The Supreme Court verdict, declaring that Galle district Member of Parliament Geetha Kumarasinghe was ineligible to sit in the legislature because she was a citizen of Switzerland through marriage at the time of the last general election, has caused serious concerns in the corridors of power, particularly in the Joint Opposition (JO) faction of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

Kumarasinghe is better known for her charisma and glamour as an actress and starred in many award winning movies including ‘Karumakkarayo’ and ‘Paalama Yata’. As a politician, she did make waves among her own party colleagues in the Galle district but her hallmark had been her undisputed loyalty to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, even after he was defeated at the presidential election.

Now, Kumarasinghe finds herself ousted from Parliament on a legal technicality following a long drawn out legal battle. There has even been speculation that she may be called upon to reimburse the emoluments she received while she served as a MP.

Geetha Kumarasinghe has had a relatively short but eventful political career. In 2010, after Rajapaksa had consolidated himself in power following his victory at the presidential elections in January, he invited many celebrities to run for Parliament. Among them were Kumarasinghe, the undisputed ‘queen’ of the Sinhala screen, Malani Fonseka (who was accommodated on the National List) and cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya.

Southern Provincial council elections

Fonseka was appointed from the National List and Jayasuriya entered Parliament from the Matara district but Kumarasinghe was unsuccessful, not having sufficient preference votes in the competitive Galle district, despite her celebrity status. Nevertheless, she persevered as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organiser for Bentara-Elpitiya and contested the Southern Provincial Council elections in 2014, winning a seat in the Council.

Kumarasinghe ran for parliament again in 2015 and was placed fifth in the preferences list with 63,955 votes. Kumarasinghe was elected to Parliament as the UPFA had secured six seats in the Galle district. Chandima Weerakkody, Ramesh Pathirana, Nishantha Muthuhettigama and Manusha Nanayakkara secured more preference votes than Kumarasinghe while former minister Piyasena Gamage missed out, being placed seventh on the list.

It was known at the time of the election that Kumarasinghe was a Swiss citizen by virtue of her marriage to Chris Fuhrer Ferdinand. She dismissed these concerns at the time, saying she had written to the Swiss Embassy ‘renouncing’ her citizenship.

The bar on dual citizens holding office came into effect only after the National Unity government enacted the 19th Amendment, following the election of President Maithripala Sirisena. Ironically, the UPFA also voted for this amendment. Under this amendment, Article 91(1) (d) (xiii) stipulates that “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament or to sit and vote in Parliament…if he (or she) is a citizen of Sri Lanka who is also a citizen of any other country”.

Following Kumarasinghe’s election, the issue received wide publicity and her election was challenged in the Court of Appeal in March 2015 by five voters of the Galle district. In public, when the question was put to her, Kumarasinghe maintained that she would eventually be vindicated by the courts of law. That was not to be. On May 3, 2017, the Court of Appeal held that Kumarasinghe’s election was unlawful.

Kumarasinghe promptly appealed the decision and on May 12, 2017, the Supreme Court issued a stay order on the Court of Appeal decision until the appeal to the Supreme Court was heard. This is what concluded last week. The verdict of the five judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice Priyasath Dep and Justices B.P. Aluvihare, Sisira J. De Abrew, Anil Gooneratne and Nalin Perera was unanimous.

The judgment was read in court by Justice Abrew. “When I consider the Article 91(1) (d) (xiii) of the Constitution, I hold that if a candidate in a Parliament Election is a citizen of Sri Lanka and any other country on the day of the parliamentary election or on the day of taking oaths as a Member of Parliament, he or she cannot be considered as an MP and that office of such a person as an MP is a nullity,” Justice Abrew observed. “After taking oaths as a MP, if he or she becomes a citizen of any other country or continues to be a citizen of any other country, he or she too cannot be considered as an MP and that office of such a person as a Member of Parliament is nullity”, Justice Abrew added.

Kumarasinghe’s disqualification

On Tuesday, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s office announced that it had formally received the Supreme Court verdict and that this would be communicated to the Elections Commission shortly. The Elections Commission is likely to call upon Piyasena Gamage, who is next on the list of UPFA preference votes in the Galle district, to fill the vacancy created by Kumarasinghe’s disqualification. Gamage is as much a loyalist of President Maithripala Sirisena as Kumarasinghe is of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is likely to be entrusted with a ministerial portfolio as well.

There was some discussion in political circles as to whether the entire UPFA ‘list’ of parliamentarians would be disqualified. This followed the disqualification of the entire United National Party (UNP) list for the Colombo Municipal Council election in 2006, following the inclusion of a candidate who was under 18 years of age in the list. This led to the farcical situation of an Independent group winning the election and Uvais Mohamed Imitiyas, a 22-year-old trishaw driver becoming the Mayor of Colombo.

However, most legal experts feel that Kumarasinghe’s disqualification does not fall within the ambit of the grounds enumerated in Section 19(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act which sets out the instances where nominations can be rejected. Still, this is a matter of interpretation of the law and interested litigants could yet canvass this argument in courts which would of course, leading to another lengthy legal wrangle.

If the entire UPFA list were to be ruled ineligible, the UNP stands to gain about four more parliamentary seats in the Galle district and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna too could gain a seat. In any event, the UNP is unlikely to pursue such an option which would create bad blood between the partners in the National Unity government.

Interestingly, Kumarasinghe’s disqualification has greater ramifications than the fallout for the movie star turned politician. That is because two leading figures in the JO, the Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabhaya and Basil, are also dual citizens holding citizenship in the United States of America. In fact, the JO faction had been complaining about the dual citizenship clause in the 19th Amendment, claiming that it had been enacted to specifically exclude them from the Sri Lankan political arena.

In the aftermath of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat in January 2015, both Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, after an initial period away from the limelight have returned to the forefront. Basil Rajapaksa is the mastermind behind the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) - or the ‘pohottuwa’ party as it is popularly known- that is expected to field JO candidates at forthcoming elections and be the next political vehicle for the Rajapaksas.

Presidential candidacy in 2020

Since the 19th Amendment also debars a person from holding the office of Executive President more than twice and effectively bars Mahinda Rajapaksa from running for President again, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is increasingly being projected as the JO’s next presidential candidate, although how the next President is elected is still unclear in the wake of proposed constitutional reforms.

Nevertheless, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with his track record as the Defence Secretary who successfully prosecuted the war against terrorism, is an integral part of the JO’s future plans.

He has launched an organisation of professionals- ‘Viyath Maga’- and this has given rise to speculation that he is preparing himself for a presidential candidacy in 2020.

With the verdict on Kumarasinghe now delivered, the JO’s roles for these two Rajapaksas are in jeopardy. Basil Rajapaksa has stated publicly that he would not renounce his United States citizenship. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa did state in 2015 that he had applied to renounce his US citizenship but when asked earlier this year, he was non-committal about the issue.

How the JO deals with this conundrum is eagerly being observed by the mainstream SLFP because the verdict on Kumarasinghe could mean that the top triumvirate of the JO- Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapaksa- are effectively out of contention for the next major elections and that would mean a big blow to the dissidents who rely on the Rajapaksa brand name for their success. 



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One does not become a citizen automatically after marriage, He or she must ask for it after 5 years of marriage


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