Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya who still enjoy enormous public support as seen in the massive Joint Opposition May Day rally in Colombo, are caught in a constitutional conundrum that prevents both of them from contesting the next presidential elections.
Although the Joint Opposition succeeded in proving its massive crowd pulling ability on May Day, which it maintained is a challenge for the Sirisena –Wickemesinghe regime, the party does not have a significant candidate to back in the 2020 presidential election.
The former president is not eligible for a third term as per the 19th. Amendment enacted in April 2015 and the constitution bars Gotabhaya, the most popular candidate after Mahinda, from contesting any election as he is a dual citizen holding a Sri Lankan and a US passport.
The Sri Lankan constitutional position regarding the rights of dual citizens to contest elections was clarified 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.
According to 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.
Meanwhile the 19th Amendment, introduced by the Sirisena regime in January 2015, re- introduced the two-term limit on the number of terms a person can hold office as President, thereby ensuring that Mahinda Rajapaksa does not return as President.
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 Rajapaksa had served two terms as President, from 2005 to 2010, and from 2010 to January 8, 2015.
Mahinda who is currently a MP has the option of returning to power as Prime Minister in the event the envisaged new constitution is based on the Westminster model.
Meanwhile, the Joint Opposition (JO) has so far not put brother of Mahinda, Basil Rajapaksa onto political prominence as he is said to be unpopular in the party in addition to being also tarnished by corruption charges.
Chamal Rajapaksa, also brother of Mahinda has opted out of the political limelight and Mahinda’s son, Namal, is an unlikely candidate as he is too inexperienced to stand for presidency by 2020.
Meanwhile, the former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in a recent interaction with the media denied that he is interested in an active political career. He told the Foreign Correspondents recently that he has no intention of contesting for president.
“I can serve the country without getting into politics,” he quipped.
The Joint Opposition thus remains without a significant leader to prop up to the helm of power.