Strongman Gotabaya Rajapaksa back in the Presidential race after court clearance

Colombo Correspondent, October 5, 2019

Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal on Friday unanimously dismissed a petition challenging the citizenship of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, thereby clearing the way for him to contest as the candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the November 16 Lankan Presidential election.

A decision to the contrary would have entirely changed the dynamics of the Presidential election. If the Court of Appeal had upheld the plea that the SLPP candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is not a Sri Lankan citizen on the grounds that citizenship was given to him unlawfully by his brother, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the rival candidate Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP) would have had a field day. Sajith would virtually have no worthwhile opponent.

The Court of Appeal decision was delivered at 6 pm as Sri Lankans waited with bated breath. The bench comprised Justices Yasantha Kodagoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekara.

The petition was filed by two civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandraguptha Thenuwara on September 30.

The controversy was over the legality of the Dual Citizenship Certificate granted to Gotabaya, which has the signature of the then President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa but not the Secretary of the concerned Ministry.

The legal argument revolved around President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s signing his brother’s dual citizenship two days after being sworn in as President. This was prior to the appointment of the cabinet of ministers and ministerial Secretaries.

But the defense lawyer Romesh de Silva said that Mahinda Rajapaksa was bestowed with a Presidency that had full executive powers and therefore he had full authority to sign his brother’s Dual Citizenship Certificate even when there were no ministers or Secretaries.

It was also pointed out that several others were given Dual Citizenship along with Gotabaya on the same day. Lawyers for the SLPP presidential hopeful also raised the question as to why objections were not filed when Gotabaya voted at past elections and functioned as Secretary to the Defense Ministry, a position that could only be held by a citizen of the country.

Counsel Romesh de Silva who presented the main arguments on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained the evolution of executive power of the President. He stated that the 1978 Constitution had made it clear that the executive power of the people was exercised through the President and that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had used this executive power when he signed the citizenship certificate of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The unanimous decision by the Appeal Court to dismiss the petition against Gotabaya Rahapaksa enables Gotabaya who recently renounced his American citizenship and retained his Sri Lankan citizenship, to contest the Lankan Presidency under the 19 th. Amendment of the constitution which states that no one holding foreign citizenship can be a member of parliament or contest an election.

Apart from the legal intricacies pertaining to the now dismissed legal petition, it is the general view that the sympathy and support for Gotabaya, especially amongst the rural masses, will increase as a result of the failed NGO attempt to prevent him from contesting.

It is the opinion of Gotabaya supporters that the ruling UNP and its allies, such as the NGOs, are making things hard for the SLPP because they fear a return of the nationalistic Rajapaksas, who have the support of the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist majority.

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