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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: President's Brother Basil Takes A

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UNCLAS COLOMBO 001301

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: PRESIDENT'S BROTHER BASIL TAKES A
VACANT SEAT IN PARLIAMENT


1. (U) The President's brother, Basil Rajapaksa, took a seat
in parliament today, replacing Muslim MP Anver Ismail, who
died recently, reportedly from alcohol-related illness.
Speaker of Parliament Lokubandara swore in Basil, whose
nomination had gone the previous day to the Election
Commissioner as Ismail's replacement. Basil's swearing-in
unleashed pandemonium in Parliament, causing the Speaker to
suspend the session briefly.

2. (SBU) Opposition Members of Parliament, especially from
the United National Party (UNP), protested Basil's nomination
on the grounds that the seat was technically the UNP's to
fill. A noted Sri Lankan constitutional lawyer agreed with
the UNP interpretation, noting that Ismail had previously
belonged to the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC), which had
campaigned and won the seat under the UNP banner. Under the
Sri Lankan Constitution, the parliamentary mandate belongs
not to the person, but the party. However, our expert noted
that it would have been up to the UNP and the SLMC to take
legal action against Ismail when he resigned from the SLMC,
so the legal situation was not clear.

3. (U) According to press reports, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa will move soon to appoint his brother Basil as
Minister of Nation Building. The President currently holds
that portfolio himself, but Basil has been carrying out those
functions as the government's point man on the redevelopment
of the East. The National Congress under M.L.M. Athaullah (a
breakaway from the SLMC to which Ismail belonged) had
reportedly received assurances from the Rajapaksas that
despite having to give up one of their seats to Basil, they
would be allowed to appoint one of their backbenchers to fill
Ismail's post as non-Cabinet Minister of Irrigation.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: It is unlikely that Muslims in Ismail's
southeastern constituency will be enthused by the appointment
of Basil, a Sinhalese Buddhist, to represent them. It is
also unlikely that Basil can defend this seat in the next
general election. In the long run, it will probably hurt the
President's standing among Sir Lankan Muslims and his party's
chances in the southeast. However, in this case, the
overriding consideration was the President's desire to seize
the opportunity to make Basil an MP and a Minister, thereby
making sure that the opposition was not able to pick up the
seat. Basil will now be able to defend himself in person
against charges that he secured his brother's election as
President in 2005 by arranging a deal with the LTTE to
suppress Tamil votes in the north and east. Parliament is
scheduled to take up the debate on this tomorrow, September
20.
BLAKE

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