Presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa will face a court test this week over his Sri Lankan citizenship — on which his candidacy depends — following a petition challenging its legality.
On Monday, Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal set up a three-judge panel to hear the case on October 2 and 3. October 7 is the last day for presidential aspirants to file nominations.
War-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been a “dual citizen” of Sri Lanka and the U.S., until he reportedly renounced the latter some months ago, ahead of his presidential bid. Sri Lankan law bars those holding citizenship abroad from contesting for presidency. Early August, the local business newspaper Daily FT published a report pointing to questions over the validity of Mr. Gotabaya’s Sri Lankan citizenship documentation.
Subsequently, activists Gamini Viyangoda and Chandraguptha Thenuwara complained to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), seeking an investigation into the matter. Probing the complaint, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recently informed the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court that Immigration and Defence Ministry authorities claimed they do not have records substantiating Mr. Gotabaya’s dual citizenship, weekend newspaper Sunday Times reported.
Well-known civil society members in Colombo, Mr. Viyangoda and Mr. Thenuwara were involved in the campaign for democracy and good governance that, in the 2015 presidential election, dislodged ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, propelling the President Maithripala Sirisena-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe combine to power. Over a month after their complaint to the IGP, and amid conflicting reports about likely progress in the high-profile case, the civil rights activists petitioned the Court of Appeal on the same matter last week, arguing that Mr. Gotabaya’s passport and National Identity Card had been issued “unlawfully”.
Commenting on the development, Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for Mr. Gotabaya, said their side was certain of winning the case. “This only goes to show that they [ruling party] are really threatened by his candidacy, his reach and popularity. It is hilarious,” he told The Hindu.
Sri Lanka will go to polls on November 16, and Mr. Gotabaya, representing the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), is among the main candidates in the fray, along with the ruling United National Party’s Sajith Premadasa, the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake and former Army commander Mahesh Senanayake, fielded by a broad civil society coalition.