Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A post-poll query on Prez Gotabaya’s nationality



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, flanked by his brother Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and his predecessor Maithripala Sirisena. Field Marshal Fonseka spurned an invitation from President Rajapaksa to attend the event. Had the former Army Chief attended, he would have probably stood between Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda and Marshal of Air Force (pic courtesy President’s Media)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Galle District UPFA lawmaker Manusha Nanayakkara, on May 12, questioned whether Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa contested the last presidential election as a US citizen, in Nov 2019. Nanayakkara raised the issue four days after the releasing of the latest US Federal Registry that included President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the listing of individuals who had renounced their U.S. citizenship.

Even up to now no one else raised the contentious issue. Nanayakkara, who contested the last parliamentary polls, in August 2015, on the UPFA ticket, is one of those SLFP defectors, who opted to switch allegiance to the comparatively stronger breakaway UNP faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). Former Kalutara District SLFPer Kumara Welgama is another.

Had former Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne not been in custody, over  the controversial media briefing, held a week before the last presidential briefing, he, too, would have definitely targeted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the trumped up citizenship issue. Dr. Senaratne is in custody over wild accusations he directed at Gotabaya Rajapaksa, pertaining to the purported abductions of people, and disposal of their bodies in a crocodile infested Moneragala tank,  and also the transport of 7000 tonnes of gold, belonging to the LTTE, to Colombo, during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.

Dr. Senaratne is contesting the Kalutara district, on the SJB ticket. Dr. Senaratne’s son, Chathura, also a SJB nominee, is in the fray, from the Gampaha district.

Ex-lawmaker and one-time TV news presenter Nanayakkara, publicly sought an explanation whether wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had held US citizenship,  at the time he contested the presidential poll. The political turncoat questioned as to why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hadn’t been dealt with in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, whereas fellow Galle district MP, Geetha Kumarasinghe, was deprived of her seat for being a dual citizen, at the time she contested the last parliamentary polls.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted soon after the  January 2015 presidential poll, denied those who held foreign, or dual citizenships, an opportunity to contest presidential or parliamentary polls.

Former MP Nanayakkara is contesting the Galle District, at the 2020 parliamentary polls, on the SJB ticket.

The inclusion of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in the latest US Federal Registry, didn’t receive much media attention as the country is in turmoil, as a result of the coronavirus caused epidemic. Actually, both the print and electronic media conveniently forgot the matter, though some carried the initial report on the releasing of the US Federal Registry.

A simmering political crisis, over the failure on the part of the Election Commission (EC) to conduct the parliamentary polls, too, may have denied the sufficient discussion on a critically important matter. The state media largely refrained from taking up the citizenship issue.

It would be pertinent to mention that the 19th Amendment, introduced with the overwhelming support of all political parties, represented in parliament at that time, was primarily meant to dilute executive presidential powers. Except one-time Navy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, who represented the UPFA in parliament for one term, all his colleagues, in the dissolved parliament, voted for the 19th Amendment. The UPFA acted on the instructions given by the President, and incumbent SLFP leader, Maithripala Sirisena, who canvassed their support inside parliament as it was taken up by the House.

Civil society move against

SLPP recalled

The Opposing camp made a desperate bid to deprive Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) candidate the opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential poll. Civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara, moved the Court of Appeal, just ahead of Oct 07, 2019 nominations for the crucial polls. They petitioned the Court of Appeal, arguing that. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s new passport and National Identity Card had been issued unlawfully. They moved court after complaining to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The Court of Appeal set up a three-judge panel to hear the case, on October 2 and 3. The SLPP feared the Court ruling, on October 7- the last day for presidential aspirants to file nominations - could ruin Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s chances of contesting. On behalf of the deeply concerned SLPP leadership, the then lawmaker Chamal Rajapaksa, elder brother of the presidential aspirant, paid a deposit to contest the polls, from the Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sanvidanaya.

The civil society’s right to move court against the SLPP nominee, in terms of the 19th Amendment, cannot be challenged under any circumstances. Both Viyangoda and Prof. Thenuwara threw their weight behind the successful high profile project, in the run-up to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the 2015 presidential poll. The civil society, opposed to the Rajapaksas, went all out against them at both the 2015 and 2019 presidential polls. Their successful 2015 operation paved the way for longstanding SLFP General  Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, to join opposition forces and win the presidency.

Let me examine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent declaration that he wouldn’t hesitate to quit those international organizations if they continued to unfairly target Sri Lanka. The following is the relevant section of the English translation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the National Ranaviru Day commemoration, on May 19th, 2020: 

"Pain of the war is not strange to me. Therefore, I will not allow any room for attempts to discredit and destroy the dignity of our war heroes who made countless sacrifices to bring peace to entire Sri Lanka. I assure you that under my administration, we will take every measure always to protect the dignity of our heroic forces. It is a national responsibility to ensure their rights.

In a situation where even leaders of powerful countries have emphatically stated that they would not allow any action against their war heroes, in a small country, like ours, where our war heroes have sacrificed so much, I will not allow anyone to exert undue pressure on them or harass them.

If any international body or organization continuously targets our country, and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organizations."

Prez Sirisena’s role

As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the declaration, his predecessor and Polonnaruwa District SLPP candidate, at the 2020 parliamentary polls  stood next to him. Twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on his other side. If Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, also a SJB candidate at the 2020 parliamentary polls, accepted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s invitation, for the National Ranaviru Day commemoration, the first row, from left, would have comprised Marshal of Air Force Roshan Goonatileke, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda, Prime Minster Mahinda Rajapaksa, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former President Maithripala Sirisena and Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd) Kamal Gunaratne.

Field Marshal Fonseka spurned that historic moment. Both former President Sirisena and Fonseka cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the despicable Western campaign against Sri Lanka, on the human rights front. Having brought Sirisena into power, at the January 2015 presidential polls, the UNP immediately formed the government, with less than 50 members in parliament. Then, the UNP betrayed the war-winning armed forces, at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, by way of a resolution, co-sponsored by Colombo. In spite of being publicly critical of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera for Geneva co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1  inimical to Sri Lanka, President Sirisena never took remedial measures. The Geneva betrayal took place between the Treasury bond scams, perpetrated by the UNP, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.

The war-winning Army Commander, having accused his own Army, ahead of the 2010 presidential poll, of battlefield executions, in the final phase of the offensive, in the third week of May, 2009, joined the treacherous UNP-SLFP coalition, in Feb 2016. Field Marshal Fonseka succeeded the late UNP National List MP M.K.D.S. Gunawardena.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t have had to complain, in respect of international organizations over continuing high profile human rights campaign against Sri Lanka, if not for the UNP political strategy. One-time LTTE proxy - the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed those fielded by the UNP at the presidential elections of 2010 (General Sarath

Fonseka), 2015 (Maithripala Sirisena) and 2019 (Sajith Premadasa) on the basis Sri Lanka would be hauled up before foreign judges. The US-backed project succeeded in 2015, though the 2010 operation failed.

The Consultative Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), appointed following the Geneva betrayal, called for full participation of foreign judges and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

The CTFRM released the controversial report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa. The well compiled dossier against the country backed calls for foreign participation in the judicial process. The CTFRM comprised Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, K.W. Janaranjana and Prof. Daya Somasundaram.

Disputable measures, ranging from the 19th Amendment to the propaganda campaign, directed not only at Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but manipulation of the UNP, dominated the period in the run-up to the presidential poll. Those who backed Maihripala Sirisena, at the 2015 presidential poll, threw their weight behind the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ)-led civil society grouping pushed UNP leader, and the then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, to clear the way for Speaker Jayasuriya to contest the 2019 presidential election.

KJ vs GR

The move should be studied against the backdrop of the Speaker’s role in thwarting the high profile Sirisena-Rajapaksa bid, in Oct 2018, to oust the UNP administration. The Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo couldn’t sustain the operation  launched on Oct 26, 2018. Speaker Jayasuriya emerged stronger with overt and covert Western support, during his bruising battle with President Sirisena.

In addition to the NMSJ, Purawesi Balaya played an important role in the overall campaign.

Speaker Jayasuriya received the praise of a section of the international community for his strong stand against the Sirisena-Rajapaksa project. Jaysuriya was promoted as their presidential candidate, at the expense of their front runner, while efforts were also made to hinder Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Speaker Jayasuriya, on Sept. 06, 2019, accepted the NMSJ’s request to contest the presidential polls. Speaker Jayasuriya met NMSJ delegation, led by its leader Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, in parliament.

Subsequently, a group of academics claimed that a countrywide survey, conducted by a Peradeniya University team, revealed Speaker Jayasuriya was the strongest of the candidates likely to contest the 2019 presidential poll. On the basis of the opinion poll, the academics, led by former Peradeniya University Professor Sisira Pinnawela, placed Speaker Jayasuriya above Sajith Premadasa. The academics also claimed that Speaker Jayasuriya could easily defeat SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The NMSJ move divided the civil society.

Senior Fulbright Fellow and former faculty member of the Department of Sociology, at Peradeniya University, Dr. Sisira Pinnawela, said that his research contained a sample size of 1,675 voters, with the entire vote base divided into 10 geographical sub-groups. The Peradeniya team left Wickremesinghe out of candidates examined by the survey.

The Peradeniya team based their report on voters’ reaction to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya. The study, according to the report, was meant to test the popularity of the four candidates, though at that time presidential candidates hadn’t been named. Jayasuriya led in seven out of the 10 sub-groups, polled in Dr. Pinnawala’s research. Premadasa polled well in four out of 10 sub-groups.

The survey was based on key assumptions: (a) that the SLFP will not field a candidate (b) that the UNP will not be divided over its candidate and back a single candidate, and (c) that the minority parties, and especially the Tamil National Alliance, will not field a candidate.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa always considered the possibility of Speaker Jayasuriya being his opponent. Rajapaksa discussed the possibility months before the SLPP, after much haggling, announced the war veteran as its candidate. Rajapaksa, on March 20, told a gathering at Gauthama Viharaya, Narahenpita, that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was seeking to be the UNP candidate, at the 2019 presidential election.

A smiling Rajapaksa, told Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake, present on that occasion, that the latter’s father-in-law was a presidential contender. Rajapaksa said so in response to Navin Dissanayake, who, in his address, called Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the future Opposition presidential candidate. Minister Dissanayake emphasized the pivotal importance of suitable persons given appropriate positions.

Finally, the Speaker decided against even contesting the parliamentary polls. Jayasuriya turned down requests from both the UNP and its offshoot SJB to either contest or come on their respective National Lists.

At the onset of the battle for UNP presidential nomination, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, as well as Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, had been in the running for the candidature. In addition, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, too, indicated an interest in contesting the 2019 presidential election. Minister Senaratne’s media unit quoted the General Secretary of the Sihala Ravaya, Ven. Magalkande Sudantha, as having told an event; organized by Rajitha Senaratne Foundation, in Kalutara, on July 21, 2019, that the time was ripe for a person from the Kalutara district to become the President. All three, Fonseka (Gampaha), Ranawaka (Colombo) and Dr. Senaratne (Kalutara) have since opted to contest the 2020 parliamentary polls on Sajith Premadasa’s SJB.

However, an influential section, opposed to the Rajapaksa Camp, strongly felt that Jayasuriya should be Wickremesinghe’s successor as he was certain to receive Western backing. The role played by foreign powers at the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls raised many an eyebrow, though Sri Lanka lacked the strength, at least to take up the issue. The media and some sections of the civil society remained largely silent on continuing Western interference. In fact, recipients of foreign funding continued their campaign against Sri Lanka.

Actually, the UNP-SLFP coalition should accept responsibility for facilitating Western human rights campaign against Sri Lanka. The SLFP never opposed the UNP’s Geneva strategy, though, from time to time, its leaders declared that war heroes would be protected. After having facilitated the UNP dastardly project, during the 2015-Oct 2018 period, the SLFP is now contesting the 2020 parliamentary polls on the SLPP ticket. Politics certainly is a dirty game.