Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesNewsUS Embassy Cables – Colombo – 2010 – 16 to 20

US Embassy Cables – Colombo – 2010 – 16 to 20

by
 16 Sri Lanka: Elections update No. 9 
17 GDP growth is not enough as popular economic discontent imperils president’s reelection
18 Election developments in eastern Sri Lanka
19 Rajapaksa pollster says race is neck and neck
20 Elections in Ampara: Intimidation and weak allegiances


 16 Sri Lanka: Elections update No. 9 “Other contacts told Post they worried that persons would switch ballot boxes while they were being transported to counting centers, saying this had occurred in past provincial council elections, in particular with boxes transported by boat or helicopter.”

17 GDP growth is not enough as popular economic discontent imperils president’s reelection“Various business contacts commented to Econoff that they were willing to bear economic burdens to win the war against the LTTE, but now they expect better economic times.”

18 Election developments in eastern Sri Lanka“The GSL knew that Pillayan could shift his allegiance and was tapping his phones and keeping military personnel around him at all times to track his conversations.”

19 Rajapaksa pollster says race is neck and neck
VERY VERY INTERESTING

“Fernando observed that election violence — which he attributed to both camps — hurt Fonseka and helped Rajapaksa because when voters got jittery they tended to stick with the leader they knew, despite his faults.”

“Fernando was disappointed that his original plan to query 25,000 voters nationwide had taken much longer than anticipated, partly due to technical glitches. “For 1.5 million rupees (about 14,000 USD) we could have had the proper equipment,” Fernando complained, “but those idiots (running the president’s campaign) turned it down.””

20 Elections in Ampara: Intimidation and weak allegiances“representatives reported that Iniya Barathy, Karuna’s second in command and Rajapaksa campaign coordinator, controlled 600 to 700 armed supporters and had created a climate of intimidation that precluded any expression of support for the opposition.”


Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO40
2010-01-20 14:43
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO44
2010-01-21 11:51
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO46
2010-01-21 13:21
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO47
2010-01-22 07:24
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO48
2010-01-22 07:43
CONFIDENTIAL
Continuing violence
Media competent authority recalled
Elections commissioner says he will resign after this election
Special police to monitor ballot counting?
Government announces wage hike
Expectations of post-election curfew
Inflation apparently erodes away Rajapaksa economic achievements
Where’s the peace dividend?
Corruption reaches new levels
View from the east
Opportunities for fraud
Election-day monitoring system
Pillayan feeling the heat
Post election predictions
Too close to call
Regional differences significant
Violence helping Rajapaksa
A view from Ampara district
A climate of fear
Election procedures
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO40
2010-01-20 14:43
CONFIDENTIAL
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ELECTIONS UPDATE NO. 9 

REF:
A.10COLOMBO 36     
B. 10COLOMBO 27     
C. 10COLOMBO 21      
D. 10COLOMBO 11     
E. 10COLOMBO 7     
F. 10COLOMBO 2     
G. 09 COLOMBO 1152     
H. 09 COLOMBO 1145     
I. 09 COLOMBO
Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D) 
Continuing violence
1. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Two persons were reported shot and seriously injured the night of January 18 while returning home from a Fonseka campaign rally in a small town near Hambantota.  Numerous Post contacts have expressed concern about increasing violence in the remaining days before the election, as well in the day or days following the election, depending on the outcome. Conjecture ranges from isolated acts of retribution to widespread unrest in the streets if the opposition — particularly the violence-prone JVP — believed the government stole the election or, alternatively, Fonseka won outright and pro-government forces went on an angry rampage.
Media competent authority recalled
2. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) The Elections Commissioner has recalled the Competent Authority over the state media, saying that all his orders had been ignored. Opposition representatives pointed to this as evidence that the election would not be free and fair. 
Elections commissioner says he will resign after this election
3. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) The clearly embattled Elections Commissioner announced he would resign his position after the presidential elections.  He told us he had had five heart attacks and attempted to resign several times, but President Rajapaksa insisted he stay on because those in line to succeed him were not Rajapaksa loyalists. This time, however, the Commissioner sounds determined to quit the job. With parliamentary elections due later this spring, his replacement could prove to be a key position in that vote.
Special police to monitor ballot counting?
4. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) CAFFE, one of the local elections monitoring groups, told post it had received word that teams of “special police officers” would be deployed to monitor ballot counting centers. CAFFE gave the Embassy a copy of a letter it sent to the Elections Commissioner complaining of this alleged plan, stating that the regular police deployments would be sufficient.  Other contacts told Post they worried that persons would switch ballot boxes while they were being transported to counting centers, saying this had occurred in past provincial council elections, in particular with boxes transported by boat or helicopter.
Government announces wage hike
5. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) The Ministry of Labor Relations and Manpower announced that all wage boards in the private sector were ordered to grant a salary increase of USD 23 per month to all their employees, to match an earlier announcement of a similar raise for all public sector employees.
Expectations of post-election curfew
6. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Many local observers expected the government would impose a curfew after the election. The most likely scenario would be a curfew imposed the evening of the election after the polls close. It would likely last well into, or through, the next day and possibly into the following day, January 28. Post is making contingency plans to ensure adequate staffing for security and essential reporting purposes. We will send a warden message this week alerting the American community to take proper precautions.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO44
2010-01-21 11:51
CONFIDENTIAL

REF:
10COLOMBO 2 
Classified By: DCM Valerie Fowler for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1.     (C) Summary. Sri Lanka has enjoyed strong economic growth in the last four years, with rising per capita income, falling poverty rates, and a booming stock market in 2009. Despite glowing macro-economic statistics, opposition candidate General Fonseka appears to be gaining traction with his criticism of the rising cost of living and growing government waste and corruption.  Inflation rates have been high during President Rajapaksa,s four years in office, especially food and utilities, and high inflation appears to have eroded real wage rates.  Our contacts are also frustrated that they have not received the expected economic peace dividend.  Finally, our contacts perceive that corruption has mushroomed during the Rajapaksa years, which fuels great dissatisfaction.  End Summary.
Inflation Apparently Erodes Away Rajapaksa Economic Achievements
2.    (U) According to macro-economic statistics, President Rajapaksa has a briefcase full of accomplishments. President Rajapaksa took office in November 2005. The average annual GDP growth jumped from 5.1% from 2002-2004 to 6.6% from 2005-2008, and even with a global recession, Sri Lanka expects 3.5% GDP growth in 2009. The most recent statistics show that poverty rates fell from 27.7% in 2002 to 15.2% in 2006-2007. Moreover, the Sri Lanka stock exchange boomed to record highs in late 2009.  World Bank economist Claus Astrup thought that the Sri Lanka GDP and poverty statistics accurately portrayed the general trends, although income inequality may have increased during this period.
3.    (SBU) Inflation has been high during the Rajapaksa years, particularly in utilities and basic foodstuffs. The Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) increased by a total of 59% between December 2005 and November 2009, although inflation fell sharply in 2009.  Increases in utility and food prices have often exceeded general inflation. For example, from December 2005 to December 2009, electricity prices went up 111%, LPG cooking gas rose by 95%, gasoline (63%), Kerosene (103%), while diesel prices rose by a relatively moderate 40%. As to basic foodstuffs, prices rose from June 2007 to December 2009 very quickly for some items, such as white rice (81%), wheat flour (125%), lentils (117%), onions (167%); prices rose more moderately for others, including bread (48%), sugar (37%), coconut (52%), full cream milk powder (38%), and chicken (33%);  and prices declined by 1% for potatoes. These price increases are likely to hurt the poor most, since they spend a higher percentage of their income on essentials. (Note. The Central Government does not collect inflation statistics outside of Colombo, but with trade on an island it is likely that prices throughout Sri Lanka follow the same pattern. End Note.)  Some inflation increases were due to worldwide commodity price increases, such as oil, beyond the GSL control.
4.     (U) According to Central Bank statistics, Sri Lanka has a total work force of 7.6 million workers, of whom1.2 million are government employees, 3.3 million have private sector jobs, 200,000 are employers, 2.1 million are self employed, and 800,000 are unpaid family members.  Moreover, 2.9 million workers are employed in the formal sector (government and private) and 4.6 million are employed in informal jobs.
5.    (SBU) Although the government statistics are incomplete, it appears that after inflation government employees and informal workers lost purchasing power, while the picture for private sector employees is mixed. Central Bank statistics show that government workers lost 8% of their real earning power from 2006 to 2008. Government workers received large nominal salary increases in 2007-2008, but none in 2009 due to costs at the end of the war, so although 2009 inflation is low, these workers have lost even more purchasing power. Government employees are paid a minimum of 11,000 Rs per month (approximately $97 USD), while private sector minimum wages are less, at 6,750 Rs per month ($60 USD), so they would be hurt more by inflation. Central Bank figures do not include a wage survey of all private sector employees, but the minimum wage rates in the private sector increased by 7% from 2006 to 2008. Our contacts doubt that real private sector wage rates actually increased during 2006-2008, and anecdotally private wages declined in 2009 due to the pressure of job losses arising from the global recession. Wages in the informal sector, which covers 69% of the workers, have declined according to Central Banks statistics. Real wages in the construction industry fell 5-7% from 2006 to 2008; in agriculture, tea workers lost ground (-8% for men and -10% for women), while male rice paddy farmers received 1.7% more in real wages and female paddy farmers lost 6.6%. Our contacts believe that informal workers in urban areas also lost purchasing power.
6.    (SBU) President Rajapaksa has tried to address the cost of living issue in the campaign. The GSL has controlled the prices of several key commodities such as gasoline and bread.  President Rajapaksa has also promised a 2,500 Rs ($22 USD) salary increase per month to government workers, starting in April after the election. This is less than the 10,000 Rs ($88 USD) salary increase promised by opposition candidate Fonseka (see reftel). There has been a press report that the GSL ordered factories operating under Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment to also provide a 2,500 Rs ($22 USD) monthly salary increase, but the employers association has denied that they have received any such instruction. President Rajapaksa boasts that he has hired 300,000 new government employees during his term, thus directly benefiting these new employees.
Where’s the Peace Dividend?
7.    (SBU) Many Sri Lankans expected an immediate peace dividend of personal economic prosperity following the end of the war, which has not occurred. Various business contacts commented to Econoff that they were willing to bear economic burdens to win the war against the LTTE, but now they expect better economic times. The war ended during a severe global economic recession, which has greatly reduced foreign investment, but many businessmen are unhappy that the GSL has not reduced bureaucratic red tape, corruption or import duties to encourage the private sector.  Fairly or unfairly, our contacts expected more of a peace dividend after the war.
Corruption Reaches New Levels
8.    (C) Opposition candidate Fonseka has been running hard on the theme that government waste and corruption have increased the cost of living (see reftel).  For example, in a full page advertisement, Fonseka attacks the large Rajapaksa cabinet as an example of government waste.  ‘Sri Lanka has 132 ministers and deputy ministers to govern a country of 20 million people. Just for the upkeep of the 132 (member cabinet), the people of our country have to incur at least Rs 4 billion ($35 million USD) a year in taxes. In contrast, the budget allocation for the entire Samurdhi Programme which provides welfare to some 9 million of this nation’s poorest families is only Rs 10 billion ($88 million). To meet the runaway cost of maintaining the present cabinet, the government imposes numerous taxes. Even essential food such as milk powder, rice, sugar, onions and dhal are taxed making the common man’s burden almost impossible to bear.’  (Note. Post has not verified this election claim. End Note.) There are similar allegations that there are over 300 members of the Rajapaksa family are on the government payroll. Business contacts have also told post that large infrastructure contracts are heavily padded to provide kickbacks, and an NGO reported that a Minister complained he had to kick back all of his bribes to the Rajapaksas. Several respected contacts have said that corruption has reached new heights under the Rajapaksa Administration, and Fonseka’s anti corruption campaign appears to be gaining traction.
9.    (C) Comment. Sri Lanka’s Presidential race is hard to measure because there are no impartial and reliable polls. Sri Lanka’s solid macro-economic statistics, however, apparently have not translated into an election bonanza for President Rajapaksa.Post contacts expect the January 26   Presidential election to be close, and economic issues appear to be weighing down President Rajapaksa. Although candidate Fonseka has not presented detailed economic plans, many people seem to want an economic change. End Comment.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO46
2010-01-21 13:21
CONFIDENTIAL

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
View from the east
1. (C) A contact who works on human rights issues in Eastern Sri Lanka and serves on Chief Minister Pillayan’s staff, provided an international group with her perspective on elections in the East. 
Opportunities for fraud
2. (C) Transfer of ballot boxes from polling stations was the weakest link in fraud prevention — particularly when transported by boat or helicopter. During the provincial elections, the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) reportedly had boxes waiting in boats to switch with the actual ballot boxes.  While each candidate would be permitted observers during the counting process in upcoming elections, a GSL-selected Senior Polling Officer was responsible for the boxes, and there would be no monitoring of the handover, transport, and receipt. Our contact urged diplomatic pressure to allow observers/monitors access to this process.
3. (C) Some people in Jaffna, the East, and pro-Fonseka areas of Colombo, had received polling cards with a blank space or Xs where the identification number should be. In theory, people could still vote with such a card with a valid identification card, but interlocutors were skeptical about this in practice.
Election day monitoring system
4. (C) Election monitoring groups reportedly planned to pass information on irregularities up their own chains for reporting to GSL-designated police officers. These police officers were to be responsible for intervening in alleged fraud — whether and how they would act on the information they receive remained to be seen. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission would document irregularities reported by monitors but not intervene in ongoing activities. Interlocutors indicated that many civil society groups were too intimidated to conduct election monitoring.
5. (C) The importance of international presence in contentious areas was stressed.  Even if internationals could not actively monitor, their visible presence could have a strong positive impact on fraud and violence.  Norway was considering observers to the field (but did not say where). The international NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce planned to observe in areas where it had offices: Jaffna, Vavuniya, and Batticaloa.
Pillayan feeling the heat
6. (C) While Pillayan was publicly supporting Rajapaksa, he remained frustrated with his limited power to appoint local authorities and take decisive action in his role as Chief Minister. Fonseka’s campaign had reached out for Pillayan’s support. The GSL knew that Pillayan could shift his allegiance and was tapping his phones and keeping military personnel around him at all times to track his conversations.
7. (C) In general, Tamils in the East were disappointed with Pillayan. In their view, he switched from advocating for Tamil concerns to campaigning for a candidate who did not appear aligned with Tamil interests. Asked recently by village leaders why he was supporting Rajapaksa, Pillayan responded “gratitude.”  The leaders retorted that this must be personal gratitude and asked “what about us?”  Our contact judged that Tamils in the East would vote for Fonseka or not vote at all. 
Post election predictions
8. (C) Our contact predicted that targeted violence would follow the election, regardless of who won, but did not foresee generalized violence in the East. She expected that if Rajapaksa were to win, the Governor of the East would remain in place. The Government Agent (GA) of Trincomalee would be ousted because of his military background and rumors that he has been in discussion with Fonseka.  (NOTE: The GA expressed his support for Rajapaksa in a December meeting with Emboffs. END NOTE.)
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO47
2010-01-22 07:24
CONFIDENTIAL

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: President Rajapaksa’s chief opinion pollster told us their figures and those of the opposition all showed the presidential election to be very close. Undecided voters were at an unprecedented 17 percent (six or seven percent this close to the election date was more the norm), with six percent leaning toward Rajapaksa and 11 percent toward Fonseka.  Fernando said the president was doing poorly in the East, mainly due to the corruption issue, but surprising well in the North, where many Tamils were grateful to be free of LTTE terror.  In Colombo and its environs, the president was gaining on Fonseka.  Both candidates were jettisoning negative messages and focusing on economic prosperity. Fernando observed that election violence — which he attributed to both camps — hurt Fonseka and helped Rajapaksa because when voters got jittery they tended to stick with the leader they knew, despite his faults.  END SUMMARY.
Too close to call
2. (C) In a one-on-one meeting with PolChief, President Rajapaksa’s chief opinion pollster and close advisor Sunimal Fernando said their polling figures less than a week before the presidential election indicated the race statistically was a dead heat.  Fernando said he was friends with the chief pollsters for the UNP and for SLFP(M) leader and Fonseka advisor Mangala Samaraweera, and that the polls of all three — which he claimed were the only reliable opinion polls in the country — indicated a close race, with the opposition pollsters showing Fonseka slightly ahead and Fernando showing Rajapaksa slightly ahead.
3. (C) Fernando was disappointed that his original plan to query 25,000 voters nationwide had taken much longer than anticipated, partly due to technical glitches. “For 1.5 million rupees (about 14,000 USD) we could have had the proper equipment,” Fernando complained, “but those idiots (running the president’s campaign) turned it down.”  The delays in completing the survey meant that the results stretched across different time periods and thus were potentially inaccurate.  Nevertheless, he was confident that his results were not far off from reality, particularly given the overlap with opposition results.

Regional differences significant

4. (C) Fernando said the president was doing “very poorly” in the East but “surprisingly well” in the North — both regions with large Tamil populations. He explained the difference as due to different expectations and economic-development levels. The Tamils in the North had until recently been terrorized by the LTTE and were grateful to be liberated. In the East, the war was a more distant memory and economic questions overshadowed. There were many road and other development projects in the East, but many of the contracts were going to firms from outside the region due to corruption.  The locals liked the roads but resented the fact that the contracts went to non-locals, and thus they were anti-Rajapaksa. With the North still a war-ravaged region, such economic considerations did not come into play. Moreover, Fernando argued that the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) announcement supporting Fonseka had backfired in the North, where many Tamils believed the TNA and India used them for their own purposes and did not really look out for their interests. Rajapaksa, at least, had eliminated LTTE terror.
5. (C) In the Western region, which includes Colombo and its suburbs, the general had been doing very well in the city (75 to 25 percent) but recently had begun to slip following television interviews.  Fernando said the general generally spoke quite well but interspersed his remarks with extremely crude attacks on Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and this coarseness turned off many Colombo sophisticates. Fernando said his wife was a member of a “very snooty” ladies’ bonzai tree club that had earlier all been for Fonseka but were now evenly split.
6. (C) Fernando said Rajapaksa’s position was stronger in the Colombo suburbs, home to many newly prosperous business people who resented the snobbish attitude of the Colombo — and generally UNP-leaning — elite, were particularly strong Buddhist-Sinhala, and had been JHU (Buddhist monk party) supporters in the last election.
Violence helping rajapaksa
7. (C) Interestingly, there was still a large segment of undecided voters — 17 percent (a more normal figure so close to the election date would be six or seven percent). Fernando said that about six percent of undecided voters were leaning toward the president while 11 percent were leaning toward Fonseka.  As the election approached, the campaigns were adjusting their strategies.  Fonseka, he said, was focusing less on Rajapaksa corruption, which many people saw as mud-slinging, and more on a positive economic message. Rajapaksa, too, was giving less time to patriotic themes — which Fernando’s polls said interested few voters — and more to his own economic-prosperity message.
8. (C) Fernando said that while the overall figures for election violence — which included trivial matters such as ripping down opponents’ posters — were attributable more to the ruling party, the serious figures on assaults and killings could be attributed to both camps. (NOTE: Our impression is that while opposition forces have engaged in serious violence, pro-Rajapaksa forces have probably been engaging in it more. END NOTE.) Fernando argued that the increase in serious violence by both camps was on balance more detrimental to the Fonseka candidacy. This was because Fonseka was an unknown entity, and when people became rattled by news of violence, they became nervous about change and tended to stick with the leader they knew. Moreover, according to Fernando — and we have heard this from other supporters of the president — many people were concerned about the potential of Fonseka becoming a military dictator if put in the position of president.
COMMENT
9. (C) Fernando’s reasoning that election violence helped Rajapaksa is worrisome. Fernando himself seems to us a decent man and appeared to be offering this observation as only that.  Others in the Rajapaksa camp, however, may take a more pro-active view and very well may be stirring up violence as a way to scare undecided voters to stick with the devil they know, despite his faults. We took the opportunity of the meeting to pass on our concerns about violence, as well as the importance of a free and fair election, and to note that relations with the U.S. and the rest of the international community could be affected adversely by an election that went poorly.  We believe Fernando will pass this message to the president.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO48
2010-01-22 07:43
CONFIDENTIAL

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
A view from ampara district
1. (SBU) Ambassador and USAID Mission Director met with about ten business representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Ampara District in eastern Sri Lanka and made a separate call on the Ampara Government Agent (GA), Mr. Sunil Kannangara. Ampara has fewer Tamils than its eastern neighbors Batticaloa and Trincomalee, but its ethnic diversity (41 percent Muslim, 40 percent Sinhalese and 18 percent Tamil, according to the 2005 census) makes it a complex campaign ground.
A climate of fear
2. (C) Business representatives reported that Iniya Barathy, Karuna’s second in command and Rajapaksa campaign coordinator, controlled 600 to 700 armed supporters and had created a climate of intimidation that precluded any expression of support for the opposition.  On the other hand, support for Rajapaksa appeared weak, as the promise of Rs 3,000 and dry rations for each attendee at his January 15 meeting lured only 500 villagers. Tamil voters in particular were expected to vote against the president rather than for Fonseka. Business representatives predicted opposition votes from 85 percent of Tamils, 65 to 90 percent of Muslims, and half the Sinhalese. 
3. (C) Security incidents raised concerns, which the GA was working to control.  On January 17, buses returning from an opposition rally were reportedly attacked by motorcycle riders throwing bricks and 30 to 40 boys charging with “swords” as they passed through police checkpoints.  The attackers were apparently alerted to the buses’ location by cell phone from the buses. On the same day, 25 Fonseka supporters were injured and one shot in the leg, but it was unclear whether this was part of the bus incident. The GA aimed to prevent violence through police action and crowd control. Contacts noted, however, that while the 70 to 80 police in the area were trying to do their jobs, 25 to 27 police had themselves been attacked. The GA planned to prohibit meetings and gatherings from January 23 until one week after elections.
4. (C) Approximately 420,000 of 627,000 people in Ampara District were registered to vote, but some expected that fear of violence would keep many voters home on election-day. A group of 59,000 “home guards” were expected to “protect” Sinahalese areas. The guards were reportedly headed by Commander Sarath Weerasekera, the local Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organizer. 
Election procedures
5. (C) As Returns Officer for Ampara District, the GA was responsible for organizing and overseeing the election.  He planned 20 coordinating centers throughout the district, with officers poised to investigate fraud allegations.  He also was responsible for reviewing reports of complaints and irregularities documented by the senior president of the polling centers, local observers, police and others, and passing them on to the Elections Commissioner.  After polls closed, ballots would be taken from polling stations to counting centers.  One contact stated that the president’s campaign had ordered eight GAs (including  those in Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonaruwa and Batticaloa) to send election results directly to the president’s house for his review before sending them on to the Elections Commissioner. Other potential irregularities included voter identification fraud, stuffing of ballot boxes, and removing ink marks in order to vote multiple times.
BUTENIS
Back to Top