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Cablegate: Media Play: Sri Lankan Media Consumed By

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 COLOMBO 000592

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: KPAO PHUM OPRC KMDR OIIP PREL CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: Sri Lankan Media Consumed by
Parliamentary Elections


1. (U) Summary. Sri Lanka's English and vernacular media
offered exhaustive coverage and commentary about the
nation's April 2 parliamentary elections. The morning
after the poll (4/3), glowing lead headlines focused on the
relatively peaceful election. The media also reported on
election violations and violence. When the dust settled,
Sri Lanka's media reported on the still unofficial outcome
of the poll, as well as a brief U.S. Embassy statement
released 4/3 under the headline, "U.S. Embassy
Congratulates Sri Lanka on Elections." Three days after
the election, the headlines continued to be occupied with
speculation about the formation of a new government.
Editorial comment about the election was heavy. The issues
of the election - the economy and the peace process -
continued to occupy commentators. One Sinhala commentator
wrote, "The north - east crisis is our most crucial
problem... The other issue - the economy... The need of a
national plan is becoming more and more evident," while an
English language editor noted, "The global support and the
USD 4.5 billion available to underwrite a fair and just
settlement must not be lost as the southern mainstream
parties jockey for selfish advantage." Editors were also
concerned with the formation of a new government,
especially given that no party has a majority in
parliament. One Tamil daily asked, "Will the minority
parties support the UPFA to form the new government?" End
Summary.

2. (U) The morning after the poll (4/3), glowing lead
headlines focused on the relatively peaceful election.
Independent English DAILY MIRROR reported (4/3), "Peaceful
poll, huge turnout," while independent Tamil daily
THINAKKURAL elucidated (4/3), "Most calm election in recent
election history - more than 80% vote." Independent
Sinhala daily LAKBIMA soothed (4/3), "Election is peaceful
despite a few isolated incidents." Pro-LTTE Tamil daily
SUDAR OLI offered (4/3), "Many voted early at this election
- minor incidents in certain places - people in LTTE areas
very pleased."

3. (U) The media also reported on election violations
and violence. Independent Sinhala daily DIVAINA reported
(4/3), "Violence in Hanguranketha, Ragala and Senarathpura;
voters threatened and ballots snatched." Predictably
partisan government-owned (and Kumaratunga-controlled)
Sinhala daily DINAMINA cried (4/3), "Election terror in
Hanguranketha," reporting about a UNP stronghold with a
history of election-related violence. Government-owned
English sister DAILY NEWS chimed in (4/3), "Polls peaceful
thanks to President's action - PAFFREL Chief - Black sheep
Nuwara Eliya, Puttalam and Kurunegala." Independent
English daily ISLAND's headline was more even-handed (4/3),
"Several govt., alliance politicians accused of polls
violence."

4. (U) Independent Sinhala daily LANKADEEPA looked to the
North for headlines about election fraud (4/3), "5000
Tigers came in buses for vote rigging, alleges
Anandasangaree," quoting anti-LTTE Tamil United Liberation
Front (TULF) leader V. Anandasangaree. Surprisingly, pro-
LTTE Tamil daily SUDAR OLI also reported an allegations of
violations in the North, "Lots of election malpractice in
Jaffna and Wanni - Douglas and Anandasangaree accuse,"
referring to Eelam People's Democratic Party leader Douglas
Devananda and TULF leader Anandasangaree's complaints.
Tamil media headlines giving voice to EPDP concerns are
rare and are usually only found in government-owned Tamil
daily THINAKARAN, which obligingly reported (4/3), "EPDP
wants election in Jaffna annulled."

5. (U) When the dust settled, Sri Lanka's media reported
on the still unofficial outcome of the poll. Predictably,
government-owned media chronicled a victory for President
Kumaratunga's party, the United People Freedom Alliance
(UPFA). Government-owned English weekly SUNDAY OBSERVER
gushed (4/4), "Freedom Alliance Triumphs," while sister
government-owned Sinhala weekly SILUMINA wrote (4/4),
"Government to be formed by Alliance after its brilliant
victory." Government-owned Tamil weekly THINAKARAN VAARA
MANJARI added (4/4), "Great victory for UPFA."

6. (U) The independent press was a bit more circumspect.
Independent English weekly SUNDAY LEADER reported (4/4),
"Verdict: A hung parliament," while independent English
weekly SUNDAY ISLAND noted (4/4), "Close finish despite
electorate landslide for Alliance." Independent Sinhala
weekly DIVAMINA observed (4/4), "Discussions all day long
on forming a new government; Mahinda called urgently -
Alliance ahead." Of course, independent media outlets have
their own agendas, too, as exhibited by independent Tamil
weekly (and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) supporter)
THINAKKURAL's headlines (4/4), "No political camp able to
form a government on its own," and "Ranil [Wickremesinghe]
hopes for indirect TNA support to form the government."
Finally, independent English weekly SUNDAY TIMES offered
some certainty (4/4), "UPFA set to form a minority govt.--
UNF-CWC-TNA-SLMC coalition talks for control of hung
Parliament."

7. (U) Although the independent English DAILY MIRROR
reported (4/3), "Major parties happy with polls," smaller
political parties fretted about their role in the formation
of a new government. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), whose
slate of Buddhist monks yielded around nine seats, were a
popular topic with the English and Sinhala media.
Independent English weekly SUNDAY TIMES observed (4/4),
"JHU monks prepare for historic role." Independent English
weekly SUNDAY ISLAND noted (4/4), "JHU 'willing to
cooperate,'" but independent Sinhala weekly SUNDAY
LAKBIMA's headline contradicted (4/4), "Will not support
any party; will be independent in the Parliament - JHU
spokesperson." Meanwhile, independent Sinhala weekly
SUNDAY LANKADEEPA added (4/4), "JHU against getting TNA
support to form government." Voicing the concerns of the
TNA, independent English weekly SUNDAY ISLAND's headline
reported (4/4), "TNA seeks 'legitimate rights,'" while
independent English weekly SUNDAY LEADER warned (4/4), "TNA
will not help UPFA form a government."

8. (U) Sri Lankan media paid considerable attention to a
brief U.S. Embassy statement released 4/3 under the
headline, " U.S. Embassy Congratulates Sri Lanka on
Elections," and continued with the text of the Embassy
release, "The U.S. Embassy congratulates the Sri Lankan
people on the conclusion of a largely peaceful
parliamentary election with an impressive level of voter
turnout. We applaud the performance of the Election
Commission and the police. We look forward working with
the new government elected by the people of Sri Lanka. We
hope that the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tami
Eelam will return to the negotiating table as quickly as
possible to forge a lasting peace." Government-owned
English weekly SUNDAY OBSERVER crowed (4/4), "US Embassy
Congratulates," while government-owned Sinhala weekly
SILUMINA observed (4/4), "Ready to work with a new
government - says America." Independent Sinhala weekly
DIVAMINA added its own spin (4/4), "It was a peaceful, free
election - American Embassy says." Tamil newspapers
reported directly on their concerns. Independent Tamil
weekly THINAKKURAL reported (4/4), "America wants the new
government to commence talks with the LTTE," while
independent Tamil weekender VIRAKESARI echoed (4/4), "The
new government would talk to the LTTE - America is hopeful
- US Embassy."

9. (U) Three days after the election, the headlines
continued to be occupied with speculation about the
formation of a new government. Independent English DAILY
MIRROR asked (3/5), "Kadirgamar new PM? - President likely
to create post of Deputy Premier,' and reported on the JVP,
"40 seats for JVP - dominating role in UPFA victory."
Government-owned English DAILY NEWS reiterated (4/5),
"Freedom Alliance clear winner," and offered, "JVP will
take the country on correct path." Independent English
daily ISLAND's headline described the situation (4/5),
"UPFA to form govt. - Kadir [Lakshman Kadirgamar] tapped to
be next premier - [Jathika] Hela Urumaya neutral."
Independent Sinhala daily LAKBIMA noted (4/5), "UNP
prepared to sit at the opposition, obeying democracy."
Independent Tamil daily THINAKKURAL voiced the LTTE
perspective (4/5), "A joint voice of the Tamils for Tamil
sovereignty - LTTE statement regarding the victory of TNA."

10. (U) Editorial comment about the election was heavy.
The issues of the election - the economy and the peace
process - continued to occupy commentators. One Sinhala
commentator wrote, "The north - east crisis is our most
crucial problem... The other issue - the economy... The
need of a national plan is becoming more and more evident,"
while an English language editor noted, "The global support
and the USD 4.5 billion available to underwrite a fair and
just settlement must not be lost as the southern mainstream
parties jockey for selfish advantage." Editors were also
concerned with the formation of a new government,
especially given that no party has a majority in
parliament. One Tamil daily asked, "Will the minority
parties support the UPFA to form the new government?"


----- Under the headline, "Peoples' verdict and the
promises," independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI commented
(4/3) ,"Both parties have promised to continue the peace
process, to uplift the economy and to solve the
unemployment problem.. It is the duty of those elected to
fulfill these promises.."

Editorial excerpts.

The responsibility of electing the government is left in
the hands of 12,899,032 voters of this country.. There are
5,698 candidates vying for the 225 seats in the parliament.
All of them cannot get elected.. All those contesting
cannot win, and the losers should be able to take it up..
Political parties, candidates and the supporters should
bear this in mind.. The president and the prime minister
have requested the people to respect law and order and make
way for a free and fair election.. Both parties have
promised to continue the peace process, to uplift the
economy and to solve the unemployment problem.. It is the
duty of those elected to fulfill these promises..

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Winners, losers and
opportunities," independent English weekly SUNDAY ISLAND
opined about saving the peace process and the economy
(4/4), "The global support and the USD 4.5 billion
available to underwrite a fair and just settlement must not
be lost as the southern mainstream parties jockey for
selfish advantage."

Editorial excerpts.

The best thing Kumaratunga can do for this country is to
work towards a national government that she sought not so
long ago from a position of weakness. This she can do from
her present position of strength and Wickremesinghe and his
party must cooperate if such an opportunity presents
itself. That is the best way to negotiate a settlement of
the ethnic question with the LTTE on terms that are fair to
both sides. The global support and the USD 4.5 billion
available to underwrite a fair and just settlement must not
be lost as the southern mainstream parties jockey for
selfish advantage.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Freedom," government-owned
English weekly SUNDAY OBSERVER commented (4/4), "The people
have rejected the UNF Government lock, stock and barrel and
ushered in a vibrant new era placing their trust in one who
has promised them permanent peace and happiness."

Editorial excerpts.

At the time of writing the United People's Freedom Alliance
appears to be romping home to victory and set to form the
new Government. After burning his fingers in a brief, but
costly interlude with the United Front Government led by
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the voter has once more reposed trust
in the country's charismatic President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, a warm, caring human being, a
stateswoman of dynamism and courage. Cometh the hour,
cometh the person.. The UNF tried by hook or by crook to
prevent the Freedom Alliance from being formed and when
that failed, tried to destroy it, by spreading vile
canards, character assassination and all else that is evil.
The people have rejected the UNF Government lock, stock and
barrel and ushered in a vibrant new era placing their trust
in one who has promised them permanent peace and happiness.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Out of a hung Parliament, "
independent English weekly SUNDAY TIMES commented (4/4),
"The need is for the major parties to get together. For
what we have inherited from this election is a hung
Parliament and the Premier trying suicidally to form a
Government with the minorities and the President to form a
minority Government."

Editorial excerpts.

The masses have spoken, but not in one voice.. The end
result -- a split nation, a hung Parliament and a minority
government. . the backstage negotiations had already begun
from the early hours of last morning even as the results
were still pouring in. Promises of support and inducements
of a varied nature were on offer to all and sundry,
especially in the smaller parties, just to string together
a majority in Parliament and a Government that will be
wobbly as ever.. Out of this pot-pourri emerges a familiar
call, ignored by the political leaders of our times. The
need is for the major parties to get together. For what we
have inherited from this election is a hung Parliament and
the Premier trying suicidally to form a Government with the
minorities and the President to form a minority Government.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Right vision for national issues
and crises, " independent Sinhala weekly SUNDAY LANKADEEPA
- commented (4/4), "The north - east crisis is our most
crucial problem... The other issue - the economy... The
need of a national plan is becoming more and more evident."

Editorial excerpts.

The north - east crisis is our most crucial problem. The
solution to that should be a lasting one. The way to that
solution is definitely the peace talks. Though it can't be
done with a single stroke of a pen, we hope those required
have a right approach to it. The other issue - the
economy. We are not self sufficient in rice or fish . Our
unemployment problem is also really grave. Annually it
gets worse. The need of a national plan is becoming more
and more evident.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "The only way out - 2,
"independent English daily ISLAND commented (4/5), "The
results of this election do indicate that a new set of
political forces has come into play.... As we pointed
out... co-operation between the SLFP and the UNP is the
only way out of this political quagmire."

Editorial excerpts.

The results of this election do indicate that a new set of
political forces has come into play.... For the first time
... TNA will be the sounding board of the LTTE on the most
significant political issue, war or peace. Thus,
parliament will become the threshing floor of this issue
unlike earlier when the debating grounds even went
overseas.... The JVP in this parliament becomes a key
player with about 40 MPs.... Their MPs have scored huge
preference votes and the party is bound to stake claims for
plum portfolios in the cabinet.... The third significant
development is the emergence of the Buddhist monks as a
political party in parliament. In this hung parliament
they could become a decisive Third Force, which was one of
their prime objectives.... As we pointed out in our
editorial on Saturday, co-operation between the SLFP and
the UNP is the only way out of this political quagmire.

End editorial excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Will the minority parties
support the UPFA to form the government?" independent Tamil
daily VIRAKESARI asked (4/5), "Will the minority parties
support the UPFA to form the new government?"

Editorial excerpts.

The election is over. According to the elections
commissioner, more than 75 percent of the voters have cast
their votes. Neither the UPFA nor the UNF gained an
absolute majority in the parliament.. As the UPFA has won
more seats than any other party, the President has called
the UPFA to form the next government.. There was
speculation that the UPFA would seek the support of the
Jathika Hela Urumaya, which has won nine seats, to form the
next government, but Venerable Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero has
clearly stated that JHU will stand neutral in the
parliament.. So the UPFA is left with choice of CWC, SLMC
or TNA.. Although the CWC contested the election under the
UNP symbol, the pre-election agreement between the UNP and
the CWC empowered CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman to use his
discretion.. The CWC, SLMC and the TNA during their
election propaganda stated that their respective parties
are going to be the kingmakers. Will the minority parties
support the UPFA to form the new government?


End editorial excerpts.
LUNSTEAD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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