19A IS WHAT STANDS IN THE WAY
Few would shed tears for the exit of Geetha Kumarasinghe from Parliament last week, sent home by the Supreme Court which upheld a decision of the Court of Appeal that held that Kumarasinghe was a dual citizen at the time of the last general elections and thus ineligible to be an MP.
Sure, Geetha is an accomplished actress and won many awards and admirers for her performances. As a parliamentarian though, her performances were pathetic. Instead of being hysterical and hilarious she could have learnt a lesson or two from her rival United National Party organiser in the Bentara Elpitiya electorate, Gayantha Karunathilaka who is more measured and mature as a politician.
Of course, Kumarasinghe’s ticket to fame was her unquestioning servility to the Rajapaksa clan. And, it is this same Rajapaksa clan that has now become the focus of attention following the Kumarasinghe decision in the Supreme Court, for two of them, Gotabaya, the former Defence Secretary and Basil, the former Minister of Economic Affairs, are also citizens of the Unites States of America.
The Rajapaksas are in a precarious predicament. Patriarch of the clan, Chamal, is seventy five years old now and will be seventy eight years when the next elections are held.
The least ambitious of the lot, even when the last elections were held, he was reportedly a reluctant nominee and is unlikely to run in 2020.
The charismatic Mahinda, twice President but now a mere MP, is not getting any younger. He will be seventy five in 2020. With a full head of hair and not one of them grey and ambitious as ever, Rajapaksa won’t let age stand in the way of a return to power. What stands in the way though is the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
The 19th Amendment to the Constitution means that it now reads, in Article 31(2): “No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the people, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the people”.
That rules out Mahinda for President. If it is of any consolation to him, the only other person this Aamendment rules out is Chandrika Kumaratunga. Mahinda can, if he wants to, still run for Parliament.
That puts the Rajapaksas in a spot. The remaining siblings Basil and Gotabaya are out of the running, to stand for Parliament because Article 91(i) (d) (xiii) prohibits “a citizen of Sri Lanka who is also a citizen of any other country” running for Parliament. This is the clause that led to Kumarasinghe’s downfall.
One shouldn’t be lulled into thinking that Basil and Gotabaya didn’t have political plans for 2020. Basil was busy with his pilot project- setting up the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the party which would be the Rajapaksas’ fall-back option if and when they are expelled from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Gotabya meanwhile, has also been busy. He has already launched ‘Viyathmaga’ a self-styled “network of academics, professionals, and entrepreneurs who love the country” and ‘Eliya’, an organisation that identifies itself as a campaign against the proposed new Constitution. All this activity has led to the speculation that the former lieutenant colonel now wants to be Commander in Chief and President.
Just in case you were wondering, is dual citizenship a bar to being President as well as being a Member of Parliament? Of course, it is; those who framed the laws were sharp enough to include that as well, just in case. Section 92 (b) of the Constitution states that when a person is disqualified from being an MP, he is also disqualified from being President- so there goes that possibility.
If, at family gatherings of the Rajapaksas at Medamulana, they are collectively tearing their hair and trying to figure out a way out of this mess, there is an ever so simple solution: Basil and Gotabaya can renounce their US citizenship. But will they? That is now the big question.
One would think that was a foregone conclusion. After all, the Rajapaksas’ pet political theme is one of ‘saving the nation’ from Eelamists, international conspirators, western imperialists and assorted others, so what could be easier than renouncing your US citizenships to run for office in your beloved motherland? Surely, they should be able to walk the talk?
But, they haven’t and in fact, Basil is on record saying that he never will. He says, his family are settled in the United States and he has no intention of foregoing US citizenship. Of course, we all remember how Basil abandoned brother Mahinda and quietly left the country for the US, soon after the last presidential election. Now, if he wasn’t a US citizen, he wouldn’t be able to do that, would he?
To be fair, two years ago, in July 2015, Gotabaya did say that he had forwarded documents to the US embassy to renounce US citizenship. When he was asked about this earlier this year however, he was non-committal, when you would expect him to come out, all guns blazing (metaphorically, of course!), proclaiming his love for the country and parting ways with Uncle Sam!
If you are asking yourself why they are hesitating about renouncing US citizenship, here is the reason: to stand for election, you need to renounce your dual citizenship.
If you win, you would have achieved your objective. If you lose, however, you would have then lost both, the election as well as your dual citizenship- because the latter cannot be just obtained over the counter like a bar of soap. So, faced with that prospect, both Basil and Gotabaya are asking themselves: is it better to be a mere citizen of the United States than to be an MP or President of Sri Lanka?
Here is a final thought: how about letting Namal, the son and heir of the Great Leader, run for President? No, that’s not possible either. Read Article 92(a) of the Constitution.
It bars anyone under the age of 35 from running for President- and in 2020, Namal will be 34!