19 October, 2019

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What’s In A Citizenship? What Was Dual For Gota Would Have Been Deadly For Ranil

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Imagine Ranil Wickremesinghe trying to be a presidential candidate as a former dual/American citizen. The political sky would have crashed, and the poor guy would have been verbally lynched as an American agent by patriotic pundits. There would have been no mercy even if Mr. Wickremesinghe had properly applied for new Sri Lankan citizenship, duly paid the application fees, kept his payment receipts, and got the citizenship certificate the normal way without presidential fast tracking and brotherly imprimatur. He would have been tarred and tattooed even if no file had been lost and all the documentation on his citizenship were properly in place. Even without being a presidential candidate, Mr. Wickremesinghe is perpetually in trouble for parachuting past-citizen Arjuna Mahendran from Singapore to Sri Lanka’s Central Bank, and to continue bonding from where the previous regime had left it, albeit a lot more greedily and totally foolishly. 

Contrast the real and virtual patriotic harassment of Ranil Wickremesinghe with the patriotic hospitality extended to Gotabaya Rajapaksa as he battled questions about the validity of his second Sri Lankan citizenship. It was the petitioners who dared to question, who were accused of wanting in patriotism and of having ungrateful blood in their veins. Of course, the legal challenge was political, and since when did it become illegal or immoral to be political?    

All these questions have now been set aside by the Court of Appeal, and a major roadblock to Mr. Rajapaksa fulfilling the nomination requirements on Monday, to be a presidential candidate, has been effectively removed. Although all should be well that ends well, at least for now, there were more than rumours about unease and anxiety in the Rajapaksa camp about the outcome of the court hearing. Speculations caught fire last week when Mr. Rajapaksa sought and obtained his new Sri Lankan Passport from the Permanent High Court and the Court’s approval to travel abroad for medical reasons. 

Then on Friday and out of nowhere, the Rajapaksa elder statesman and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa paid his cash deposit to join the long list of 33 (all men) to be a candidate at the November presidential election. It may be that the former Speaker threw in his name just to be able to step in, in case his younger brother should opt to step out. The elder Rajapaksa will likely withdraw from the race, now that the courts have palpably cleared the path for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to finalize his nomination. In any event, we should know by Tuesday which Rajapaksa is in and which one is out. Kudos to the oldest Rajapaksa for taking one for the family and offering himself as a throwaway substitute. 

The Executive

The legal challenge to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan citizenship status seems to have inspired lawyerly accounts about the powers of the Executive President, even though the burden of the challenge was more about process than about presidential power. Even without the 19th Amendment, the 1978 Constitution outlines the contours of The Executive  in three separate chapters: The President of the Republic, The Cabinet of Ministers and The Public Service. The Executive encompasses all three components, and they are supposed to function seamlessly and continuously even through disruptions for whatever reason, including elections and presidential and/or ministerial successions. 

At no time should a President be left alone to carry the entire burden of the country and its government, and to act arbitrarily or without accountability (to parliament) on their behalf. It is fair to assume that no President at any time would solely, acting on his own advice and by virtue of whatever powers vested in him, award a government contract; issue a bicycle license; or grant new citizenship to the citizen of another country, let alone a family member. Goodwill and honorary Passports are a different matter, as people have recalled instances when President JR Jayewardene apparently gave such a Passport to Cyril Ponnamperuma, the Scientist, and President Chandrika Kumaratunga gave another to Duncan White, the Olympics Medalist. 

The word on the street is that Presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained his newest Sri Lankan Passport through the auspices of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Chivalry, since when did thy name become politics? The underlying theory is that in Mr. Wickremesinghe’s scheme having Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a presidential candidate would help him (RW) to win not only his Party’s candidacy but also the country’s presidency.   

The questioning of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship status opened a whole can of worms about how the government administers the applications for and the granting of dual citizenships. While the legality of Mr. Rajapaksa’s citizenship has been settled, none of the murkiness of the process would appear to have been cleared. Add to that the mysteriously missing documents between 2005 and 2007, and no one knows for what other periods? Does the government know how many dual citizens Sri Lanka has without proper documentation, or with missing documentation? And how has the government acted to prevent people taking advantage of missing documents and producing fraudulent citizenship certificates ? Of course, none of this applies to Gotabaya Rajapaksa and not even the petitioners challenging the validity of his citizenship suggested anything untoward.  

And none of these details, and missing details, from the deep State bottoms would have surfaced if Gotabaya Rajapaksa had not come forward as a presidential candidate. In fairness to him, the thought of being Sri Lanka’s President at some point may not have even crossed his mind when he received his dual citizenship from his President brother fourteen years ago. Yet, here we are, and if all goes well on Monday as planned, Mr. Rajapaksa would be the new torch bearer of the Rajapaksa family, the new presidential candidate of the equally new Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, and Sri Lanka’s first ever dual citizen to contest a presidential election – albeit after renouncing his American citizenship. 

But for the 19th Amendment, Mr. Rajapaksa could have contested the Sri Lankan election as a dual citizen, because the US government places no barrier against any of its citizens with dual nationality – to either contesting or holding public office in their old countries. What better way to look after American interests in far flung countries? And to be an American President, one must not only be an American citizen but also born on American soil. Nonetheless, if Gotabaya Rajapaksa gets elected as President on November 16, Sri Lanka’s new first lady would be an American citizen, that is if Mrs. Rajapaksa is not already a dual citizen. As well, there is now precedent for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if elected President, to grant new Sri Lankan citizenship to Lady Rajapaksa by exercising his plenary, repository, or residual presidential powers.

Teflon Gota, Toxic Ranil

Patriotism sits differently on different people. Gotabaya Rajapaksa could renounce Sri Lankan citizenship to become an American citizen and still claim all the patriotic credentials in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, who never left the country except on visits lasting no more than a matter of days, can never pass muster with the self-appointed security guards of Sri Lankan patriotism. Self-inflicted mistakes drip from every pore of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s political body, but being unpatriotic should not be one of them. Yet, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is Teflon when it comes to the test of patriotism, and Ranil Wickremesinghe is always toxic among self-proclaimed patriots. This dichotomy has defined the political narrative over the last fifteen years when Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe squared off against each other for the political prize. 

Will the narrative change now that Ranil Wickremesinghe is no longer a presidential contender and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former American citizen, is the new Rajapaksa torch bearer? The earlier speculations were that the US government may throw a spanner in the works to delay Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s renunciation of his American citizenship. There was no basis for that speculation and the emerging sense now appears to be that the American government would really not mind either way – having or not having Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President. A former American citizen elected as Sri Lanka’s President may not overtly help American interests in the island and the region. But he is certainly not going to go out of his way to hurt American interests.

Already the Rajapaksas have indicated that neither the defence co-operation agreements with US – Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and the under-negotiation Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), nor the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact involving $ 480 million of grant assistance would be off the table under a new Rajapaksa presidency. The current government was brow beaten to put them on hold by weekend newsprint pundits and online patriots. They went to town scaring everyone with the scary titles of these agreement while the government sat on its hands doing nothing to explain their innocuous contents. 

Somehow, getting an MCC grant to create a database for an east-west economic and transportation corridor between Colombo and Trincomalee ended up in someone’s wild imagination as a scary scheme to bifurcate the country – north and south!  The Rajapaksas will have no tolerance for wild imaginations and they would likely end up dealing with the Americans the same way Ranil Wickremesinghe ended up dealing with the Chinese. That said, anti-Americanism may not feature prominently in the election, at least between the two main rivals because both parties have plenty of American (dual) citizens and aficionados on their sides. Still, we cannot be so sure because Sri Lankan politics is not unknown for throwing stones from inside glass houses.         

More than the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are partaking the country like nobody’s business. Apparently, the Chinese want to demonstrate that they are as interested in Point Pedro as they are in Point Dondra (as was GG Ponnambalam), and the Indians want to run trains not only to the north but also to the south. The received wisdom is that New Delhi may hope for a Sajith Premadasa win even though the Indians do not think they got much out of the current Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. The Chinese will sit back and be confident about being able to deal with whoever wins the election, regardless of their citizenship history. 

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    I here, International community is happy that Maithripala sirisena refused to sign MCC-COMPACT and SOFA-VFA. So, they want some how want to spoil Maithripala sirisena’s reelecting chances.

  • 0
    2

    If it is the procedure which is questionable in granting dual citizenship (to retain or to resume SL citizenship) that is correct. Because there may be so many people who have applied, but languishing and the procedure may not be equal. However to single out one person and question the validity of the citizenship on that grounds is not reasonable, especially countering his/her right to contest an election. Because a President could sign a dual citizenship certificate as he/she is the accepted legal authority at that time (1995-2005), if not today. The signature of the Secretary of Defense was enough ‘in witness,’ but when that position was vacant, the signature of the President was a must. That was the situation even when I applied for the retention in 1995, while fulfilling all the requirements to the best of my knowledge.

    The procedure appears changed after the 19A it seems. Because this is Yahapalanaya! I understand that even John Amaratunga has signed dual citizenship certificates in early 2015! That time he was the Minister of Public Order and Christian Affairs. Perhaps he was the assigned authority in 2015, by the Cabinet or the Prime Minister. Who knows? It appears however according to the Printed Certificate that is used today, any Minister could sign the certificate. Because in print, it does not say what Minister. Therefore, you sign and put your seal on. You also ask your Secretary also to sign and put the seal on. All honkey-dory and no NGO man would go to the courts.

    My only appeal to Rajan is that please try to base yourself on concrete evidence when you write on complicated and controversial matters.

    • 1
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      Laksiri,
      You have missed the point completely. Rajan is not questioning the verdict; he is questioning the double standard of applying the term “patriotism”: GoRa, who renounced SL citizenship to become a US citizen and then obtained dual citizenship perhaps fraudulently get the full credit as a patriot while Ranil who never betrayed the motherland for any reason get attacked as US lackey.

      I think that this a reasonable question to ask in order to challenge hypocrisy surrounding the political reality in SL. I believe that this hypocrisy which is the tendency to portray non-left-lenient politicians as US agents is not only wrong but also has a very detrimental effect on SL politics. I can understand if its only a product of Marxists but the stupidity can be seen among so-called intellectuals as well. I strongly believe that this straight-jacket of anti-West attitudes has served this nation very badly. Nalin de Silva is a prime example for directing SL into blind alleys of science b’cos of these kinds of views!

      • 1
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        D. P.
        “Imagine” is how he starts the discourse! Of course what you say is there based on his previous arguments about the invalidity of GR’s dual citizenship certificate and the procedure. Did he or didn’t he argued that way? Please answer. I don’t usually comment on imagined stories like you do. What I have said about John Amaratunga signing a citizenship certificate is true. I have seen and I will produce the format that is used after 19A soon. What do you or Rajan could say about it? After failing to prove the citizenship is invalid, questioning ‘patriotism’ is completely bad conscience. Simply said this is not the way to oust GR.

    • 2
      0

      Laksiri,
      I never understood what procedures were used when former Minister Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan Known as Kauna Amman former LTTE deputy leader and Eastern commander of LTTE for nearly 30 years (accused as child soldier recruiter, attack on Daladha Maligawa, Central Bank, killing of 600 policemen etc) was travelled in diplomatic passport to UK. He was arrested and charged and jailed for 9 months and deported to Srilanka and he was offered ministerial posts. Of course no one challenged in Srilankans court. Similarly former international LTTE arm dealer KP was arrested in Malaysia brought back to Srilanka and the rule of law and justice never interfered and he remains in Srilanka. I don’t know whether he is a Srilanka citizen or not.
      In the case of Gotabaya, I don’t know whether the procedure is wrong or it is a mis use of power. If you give a special concession to your family member or the purpose of your personal benefit it might be considered as mis use of power. Some will argue that that it is legal to get that benefit because president of Srilanka was above the law and above the god.

      • 0
        0

        Ajith,
        You are right that in Sri Lanka there have been and are so many misuse of power, abuse and break or neglect of rule of law. The question is how to change the situation. (I am interested/involved as a person of Sri Lankan origin and an academic, or otherwise I don’t have any stakes at all). At the same time we have to understand, in my opinion, that everything is not the same. I also don’t reject everything as hopeless. At the forthcoming election, defeating GR is a must. But it is also difficult to believe that the potential alternative, Sajith is a firm solution. Primarily because of the past record of the present regime. Therefore I would encourage people to vote for AKD, but with second preference to Sajith. However, the campaign against GR should be a principled one (also educational) based on evidence, facts and historical record (as you have outlined some instances of the Rajapaksa rule). In my opinion, at the last moment challenging the citizenship in courts is not the correct way of approaching the situation. It is already a misadventure. Questioning his ‘patriotism’ is also a deviation from key issues. It also should not be based on personal attacks on GR, but highlighting of the dangers of ‘family rule’ and ‘his misrule’ is completely necessary. More important is programmatic criticisms. I am trying to be ‘self-critical’ within a civil society or alternative endeavor. Unfortunately at present, their role appears to be quite misplaced, self-defeatist and adventurist. We should not seep into the same tactics of anti-democratic and chauvinist forces.

        • 1
          0

          Laksiri,
          It is good that you agree that Gotabaya must be defeated. You think that Sajith UNP) is not potential alternative compare to AKD (JVP).But some others think AKD (JVP) ‘s past record is also not good. Do you know what is their policy on devolution and power sharing? What is their policy on special treatment of Buddhism in the constitution? Further AKD(JVP) has a very low voters bank and whether they have the power to turn around a large proportion Sinhala votes that SLPP created with their anti Tamil and anti Muslim propaganda? Of course UNP is track record is bad in the past but not worse than the Mahinda regime in terms of rule of law, justice and misuse or abuse of power.
          I agree that last minute of challenging his citizenship should have challenged long time ago but it is up to those who brought this challenge to explain. I don’t think it is wrong to discuss about those who use patriotism to mislead the voters and public who just believe everything what is come through some religious fundamentalists. The voters have to have all the necessary information about the potential leaders. I don’t think any one attack personally GR or MR or Sajith. All the attack are based on facts, evidence and behaviour.

  • 0
    3

    Nice word gymnastics……..Hammer Gota while not seeming to do it. Hammer Court of Appeal while not seeming to do it.

    Gota has made an indelible patriotic mark on the psyche of the masses by his military achievement against the separatists and stopping bifurcating Sri Lanka. However Ranil failed miserably in that particular test from the infamous CFA where he formerly recognised another army and a territory within Sri Lanka’s territorial boundaries, to aligning with USA, India and their proxy separatist TNA to establish a minority led govt (we saw John Kerry congratulating Modi and Sambandan getting instructions from Modi. We also saw an exposed RAW agent being withdrawn from the Indian embassy during 2015 election cycle).

    It is the perception through those actions that still resonate with the masses (not forgetting the legacy of uncle Yankee Dicky)

  • 3
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    The Court of Appeal has declared that Gota is legally a Dual citizen. However, under Article 92 of the constitution a president cannot be a dual citizen, and must hold sole citizenship of Sri Lanka. Even though Gotabaya Rajapaksa says that he was granted withdrawal by the US Embassy on April 17th this year, his name was not in the list of persons who have renounced US citizenship. What the US Embassy has granted him may be an acknowledgement for receiving his application and the US passport. Gotabaya’s US citizenship is questionable because he has still not received the US clearance certificate, indicating that he may still be a dual citizen. Now the question is, will the election commissioner accept his nomination papers without a proper US clearance certificate?

  • 0
    2

    What on earth are you trying to say Rajan? The heading and the content are poles apart.

  • 2
    0

    There is precedent [ laid down by an Appeal court ] for Gotabaya.R.,IF AND WHEN ELECTED, to grant his wife Srilankan Citizenship by just signing on the dotted line.
    Plenary Powers, Repository Powers, Residual Powers etc etc is Double Dutch for him!
    Elder brother granting citizenship to the younger brother, Husband granting citizenship to the Wife is the hallmark of Rajapakse rule.Emperors with or without clothes!
    Srilanka a Land like no other!

  • 3
    0

    Sinhala-Buddhist patriotism is the name for Baiyyas displacing the anglicised, urban, pro-UNP elite as the running dogs of western imperialism. The role of the so-called patriots in the unfolding saga of Gota’s citizenship is a concrete manifestation of this bizarre development in our politics. The Sinhala nouveau riche (mostly through ill-gotten money, of course) wants to seal its political power by making their Veeraya the executive-president. He being an American citizen/operative only make him superior to Ranil in their eyes. The world is more complicated than we think. This is what is happening with Pohottuwa’s Indian counterpart, the BJP, as well. Populism is the only game in town.

  • 1
    0

    What should be real patriotism?
    Love the Country and people.
    Respect the rule of law and justice.
    Treat all citizens irrespective of race, religion, caste, gender and disability.
    In all these grounds Gotabaya fails to qualify to be a real true patriotic. He should answer if he is a genuine patriotic why he gave up Sri Lankan citizenship? Why his family still hold US citizenship?
    How did he or his family contributed to the people of this country after giving up his Srilankan citizenship other than serving as a defence secretary under his brothers government? Did he help poor people of this nation to improve their living standard using private wealth? Why he failed to find out the murderer of Lasantha during his 6 year period?

  • 0
    0

    “What Was Dual For Gota Would Have Been Deadly For Ranil”
    Why?
    Because that would have been the official confirmation of what he really is.

    Soma

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