Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resisted multiple entreaties to amend the Presidential Elections Act in a way that would empower the Elections Commission to reject the nomination papers of any candidate who held citizenship in a foreign country, Colombo Telegraph can now reveal.
The bill to amend the Presidential Elections Act never made it to the cabinet of ministers for approval. Before the October 2018 political crisis the draft amendment was sent to the Legal Draftsman but Wickremesinghe blocked the bill from getting to cabinet despite appeals from several ministers and even President Maithripala Sirisena.
Wickremesinghe initially blamed the delay on the President, telling UNP ministers Sirisena would never agree to the amendment. However, once the seriousness of the matter was brought to the attention of the President he urged Wickremesinghe in the presence of several UNP ministers to bring the bill before cabinet and get it passed as soon as possible. At the time witnesses say Wickremesinghe made an excuse to delay and said he would appoint a committee to study the matter.
Wickremesinghe’s blatant refusal to put safety measures in place to block the Gotabaya candidacy made President Sirisena extremely jittery Paget Road insiders said. It may even have hastened his decision to join hands with the Rajapaksas and try to pull off a coup a few months later.
Just months ago fresh efforts were launched to push Wickremesinghe into bringing the draft amendment to cabinet and getting it through Parliament. Wickremesinghe stonewalled the effort again.
For reasons best known to the Prime Minister he resisted every effort on different pretexts.
When UNP ministers urged the Prime Minister to revoke Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship status since he was accused of embezzling state funds, under investigation for money laundering, bribery, gun running and leading a death squad that targeted journalists and political opponents, Wickremesinghe refused again.
With new revelations made about Wickremesinghe’s pact with former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa the reasons have become clearer.
In the event Rajapaksa failed to renounce his US citizenship in time the Prime Minister was laying the groundwork to enable him to contest anyway.
Unless the Presidential Elections Act is amended ahead of the poll, any challenge against a dual citizen handing in nomination papers would have to be posed post-election as a petition in the Supreme Court.
The Amendment would have given the Commission teeth to reject an application by a dual citizen trying to stand for election outright, and even subject the person to punitive action.
Without the amendment, had Gotabaya Rajapaksa handed in his nomination papers while still being a US citizen, the Commission may have told any one raising objections to file a petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the issue, as it was in the Geetha Kumarasinghe dual citizenship case.
In fact sources close to the former Defence Secretary told Colombo Telegraph that when Rajapaksa’s lawyers wondered about the wisdom of renouncing US citizenship given the number of corruption and violence cases he was facing in Colombo, he was provided assurances at the highest levels that he would not need to do so to contest the presidency.
Ishini Wickremesinghe who is on the Prime Minister’s staff assured Gota backer and Derana owner Dilith Jayaweera that her uncle would ensure the Presidential Elections Act would not be amended which would mean Rajapaksa could contest without renouncing his American citizenship.
Meanwhile,investigations are likely into how the former Defence Secretary obtained a new passport and National ID card, without meeting the necessary requirements.
Investigators are likely to uncover a trail of evidence that will likely be a pointer to high level political interference Colombo Telegraph learns.
Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained his passport after hours and managed to get a new travel document that does not have any travel restrictions even though he is currently on trial at the Permanent High Court At Bar in the D.A. Rajapaksa museum case and is currently under a travel ban the probability is high that intervention took place politically to assist the ex defence secretary in his endeavour.
The question now remains how many laws Rajapaksa broke in the process and who in the upper echelons of the ruling Government helped him to break them.
Recent revelations about who helped Rajapaksa to obtain a new travel document under the radar have caused widespread panic at the levels of infiltration the former ruling family has managed in both major power centers currently running affairs in the country. (By TB Bambaradeniya)