Colombo, May 3: Sri Lanka’s Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is stuck for a candidate to take on President Maithripala Sirisena in the 2020 Presidential election, writes P.K.Balachandran in www.bdnews24.com
Despite an impressive display of its crowd pulling capacity on May Day, which is seen as a manifest challenge to the Sirisena–Wickemesinghe regime, the Joint Opposition is in a fix because it has no credible and impressive candidate to be a worthy substitute for Mahinda Rajapaksa and his “strong man “ brother and former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, both of whom face a constitutional bar.
While Mahinda is not eligible for a third term as per the 19 th.Amendment enacted in April 2015, the constitution bars Gotabhaya from contesting any election as he is a dual citizen holding a Sri Lankan and a US passport.
Gotabhaya confirmed to this correspondent that he has not renounced his US citizenship and also ruled out the possibility of doing so.
“ I have lived there and worked there for so long!” he said on Wednesday.
The Joint Opposition has no credible substitute to these two. It cannot project Mahinda Rajapaksa’s other sibling, Basil Rajapaksa, as he is said to be unpopular among the party cadre and leaders and is also tainted by corruption charges. Eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa has opted out and Mahinda’s son, Namal, is too inexperienced to be projected for the 2020 elections.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa also denies that he is interested in an active political career.
Asked by Foreign Correspondents a few weeks ago if he would enter politics like his three older brothers, Chamal. Mahinda and Basil, he said that he has no intention of doing so as he feels that he can serve the country even without being in politics.
“At any rate Mahinda thinks I don’t understand politics,” he joked.
The constitutional position regarding dual citizens right to contest elections was reiterated by the Court of Appeal on May 3, when it unseated Galle district MP, Geetha Kumarasinghe, for not ending her dual citizen status by renouncing her Swiss nationality before she contested for parliament in August 2015.
The 19A, enacted post haste after the establishment of the Sirisena regime in January 2015, re- introduced the two term limit on the number of terms a person can hold office as President, primarily to keep out ambitious and strong persons like Mahinda.
According to Clause 4 of the 19th Amendment and Article 31(2) of the Constitution, a person who has been twice elected as President is disqualified from contesting for a third time. Mahinda had served two terms as President, from 2005 to 2010, and from 2010 to January 8, 2015.
As per Art 92 (b) and Clause 20 (4) of the 19th Amendment, and Article 91(1)(d)(xiii) of the Constitution, persons who are dual citizens are disqualified from being elected as Members of Parliament or the President of the Republic.
But unlike Gotabaya, Mahinda Rajapaksa can contest for parliament (he is already an MP), and hope to be a powerful Prime Minster if the new constitution, presently on the anvil, is based on the Westminster model.
But going by the proceedings of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, a switch over to the Westminster style parliamentary system is highly unlikely. It appears that there is little or no enthusiasm among the major Sinhalese political parties for changing the 1978 constitution
(The featured picture at the top shows the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointing Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as Defense Secretary)