- Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship issue is in fact a puzzle even to his ardent supporters and all are in the dark
- if a person with foreign citizenship won an election his election can be contested
Out of the main four possible contenders for the presidency two have already confirmed their entry into the fray. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which can be identified as the real Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) with a new tag considering its leadership and the membership has nominated controversial former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its candidate while Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has been chosen by his party.
Whatever reasons the leaders of the ruling United National Party (UNP) attributes to its delay in announcing its candidate, it is a well known fact that the party is divided and mired in a controversy over the matter. Its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa announced his candidacy days ago at a public meeting while the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and a group of his close associates are seemingly attempting to thwart his move.
Reminding the theme of a series of lectures by founder leader of the JVP Rohana Wijeweera in 1979 “Sri Lanka Nidhahas Pakshaye Gamanaka Avasanaya” (The end of a journey by the SLFP), the SLFP currently led by the President seems to be drawing its last breath. The large majority of its members and the supporters have gone with its charismatic former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, leaving a handful of leaders and a small number of supporters along with the party’s signboard with President Sirisena. The prospects of the SLFP fielding its own candidate for the forthcoming Presidential Election are minimal.
Interestingly, the West and the international bodies such as the United Nations, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Human Rights Watch do not seem to have any reservation over the candidature of the former Defence Secretary, as they have expressed concern over the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva on Monday as the Army Commander, while predicting possible repercussions of that appointment.
Whatever the veracity of the allegations against Lt. General Silva is, it must be recalled that the West and the said international organisations that speak of “command responsibility” over human rights violations were not so agitated when, fresh from the defeat of the LTTE, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka contested the Presidential Election against Mahinda Rajapaksa, in 2010. It was under the leadership of Fonseka that the then brigadier Shavendra Silva swept the LTTE fortifications from Vidaththalthivu up to Mullivaikkal via Elephant Pass and Paranthan, to put an end to the thirty year long war.
Besides, it was the same West and the international organisations that kept mum or expressed nominal concern when William C. Rogers - the Captain of US cruiser USS Vincennes that shot down an Iranian plane in the Persian Gulf in 1988 killing 290 passengers including 66 children – was awarded “Legion of Merit” medal by the US government.
The understanding of human rights by the Tamil political parties is also sometimes puzzling. Although one can comprehend their concern over the possible responsibility of Shavendra Silva and Gotabaya Rajapaksa -against whom they have waged war these days- for war-time human rights violations, their support to military leadership for the war against the political leadership for the same war during the Presidential election in 2010 is yet to be explained.
Even some of the Tamil leaders who have come forward to support Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election do not seem to be prepared to absolve him of war crimes. Varatharaja Perumal, the only Chief Minister of the then mergedNorthern and Eastern Provincial Council who is in the Rajapaksa camp now had said that Tamils should forgive and forget the war crimesallegationsagainst the former Defence Secretary and support him at the election.
"Interestingly the former Defence Secretary seems to be not bothered about others’ concerns over his citizenship and he is not interested in clearing the air either"
Despite the allegations of war crimes by the Tamil leaders and allegations of human rights violations including the famous white van abductions by the anti-Rajapaksa groups in the South, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is apparently way ahead of other candidates – those who have been already announced and yet to be announced- in respect of popular support. However, it is not yet clear whether he would be able to muster the support of 50 percent of voters or absolute support, as required by the law.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship issue was in fact a puzzle even to his ardent supporters and all were in the dark. When this year’s first ‘quarterly publication of the US Inland Revenue Service of Individuals who have chosen to expatriate’ did not include Gotabaya’s name, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila said that it would be in the next quarterly publication. And when he was disappointed after the second quarterly publication was issued he said the publication is not the only way to know whether one had renounced US citizenship.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has called on the Elections Commission to investigate a complaint made by a journalist against Gotabaya Rajapaksa that his name was in the annual electoral list used for the 2005 Presidential Election at a time when he was not a Sri Lankan citizen. Questions had also been raised on his obtaining of a Sri Lankan passport a few months ago.
These questions can be raised only if he had renounced Sri Lankan citizenship after obtaining US citizenship. Had he ever done so? Or did he have dual citizenship until he renounced (as he had claimed) the US citizenship recently? Interestingly the former Defence Secretary seemed to be not bothered about others’ concerns over his citizenship until yesterday when he said that he received the certificate of citizenship renunciation on April 17.
Besides, Gotabaya’s supporters would have been pleased to hear US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz who had said on Monday that the Federal Register could often be months behind the recording of one’s renunciation of citizenship. This seems to be an implication that the former Defence Secretary has already renounced his US citizenship.
Also those who are interested in dismissing Gotabaya’s candidature in terms of technicality rather than of his policies would be disappointed if they read an interview by a senior journalist C.A. Chandraprema with former Secretary to the Justice Ministry and Professor of Law at University of Hong Kong Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama who had said that the Elections Commission would go only by the details given by the candidate in the nomination paper in respect of his qualification, including his citizenship.
The Presidential Election Act states that objections may be made to the nomination paper of a candidate if “it is apparent from the contents of the nomination paper” that the candidate is not qualified to be elected as President, Dr. Jayawickrama had said. He added that “even if the objector produces a photocopy of a foreign passport, the Elections Commission cannot go beyond the contents of the nomination paper. In the limited time set aside for dealing with objections, the Elections Commission is not required to commence a lengthy inquiry into the authenticity of the photocopy of a foreign passport or other such material. A signed declaration is a serious legal document.”
However, he says that if a person with foreign citizenship won an election his election can be contested through an election petition and also a complaint to the police that the candidate has made a false statement would also be another remedy. All these arguments would be relevant only if a candidate, Gotabaya in the present circumstances, had tendered a nomination paper while still being a US citizen.