya." Government-owned Sinhala daily DINAMINA's
headline dismissed UNP optimism (2/9), "Even though we'll
lose this election, we'll win next time, says Rajitha,"
(Minister of Lands Rajitha Senaratne); and went further
still (2/9), "Group of UNPers ask for a new leader for
UNP."

7. (U) Although independent English DAILY MIRROR reported
(2/9), "Minority groups still on the fence, " media
headlines showed Tamil and Muslim political parties already
in the fray. Pro-LTTE Tamil daily SUDAR OLI led with (2/9),
"TNA to adopt a new strategy at the general elections - no
preferential votes," even though independent Tamil daily
THINAKKURAL cautioned (2/9), "Today there are no Sinhala
leaders who think that there should be solution to the
Tamils' problems - Elections will further aggravate the
situation - TNA Secretary General Sampanthan MP."
THINAKKURAL also reported (2/9), "Upcountry Peoples' Front
trying hard to get all Tamil parties to contest under one
banner," while pro-LTTE Tamil daily SUDAR OLI added (2/9),
"Some of the upcountry Tamil parties to join the UNF." The
LTTE's reaction was muted. Pro-LTTE website TAMILNET
reported (2/8), "LTTE blames Sinhala leaders for lack of
political will and vision," and government-owned Tamil
daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9), "Government that can grant
the Tamils a permanent solution is needed - Vavuniya LTTE
leader S. Elilan." On the Muslim front, government-owned
Tamil daily THINAKARAN reported, "SLMC is ready to face the
elections - Minister Hakeem, " while independent English
daily ISLAND added (2/9), "SLMC says Muslims should unite,"
and "SLMC to go it alone."

8. (U) Concern about the economy and donor money for
development also dominated media headlines, particularly in
the Tamil press. Independent Tamil daily THINAKKURAL
cautioned (2/9), "Further fall in finance market expected."
Independent English DAILY MIRROR's Financial Times section
headlined (2/9), "'Dissolution unnecessary' echo business
leaders - Cohabitation would have seen the nation through;
Urge next Govt to ensure stability and development oriented
economy while ensuring peace process." Government-owned
Tamil daily THINAKARAN noted (2/9), "The development work
will come to a standstill with the dissolution of
parliament - Minister Karu Jayasuriya." Independent
English daily ISLAND reported (2/9), "Crisis puts donor
confab in balance," while independent Tamil daily
VIRAKESARI worried (2/9), "Snap elections would delay USD
4.5 billion aid - Diplomats and intellectuals."

9. (U) Editorial comment was heavy in both government-
owned and independent newspapers, although each camp
offered wildly divergent opinions. Government-owned
newspapers in all languages reflected the President's
agenda, reiterating that her decision to dissolve
Parliament was the right decision, because, as one editor
wrote (2/9), " If she waited any longer the nation would
have totally collapsed." Government-owned papers noted
that the President had "no choice," and commented on the
"dangerous situation [Sri Lanka] was pushed into by the UNF
trying to satisfy the developed nations," and stressed
elections as the "first step toward an independent Sri
Lanka." Independent commentary in all languages was
critical of the President's actions. English commentary
focused on free and fair elections and the importance of
international monitoring and the role of the media.
Independent Sinhala editors fretted over the upcoming
election and commanded, (2/9) "Now all should pay attention
to a free and fair election," while Tamil commentators
characterized the President's actions as a "wrong act" and
"undemocratic," and cautioned, "The fresh elections should
not be a barrier for peace..."

----- Under the headline, "The right decision, "
government-owned English DAILY NEWS commented (2/9), "With
the country facing near-anarchy due to a breakdown in
governance... Providentially, the people have now been
given a chance to decide as to who is best suited to rule
this country and restore peace and stability."

Editorial excerpts.

With the country facing near-anarchy due to a breakdown in
governance, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
has had no alternative but to dissolve Parliament. The
collapse of the peace process and the Shylock-like
irrational demand for the portfolio of defence, widespread
worker unrest for reasons ranging from low wages, a
spiralling cost of living to insecurity of employment,
rampant corruption at levels hitherto unheard of, the
prohibitive cost of fertiliser to farmers, incompetence,
inefficiency, thuggery, a trail of broken promises to the
people and a total disinterest in the rule of law made the
Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Front (UNF)
government's continuance in office untenable..
Providentially, the people have now been given a chance to
decide as to who is best suited to rule this country and
restore peace and stability.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Dissolution of parliament,"
government-owned Tamil daily THINAKARAN commented (2/9),
"The President had no other options than to dissolve the
parliament as the UNF government was inactive.. So, the
decision taken by the President to dissolve the parliament
is correct."

Editorial excerpts.

The parliament has been dissolved and fresh polls are to be
held on April 2nd.. The President had no other options than
to dissolve the parliament as the UNF government was
inactive.. The UNF ministers, who challenged the President
to hold fresh elections suddenly became silent because a
survey conducted by the UNP sources showed a negative
result.. All UNF strategies to postpone the dissolution of
the parliament failed.. Certain political analysts,
patriotic artistes and many trade union leaders requested
the President not to fall prey to the UNF ploy, as they
realized the dangerous situation that the country was
pushed into by the UNF in trying to satisfy the developed
nations.. It is the duty of the President to give an
opportunity to the citizens to decide the fate of an
inactive government. So, the decision taken by the
President to dissolve the parliament is correct.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Save the country from
politicians," independent English DAILY MIRROR commented
(2/9), "...We humbly call on the international community to
play a bigger role in the monitoring of this next election
from north to south and east to west. Otherwise our vile
political morons will further plunge this country with so
much promise into eternal chaos."

Editorial excerpts.
Now that President Chandrika Kumaratunga has dissolved
Parliament and fixed fresh elections, the third in four
years, on April 02, what is of utmost necessity is a free
and fair election without senseless bloodletting.. One
thing is certain. Virtually all politicians are in this
foray not for the country, but for their own
aggrandisement.. Therefore, more than ever, we need a free
and fair election to really feel the pulse of the nation.
All recent elections have been marred by violence
perpetrated by none other than these so-called democratic
parties. So once again, knowing our politicians, we humbly
call on the international community to play a bigger role
in the monitoring of this next election from north to south
and east to west. Otherwise our vile political morons will
further plunge this country with so much promise into
eternal chaos.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Is dissolution of parliament a
wise decision?" independent Sinhala daily LANKADEEPA
commented (2/9), "Who can justify the dissolution of a
government that had the majority in the Parliament? Isn't
this act ridiculing the people's mandate? If this election
also brings a government of this nature, are going to have
eternal elections? ....Now all should pay attention to a
free and fair election."

Editorial excerpts.

The step to dissolve parliament and hold a general election
can never be regarded as prudent. Why? This is not the
time for the Sri Lankan sectors to be at loggerheads. The
rectifying of bitter political instability that arose since
November 4 was crucial. Another crucial factor is the
country's poor economic instability. Conflicts in the
economic and trade areas with the upcoming election is
inevitable. investments will be low, foreign aid will be
scarce. For years, the majority of the people have been
suffering. Who can justify the dissolution of a government
that had the majority in the Parliament? Isn't this act
ridiculing the people's mandate? If this election also
brings a government of this nature, are going to have
eternal elections? This dissolution has happened at a time
when the peace process has halted. What will happen to the
peace process? Who can give the guarantee that a war will
not occur? What will happen if it happens? Whatever it
is, the bad has already happened. Now all should pay
attention to a free and fair election. This won't be
possible if violence and rigging continues. Who would then
be penalized? The public.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "General Election and the
national problem," independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI
commented (2/9), "The fresh elections should not be a
barrier for peace and the new elected government should
take forward the peace process or else the country will
face economic hardships."

Editorial excerpts.

After consulting some of SLFP stalwarts and the Elections
Commissioner, the President dissolved the parliament using
her executive powers.. The President has also appointed
two of her closest allies as Ministers in the caretaker
government.. Snap polls were expected but not so soon,
judging from the President's address at independence
celebrations.. As in the past, where her views and
promises never lasted, here too, her stand has changed
immediately.. The national problem during the last two
decades was the ethnic problem.. That is the cause of all
the destruction.. During PM Ranil Wickremasinghe's short
spell as the PM, a lot of effort was taken to solve this
problem.. The fresh elections should not be a barrier for
peace and the new elected government should take forward
the peace process or else the country will face economic
hardships..

End editorial excerpts.

Lunstead

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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