Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Rajapaksa is very conscious of his lower class roots

By Colombo Telegraph –

“This was a somewhat disjointed but nonetheless useful conversation between second and third grade musical and dance performances. The President was at ease and mused that he was happy to have someone to talk with during what he jokingly called ‘this annual agony’ that he loyally attends to recognize his wife’s efforts.” the US Ambassador to Colombo wrote to Washington.

The President proudly pointed out a statue in the town center of his father who had served as an MP for the district 1945 to 1960. These roots in a southern small town clearly drive the President's thinking and self-image. One MP who has worked with the President for three decades told us the President is very conscious of his lower class roots from a village in the south that contrast with the upper class urban roots of many in the UNP such as former UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Colombo Telegraph found the leaked cable from the WikiLeak database. The cable is classified as “SECRET” and recounts details of a meeting ambassador Robert O. Blake has had with President Rajapaksa in December 2007. According to the cable they discussed issues such as implementing 13 th amendment , APRC power sharing proposals, negotiations with the LTTE, elections, US donation of maritime surveillance radar, real-time intelligence on Pabakharan’s whereabouts, Rajapaksa’s shaky support in Parliament and paramilitary activities.

Ambassador Blake wrote “The Ambassador and his family were invited by Sri Lankan First Lady Shiranti Rajapaksa to be chief guests for the annual music pageant for the Carlton primary school in the southern town of Tangalle, where President Rajapaksa began his career as a lawyer and member of Parliament. President Rajapaksa elected to attend the celebration which gave the Ambassador a chance to discuss with him some of the important issues facing his country.”

Under the subheading “Biographic Notes” ambassador Blake wrote “This was the first time we had visited with the President in his home district. It was in Tangalle that the President began his law practice, rented his first home, and was elected in 1968 as the youngest member of parliament at the age of 24. The President proudly pointed out a statue in the town center of his father who had served as an MP for the district 1945 to 1960. These roots in a southern small town clearly drive the President’s thinking and self-image. One MP who has worked with the President for three decades told us the President is very conscious of his lower class roots from a village in the south that contrast with the upper class urban roots of many in the UNP such as former UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.”

“Two of the President’s three sons joined us for the day trip to Tangalle. All three of the sons attended the local Carlton primary school that the first lady has been active with for more than 20 years. The eldest son Namal is currently completing a degree in London, but is the son most likely to follow in his father’s political footsteps. Already he has founded a youth organization “Tharunyata Hetak” (a better tomorrow for youth). The President’s second son Yoshita is a naval cadet currently undergoing training at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, UK. The third son, Rohitha, is attending St.Thomas College (a secondary school in Colombo) and told the Ambassador he hopes to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering. The President proudly pointed out that all three of his sons had captained the rugby team at St.Thomas.” he further wrote.

Placing a comment ambassador Blake wrote “It is clear from his comments to the Ambassador that even though the GSL will have a clear opportunity to get things done in the next year (assuming it wins the budget vote), it lacks a clear strategy both on how to pursue peace and whether to seek new elections. Trade Minister and peace process advisor GL Peiris confirmed as much in a later conversation at a National Day in which he told the Ambassador that the GSL’s early focus will be on implementing the 13th Amendment. This clearly reflects the advice that the Indian Government has been giving the GSL, but cannot substitute for a power-sharing proposal which Peiris acknowledged. Post will continue to urge the Government and other parties to attach a high priority to finalizing a strong APRC proposal that will meet minimum Tamil aspirations and can form the basis for talks.”

Read the cable below for further details;

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 001640

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/INS, S/CRS; USPACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/04/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV CE
SUBJECT: CONVERSATION WITH PRESIDENT RAJAPAKSA ON THE WAY
FORWARD FOR SRI LANKA

Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d).

1.  (S) Summary:  In a series of short conversations with
Ambassador on December 6 during a trip to his home town of
Tangalle, President Rajapaksa expressed confidence his
government would win the third and final budget vote on
December 14, but was less clear on the way forward after
that. Rajapaksa hopes to finalize the power sharing proposal
being considered by the All Parties Representative Committee,
but knows he lacks the 2/3 parliamentary majority required to
amend the constitution and thereby implement the APRC
proposal.  He wants to pursue contradictory goals of
negotiations with the LTTE while maintaining military
pressure on them.  He confided the GSL is receiving better
real-time intelligence on the whereabouts of the LTTE
leadership.  He is resisting calls by some of his Ministers
to call early elections, and will not make a decision until
or unless inflation comes down to single digits, perhaps by
mid-2008. The President revealed that the government is
preparing for local "Pradeshiya Sabha" elections in the east
in March, in part to ensure that Tamils in areas of the east
formerly controlled by the LTTE can have political
representation.  The Ambassador flagged the imperative of
stopping illegal paramilitary activities as a pre-condition
for free and fair elections.  Comment:  it is clear that the
ruling SLFP's lack of a clear Parliamentary majority
continues to drive much of the GSL's thinking and that the
GSL has yet to think through a clear strategy to achieve
peace. Post will continue to urge the Government and other
parties to attach a high priority to finalizing a strong APRC
proposal that will meet minimum Tamil aspirations and can
form the basis for talks.  End summary.

2.  (C) The Ambassador and his family were invited by Sri
Lankan First Lady Shiranti Rajapaksa to be chief guests for
the annual music pageant for the Carlton primary school in
the southern town of Tangalle, where President Rajapaksa
began his career as a lawyer and member of Parliament.
President Rajapaksa elected to attend the celebration which
gave the Ambassador a chance to discuss with him some of the
important issues facing his country.

Government Likely to Win Budget Vote
------------------------------------

3.  (C) The President expressed optimism that his government
would prevail in the third and final budget vote expected to
take place on December 14.  He admitted that Rauff Hakeem of
the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress and the current Minister of
Posts and Telecommunications, continues to withhold
confirmation he will support the budget.  But the President
thought Hakeem was doing so for tactical reasons to extract
as much patronage and other political favors as possible in
return for his support.  The President stated that Hakeem
faces fractures within his own party and can ill afford to
break with the Government, particularly now that it seems
likely the Government will prevail.

Pursue APRC Agreement with Caveats
----------------------------------

4.  (C) Asked for his priority following the budget,
President responded that he hopes to finalize the power
sharing proposal being considered by the All Parties
Representative Committee (APRC), but noted several caveats.
First, he expressed concern that even if the receives
parliamentary support for the budget he will not have the 2/3
parliamentary majority required to amend the constitution and
thereby implement an APRC proposal.  He noted that the JVP's
control of the trade unions gives them a politically
dangerous ability to mobilize trade union action against the
government.  Second, he noted continued strong skepticism by
many Sri Lankans that LTTE supremo Prabakharan will negotiate
in good faith and not simply use the opportunity afforded by
negotiations to rearm the LTTE.  Therefore he said the
government plans to enter into negotiations, but "keep the

COLOMBO 00001640  002 OF 003

pressure on the LTTE".

5. (C) The President said the government also would give
renewed focus to implementing the 13th Amendment, which
already devolves significant powers to the provincial
councils and could help give Tamils and Muslims greater
authority over key areas of governance in the areas where
they have voting majorities.  As an example, he noted that
the government already was providing training for what would
become the nucleus of a Tamil police force in the east.  The
Ambassador welcomed the government's intention to implement
the 13th Amendment, but warned that it could not substitute
for the far-reaching APRC proposals now under consideration.
The President acknowledged the point.

6. (C) The Ambassador expressed doubt that the LTTE would
enter into negotiations without a ceasefire agreement of some
kind.  Regarding LTTE intentions to rearm, the Ambassador
briefed the President on public remarks the Ambassador made
at the November ceremony marking the hand-over of maritime
surveillance radar to the Sri Lankan Navy in which the
Ambassador said that the purpose of the radar was to help the
Navy interdict LTTE arm shipments and send a message that the
LTTE should not believe it will have a better opportunity in
the future to enter into negotiations.  The President
responded that he had seen and appreciated those remarks, but
reiterated the need to keep the pressure on.

7. (S) Noting an earlier private comment to us by Defense
Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa that the Government had bombed

SIPDIS
the Voice of Tigers transmitter station in Killinochchi
because of information that Pabakharan might have been in the
station, the Ambassador asked if the GSL has better real-time
intelligence on Pabakharan's whereabouts.  President
Rajapaksa said they did without offering more specific
information.  He elaborated that the government had
information that the LTTE had ordered all NGOs out of
Mullaittivu on the east coast of the Vanni, because the LTTE
believed the NGOs had provided information to the GSL that
had improved its targeting of senior LTTE leaders.

New Elections?
--------------

8. (C) Turning back to his shaky support in Parliament, the
President told us many of his Ministers are pressing him to
call early elections to consolidate SLFP support.  The
President confided that he has rejected such suggestions for
the moment until political conditions improve.  He said he
enjoys strong support in the south and north-central
provinces, and growing support in the east.  However, he
acknowledged that many voters in Colombo and other urban
areas in the center are unhappy with the high cost of living.
 He expressed hope that inflation could be brought down from
the current 17 percent into single digits by the middle of
2008.  (Comment: Iran's willingness to allow Sri Lanka to
defer payment on all oil imports from Iran for 7 months could
be helpful in this regard.)

Elections in the East
---------------------

9. (C)  The President revealed that the government is
preparing for local "Pradeshiya Sabha" elections in the east
in March, in part to ensure that Tamils in areas of the east
formerly controlled by the LTTE can have political
representation.  He said the government had struggled to find
Tamils who could represent the interests of their communities
in ongoing discussions with the government on planned
stabilization and reconstruction programs.  The Ambassador
cautioned that it would be extremely difficult to hold free
and fair elections in the east when the TMVP  continues to
engage in murders, extortion, and other illegal activities.
While Karuna is now in custody in the United Kingdom, one of
his commanders Pillayan had continued where Karuna left off.
Like his brother Gotabaya in earlier conversations with us,
the President expressed confidence that Pillayan was someone

COLOMBO 00001640  003 OF 003

with whom the government could work with in the east.  The
Ambassador rejoined that as one of Sri Lanka's most adept
politicians, the President surly knew that no paramilitary
leader who engages in extortion, murder and other forms of
intimidation and harassment, could ever hope to compete
successfully in free and fair elections.  All paramilitaries
could not therefore be permitted to carry arms, a point the
President said he would work on.

Biographic Notes
----------------

10. (C) This was the first time we had visited with the
President in his home district.  It was in Tangalle that the
President began his law practice, rented his first home, and
was elected in 1968 as the youngest member of parliament at
the age of 24.  The President proudly pointed out a statue in
the town center of his father who had served as an MP for the
district 1945 to 1960. These roots in a southern small town
clearly drive the President's thinking and self-image.  One
MP who has worked with the President for three decades told
us the President is very conscious of his lower class roots
from a village in the south that contrast with the upper
class urban roots of many in the UNP such as former UNP Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

11.  (C)  Two of the President's three sons joined us for the
day trip to Tangalle.  All three of the sons attended the
local Carlton primary school that the first lady has been
active with for more than 20 years.  The eldest son Namal is
currently completing a degree in London, but is the son most
likely to follow in his father's political footsteps.
Already he has founded a youth organization "Tharunyata
Hetak" (a better tomorrow for youth).  The President's second
son Yoshita is a naval cadet currently undergoing training at
the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, UK.  The third son,
Rohitha, is attending St.Thomas College (a secondary school
in Colombo) and told the Ambassador he hopes to pursue a
career in aeronautical engineering.  The President proudly
pointed out that all three of his sons had captained the
rugby team at St.Thomas.

Comment
-------

12.  (C) This was a somewhat disjointed but nonetheless
useful conversation between second and third grade musical
and dance performances.  The President was at ease and mused
that he was happy to have someone to talk with during what he
jokingly called "this annual agony" that he loyally attends
to recognize his wife's efforts.  It is clear from his
comments to the Ambassador that even though the GSL will have
a clear opportunity to get things done in the next year
(assuming it wins the budget vote), it lacks a clear strategy
both on how to pursue peace and whether to seek new
elections.  Trade Minister and peace process advisor GL
Peiris confirmed as much in a later conversation at a
National Day in which he told the Ambassador that the GSL's
early focus will be on implementing the 13th Amendment.  This
clearly reflects the advice that the Indian Government has
been giving the GSL, but cannot substitute for a
power-sharing proposal which Peiris acknowledged.  Post will
continue to urge the Government and other parties to attach a
high priority to finalizing a strong APRC proposal that will
meet minimum Tamil aspirations and can form the basis for
talks.
BLAKE

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