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Cablegate: Battle of the Titans Begins

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UNCLAS COLOMBO 001066

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: BATTLE OF THE TITANS BEGINS

1. (U) Late on November 23, President Mahinda Rajapaksa began
the process to hold an early presidential election and
instructed the Elections Commission to begin preparations for
the election. Rajapaksa issued the instructions at a meeting
with leaders of political parties constituting the ruling
UPFA coalition and his own SLFP party cadre. Rajapaksa told
his party cadre that his decision to hold an election early
was because he had accomplished in four years the work that
had been planned for a full presidential term. (NOTE:
Rajapaksa was elected president in November 2005 for a
six-year term. The constitution allows the president to call
an early election after he has served four years. END NOTE.)

2. (SBU) Post expects the election to be held in late
January. Embassy contacts note that the election date could
be either 23 or 26 January. Sri Lankan law states that once
the President officially informs the Election Commission of
his decision, the declaration should be gazetted within seven
days (expected to be completed by 30 November). The
nominations for president should be called sixteen days after
the gazetted date of the elections and completed within the
next five days. The Election Commissioner can conduct the
election anywhere from four to six weeks after the closure of
the nomination period.

Comment
-------

3. (SBU) The announcement of the presidential election ends a
long period of speculation by political observers and
indecision by the Rajapaksa administration. While Rajapaksa
most likely was spooked by the emerging candidacy of General
Sarath Fonseka, we now expect both the SLFP and the
opposition immediately to begin their respective election
campaigns -- with the most intense period of campaigning
probably occurring after the start of the new year. Embassy
contacts have begun to warn that the election campaign could
be accompanied by widespread election violence and dirty
tricks. Post will be meeting with election monitoring
organizations and the Election Commissioner in the next few
days and will report septel on those meetings and the
probable need for American election observers.
FOWLER

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