THE CASES ALLEGEDLY FILED IN THE U.S. AGAINST GOTABHAYA RAJAPAKSA AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR SRI LANKAN VOTERS
Posted on April 12th, 2019

DHARSHAN WEERASEKERA

10th April 2019

There can be no better endorsement of Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (‘GR’) for the Presidency of Sri Lanka than the fact that his enemies have already begun a campaign to scuttle his chances of running for that office, even before his candidacy has been officially announced. 

I refer to the reports in a number of newspapers that two civil cases have been filed against GR in the U.S., one allegedly by the daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga and the other by the NGO International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) representing a victim of purported torture by the Sri Lankan security forces.[1]

In this article, I shall briefly discuss what one can reasonably expect the enemies of Sri Lanka to do in the coming weeks and months to scuttle GR’s chances of running for the Presidency.  I write as a Sri Lankan citizen and a concerned voter who will vote for GR if he runs, and I hope that his campaign staff will address the concerns below, which I think are shared by many others in my position. 

THE CONCERN

If GR runs, he will run as the candidate of the SLPP.  At the 10th February 2018 local government elections, the SLPP stunned a lot of people by trouncing the UNP as well as Sirisena’s SLFP.  To the best of my knowledge, the final results of those elections were:  45% SLPP, 33% UNP and 13% SLFP.[2]  The election had a 65% voter turn-out.[3]   

If there is a similar high turn-out at the next Presidential Election, and under normal circumstances there will be, it is reasonable to suppose that the SLPP will be able to get its candidate roughly 44% percent of the vote.

In order to win a Presidential Election, one needs to get over 50% of the vote.  Therefore, GR must get a minimum of 5-7% of the vote either from the SLFP, the traditional UNP vote-base, or the minorities.  I have no doubt he is capable of getting such a portion, especially if he runs a campaign focused on the factors that most Sri Lankans today find to be essential, starting with the economy.

GR brings to the table a combination of service to the country, experience and proven administrative skills that no conceivable candidate that the UNP or the minorities can conjure up against him can match.  Therefore, all things being equal, if the Presidential election is held tomorrow, or a month from now, or six months from now, and GR is a candidate, he will win.

Conversely, from the point of view of GR’s enemies, the best way to scuttle his chances of winning the Presidency is to reduce the number of SLPP voters who will turn out to vote.  And one of the best ways to do this is to create the impression that GR is saddled with many lawsuits, each capable of annulling his candidacy, or if elected, prevent him from functioning, that a vote for him is tantamount to throwing away one’s vote.

Therefore, it is essential that if GR is running for President his campaign staff now itself take steps to reassure voters that they (i.e. the staff) are aware of the aforesaid threats, and have formulated counter-measures or are in the process of doing so.  I am not saying that they should publicize what the counter-measures are; that would be to inform the enemy unnecessarily.  But, it is important to let voters know that the relevant threats have been identified, and efforts are underway to address them.

At present, a number of persons purporting to represent GR’s interests have made public statements denying that any cases have been filed against GR in the U.S. More disturbing, to the best of my knowledge, these persons have in general dismissed the possibility that cases may be filed, whether in Sri Lanka or abroad, to obstruct GR’s from running for President of Sri Lanka. 

Unfortunately, in the eyes of most voters, these persons have very little credibility to comment on legal issues.  This is especially so because, if I am not mistaken, the same persons were at the forefront in defending Sirisena’s dissolution of Parliament in late October 2018.  They claimed that, Article 33 of the Constitution permitted such an action.  The Supreme Court made short shrift of that argument.

If at the next Presidential election SLPP voters were to put all their hopes on GR, and at the last moment hear that his candidacy has been cancelled or suspended pending the outcome of one or more lawsuits, it would absolutely devastate the morale of those voters.  In such a situation, it is reasonable to suppose that a fair number of them will avoid going to polls, and this will no doubt throw the election to the UNP candidate. 

The last thing that SLPP voters need is a ‘surprise’ such as what happened in the weeks prior to the August 2015 Parliamentary elections.  At that time, UPFA voters (today’s SLPP voters) were ecstatic that Mahinda Rajapaksa had a chance to become PM.  But, Sirisena yanked that possibility away at the last moment by announcing that he would never make MR Prime Minister, leaving many voters devastated.

Therefore, to repeat, if GR is running for President, his campaign staff must address the issue of these cases, if indeed they have been filed.  More importantly, they must address the possibility that cases may be filed in the future, whether in the U.S. or Sri Lanka.  Among other things, they must address the following issues:

  1. It is well known that a U.S. citizen can relinquish his or her citizenship by informing the U.S. Government of that purpose, and normally the cancellation is granted without any difficulty.  However, under extraordinary circumstances, are there instances where the U.S. Government has prolonged cancelling a person’s citizenship, and if so, what are the remedies available to such person?
  • Under Sri Lankan law, how would the fact that a cancellation of a citizenship is pending (as opposed to being granted) affect an attempt by that person to run for the Presidency of this country?
  • Would an elections officer be able to reject the nomination of a particular candidate at such officer’s discretion, and if so what are the remedies available for the rejected candidate?
  • Would it be possible for petitioners to obtain ‘interim relief’ preventing a candidate from contesting elections until cases against such candidate, cases challenging his/her eligibility to contest the Presidency, are heard.  And if so, what are the possible appeals against such a ruling and how long will they take?

Depending on the answers to such questions, voters can make up their minds as to whether it is in their interests to support a run for the Presidency by GR.  The 10th February 2018 LG polls proved beyond a doubt that the Sri Lankan voter is an intelligent and perceptive voter. 

In the run-up to the LG polls, though most pundits predicted that the SLPP would win, no one predicted that they would win by such a lopsided margin, especially against the SLFP.  Also, recall that, in the run-up to the elections, Sirisena and Ranil, who were as ‘thick as thieves’ at the time, tried to make the elections turn on the issue of corruption, that is, they asked the voter to choose the party that would be able to fight corruption the best. 

However, the voters, especially UPFA voters, correctly understood that the real issue was not corruption but rather Sirisena’s hijacking of the SLFP and the resulting loss of their (i.e. the voters’) ability to influence the way that the country was being run.  And they made both Sirisena and Ranil pay. 

In a similar way, the voters will correctly identify the relevant issues for the Presidential elections.  They will vote for GR if they think it is in their interests to do so.  I am sure they will vote GR President with an overwhelming majority if and when they get a chance.  No doubt this is the fear that is driving GR’s detractors.   So, GR has to level with the voters also.  If there are threats to his candidacy, he must let the voters know what those threats are, and what his campaign intends to do about them.  


[1] See ‘Two lawsuits against Gota in U.S.’ Daily Mirror, 9th April 2019; also, ‘GR faces legal action in U.S.’ The Island, 9th April 2019 

[2] LG polls results, Daily Mirror, 12th February 2018

[3] ‘65% voter turnout  at today’s election:  EC,’ Daily Mirror, 10th February 2018

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