Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Sinhalese Extremist Sihala Urumaya – A Small Party That Packs A Political Wallop

“The Sihala Urumaya (SU) party is minuscule as an electoral force. The party packs a political wallop, however: its leadership is articulate and generates press coverage; its cadre are devoted to the party’s extremist views; and it maintains strong support in the influential Buddhist clergy. While unlikely to gain electoral power anytime soon, the SU — in a sign that Sinhalese extremism cannot be written off as a force — has shown the ability to get its anti-peace process message across and mold the public debate.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Champika

The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable discusses the rise of the Sihala Urumaya. The cable is classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and written on November 20, 2003. The cable is signed by the US Ambassador to Colombo Jeffrey J. Lunstead.

The ambassador wrote; “Sri Lanka’s Sihala Urumaya (‘Sinhalese birthright’) party is minuscule as an electoral force, especially when compared with Sri Lanka’s big four parties (the United National Party ‘UNP’, the People’s Alliance ‘PA’, the Tamil National Alliance ‘TNA’, and the Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna ‘JVP’). The SU holds no seats in Parliament and in the last parliamentary elections in December 2001 it won only .56 percent of the total vote. The party also holds only a small smattering of seats in the country’s provincial and local councils. Moreover, the party’s membership base is quite limited, with an active cadre numbering in the hundreds and actual dues-paying party members numbering in the low thousands.”

Under the subheading “NOTEWORTHY POLITICAL INFLUENCE” the ambassador wrote; “While the party lacks electoral muscle, however, it does maintain a fair degree of political influence. One factor in its favor is that its major leaders, chief secretary Tilak Karunaratne and national organizer Champika Ranaweke, are young and articulate. They manage to generate a fair amount of press coverage for the party’s Sinhalese Buddhist extremist point of view through interviews in which they often make radical statements. Karunaratne stated to the press earlier this year, for example, that the SU was ready to train suicide bombers in order to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). While Karunaratne quickly backtracked on this statement, he netted a lot of publicity for his party in the process. To some extent, in showing the ability to get in the press, the party is benefiting from press outlets, such as the ISLAND and DIVAINA, English-and Sinhala-language dailies respectively, which routinely take an anti-peace process, pro-Sinhalese editorial slant. In the meantime, SU cadre are fanatically dedicated to the parties’ anti-peace process, anti-LTTE platform, and they consistently show up for its rallies (see below). At the same time, the party maintains a high degree of support within Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist clergy. Commenting on the SU’s influence, Rohan Edirisinha, an analyst for the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a local think-tank, told polchief on November 18 that the SU ‘while small, has shown the ability to nudge the political debate in its direction.'”

Placing a comment the ambassador wrote;  Despite its best efforts, the SU appears unlikely to gain mass support anytime soon. After 20 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan public strongly supports the peace process and is unlikely to turn to the often shrill SU. That said, the SU has shown the ability to mold the debate. In doing so, the SU could make things easier down the road for mass parties that are skeptical toward the peace process, such as the People’s Alliance, or out-and-out opposed, such as the radical JVP. Moreover, the fact that the SU is able to get its anti-peace process, anti-LTTE views across, tends to underscore the point that Sinhalese extremism cannot be written off entirely as a force in Sri Lanka.”

Read the cable below for further details;

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 002010 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, INR/NESA; NSC FOR E. MILLARD 

PLEASE ALSO PASS TOPEC 

E.O. 12958:    DECL:  11-20-13
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR SOCI CE
SUBJECT:  Sri Lanka's Sinhalese extremist Sihala Urumaya
-- a small party that packs a political wallop 

Refs:  Colombo 2001, and previous 

(U) Classified by James F. Entwistle, Deputy Chief of
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 

¶1.  (C) SUMMARY:  The Sihala Urumaya (SU) party is
minuscule as an electoral force.  The party packs a
political wallop, however:  its leadership is articulate
and generates press coverage; its cadre are devoted to
the party's extremist views; and it maintains strong
support in the influential Buddhist clergy.  While
unlikely to gain electoral power anytime soon,
the SU -- in a sign that Sinhalese extremism cannot be
written off as a force -- has shown the ability to get
its anti-peace process message across and mold the
public debate.  END SUMMARY. 

¶2.  (C) A SMALL PARTY:  Sri Lanka's Sihala Urumaya
("Sinhalese birthright") party is minuscule as an
electoral force, especially when compared with Sri
Lanka's big four parties (the United National Party
"UNP", the People's Alliance "PA", the Tamil National
Alliance "TNA", and the Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna
"JVP").  The SU holds no seats in Parliament and in the
last parliamentary elections in December 2001 it won
only .56 percent of the total vote.  The party also
holds only a small smattering of seats in the country's
provincial and local councils.  Moreover, the party's
membership base is quite limited, with an active cadre
numbering in the hundreds and actual dues-paying party
members numbering in the low thousands. 

¶3.  (C) NOTEWORTHY POLITICAL INFLUENCE:  While the party
lacks electoral muscle, however, it does maintain a fair
degree of political influence.  One factor in its favor
is that its major leaders, chief secretary Tilak
Karunaratne and national organizer Champika Ranaweke,
are young and articulate.  They manage to generate a
fair amount of press coverage for the party's Sinhalese
Buddhist extremist point of view through interviews in
which they often make radical statements.  Karunaratne
stated to the press earlier this year, for example, that
the SU was ready to train suicide bombers in order to
defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
While Karunaratne quickly backtracked on this statement,
he netted a lot of publicity for his party in the
process.  To some extent, in showing the ability to get
in the press, the party is benefiting from press
outlets, such as the ISLAND and DIVAINA, English-and
Sinhala-language dailies respectively, which routinely
take an anti-peace process, pro-Sinhalese editorial
slant. 

¶4.  (C) In the meantime, SU cadre are fanatically
dedicated to the parties' anti-peace process, anti-LTTE
platform, and they consistently show up for its rallies
(see below).  At the same time, the party maintains a
high degree of support within Sri Lanka's influential
Buddhist clergy.  Commenting on the SU's influence,
Rohan Edirisinha, an analyst for the Center for Policy
Alternatives (CPA), a local think-tank, told polchief on
November 18 that the SU "while small, has shown the
ability to nudge the political debate in its direction." 

¶5.  (C) RECENT ACTIVITIES:  In the past several months,
the SU has been highly active and there is every sign
that it will remain so.  Its recent activities included: 

-- In its recent public pronouncements, the SU came out
strongly in favor of the President's November 4 sacking
of three ministers and suspension of Parliament.  The
party has also sponsored several small rallies in
support of her actions. 

-- On October 29, SU members disrupted a "pro-peace"
cultural festival sponsored by Tamils and some Sinhalese
in Colombo.  Several people were lightly wounded in the
ensuing fracas.  The SU, without convincing evidence,
asserted that the event was sponsored by the LTTE.
Several SU members were arrested at the scene, but were
later released.
-- On October 14, the SU led a protest march in
Trincomalee District in the Eastern Province.  The
marchers were protesting the LTTE's unauthorized camp
located at "Wan Ela" near Trincomalee city.  The
marchers were turned back by security forces before
coming too close to the camp. 

-- In late September, SU members joined with the
Patriotic National Movement ("Jathika Deshahitayashi
Peramuna") in a lengthy protest march from the central
city of Kandy to Colombo.  The Patriotic National
Movement, which was formed earlier in September, is a
grouping of opposition political parties including the
JVP and some anti-peace process elements of the PA.
(While the SU often joins in anti-peace process
activities with the Marxist JVP, it differs from the JVP
in that it has no discernible economic philosophy.) 

-- On September 15, approximately 400 Sihala Urumaya
members joined radical Buddhist monks in a visit to an
archaeological site in Ampara District, located in the
southeast.  A prominent monk had been denied access to
the site by the LTTE in August and the SU wanted to show
that Buddhists had a right to visit the site. 

¶6.  (C) COMMENT:  Despite its best efforts, the SU
appears unlikely to gain mass support anytime soon.
After 20 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan public
strongly supports the peace process and is unlikely to
turn to the often shrill SU.  That said, the SU has
shown the ability to mold the debate.  In doing so, the
SU could make things easier down the road for mass
parties that are skeptical toward the peace process,
such as the People's Alliance, or out-and-out opposed,
such as the radical JVP.  Moreover, the fact that the SU
is able to get its anti-peace process, anti-LTTE views
across, tends to underscore the point that Sinhalese
extremism cannot be written off entirely as a force in
Sri Lanka.  END COMMENT. 

¶7. (U) Minimize considered. 

LUNSTEAD

 

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