Former Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary and Retired Colonel of the Sri Lankan Army Gotabaya Nandasena Rajapaksa generally Known as Gota is likely to be nominated as the official candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party(SLPP) at the forthcoming 2019 Presidential elections.
After a prolonged period of indecision and speculation, the decision to nominate Gotabaya as candidate was taken by former President and current leader of the opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa with the concurrence and approval of other politically engaged members of the extended Rajapaksa family.
The key decision was taken on Thursday March 14th at the Wijerama road residence of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo after a meeting in which six members of the Rajapaksa family involved in active politics were present.
They were ex-president and Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, Former Speaker and Current MP Chamal Rajapaksa, Former Cabinet Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Ex Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former Uva Province Chief Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa and Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa. The primary purpose of the meeting held along with dinner was to arrive at a firm and conclusive decision in determining the candidacy for the forthcoming 2019 Presidential elections.
Although Gotabaya Rajapaksa had indicated his intention to contest the presidential elections and a well-organized campaign to promote the ex Defence Secretary’s candidacy was underway, a firm decision in this regard had not been taken for quite some time. There was a general agreement within the Rajapaksa family as well as SLPP and UPFA party circles that the decision of finalising the presidential candidate would be taken by Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.
Elected By Mahinda Rajapaksa
The accredited mainspring of the SLPP Basil Rajapaksa has gone on record that the next Presidential candidate would be from the Sri Lanka Podujana Party and that the party would appoint and support whoever is selected by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Basil has welcomed the move by Gotabaya to seek nomination for the Presidential candidacy from the SLPP. Gotabaya Rajapaksa too has told the media that he is awaiting Mahinda’s green light on the matter. Mahinda himself has stated that he will pick a winning candidate and make an announcement at the right time.
The perceived delay in arriving at such a decision had led to much speculation that someone other than Gota was going to be nominated as presidential candidate. There were reports in sections of the media that Mahinda was reluctant to nominate Gota and that is why he was hesitating to arrive at a decision. Criticism levelled against Gota’s candidacy publicly by UPFA stalwarts such as MP’s Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Kumar Welgama reinforced this suspicion. The confusion was further compounded by President Maithripala Sirisena’s political manouevres to secure the Presidential candidacy for himself with SLPP support.
It was against this backdrop that the politically involved members of the Rajapaksa family met at Mahinda’s residence for dinner. After hours of intense discussion before, during and after dinner the family members arrived at a consensus confirming Gotabaya’s candidacy. It is learnt that eldest brother and “Pater Familias” Chamal Rajapaksa had been insistent that Mahinda Rajapaksa should make his decision known after discussion with family members. Chamal reportedly said that matters had dragged on for too long and finalisation on that night was essential.
The conclave ended on a happy note after Mahinda Aiya said that Gota Malli would be the SLPP candidate and that he would whole-heartedly endorse his nomination and extend full support to the election campaign. This decision by Mahinda was welcomed and approved by other members of the family. Elder brothers Chamal, Mahinda and Basil then gave their blessings and wishes to younger brother Gota while nephews Namal and Shasheendra conveyed their wishes to Gota and sought the uncle’s blessings. Thereafter the family discussed potential strategies and activities concerning the presidential election.
Family Endorsed Decision
It was decided not to make public the Rajapaksa family endorsed decision taken by Mahinda at this point of time. Instead it would be made known to leaders and representatives of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA) and Sri Lanka Podujana Party(SLPP) first. Thereafter the decision would be conveyed to party branches and certain religious leaders. Meanwhile discussions between the SLPP and the Sirisena led Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) about an electoral alignment would continue as scheduled on March 21st.
It was also decided that Gotabaya continue his pro-candidacy campaign as planned by staging public meetings under the auspices of “Eliya” in different districts. Earlier two such meetings were held in the Gampaha and Kandy districts respectively. Both meetings were attended by most MP’s , Provincial councillors and Local authority representatives of the respective districts from the SLPP and UPFA. The third such “Eliya”meeting will be held on Sunday March 17th at Badulla.
While the Pro-Gota “Eliya” meetings go on as planned on the one hand, the SLPP will continue with its project of mobilising support in the rural areas on an Island-wide basis. The project themed “Conversation with the Village” will commence on Saturday March 16th simultaneously in different areas. It will continue on a staggered basis until the end of March.
Gota Renouncing US Citizenship
Meanwhile it is learnt that ex Def -secy Gotabaya who is a citizen of the USA also took a decisive preliminary step in renouncing his US citizenship on March 6th. Since the 19th Constitutional Amendment debars those holding the dual citizenship from contesting the Presidential or Parliamentary elections, it is mandatory that the dual citizenship status be revoked for Gota to be eligible as a presidential candidate. Again there has been much speculation that the USA would not permit Gota to relinquish his US citizenship thus preventing his contesting the poll. Gota himself when queried by the media on this has said that there was no problem and the dual citizenship would be ended at the appropriate time.
In keeping with his avowed stance on this matter, Gotabaya Rajapaksa went to the US embassy in Colombo on March 6th and submitted a formal application to renounce his US citizenship voluntarily. It is learnt that Gota went to the US embassy alone in a chauffeur driven vehicle without any lawyers or others accompanying him. The application made under provisions of section 349 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act requires a fee of US 2350 $. The process of renunciation would culminate in the issuance of a loss of US Nationality certificate to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is learnt that Gota’s application has been forwarded to Washington for further processing and action.
Mar 26 to April Travel Abroad
In what may very well be a related development Gotabaya Rajapaksa also sought permission from the Colombo Permanent High Court Trial -at -bar to travel abroad. The trial at bar bench comprising High Court Judges Sampath Abeykoon (President), Sampath Wijeratne and Champa Janaki Rajaratne had earlier impounded his passport. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and six others are under trial before the permanent high court over the construction of the DA Rajapaksa Memorial Museum in Medamulana. The trial at bar bench acceded to the request and gave permission for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to travel abroad from March 26th to April 12th this year.
With the decision taken by Mahinda Rajapaksa being endorsed by the Rajapaksa family members, it appears that Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be contesting the forthcoming Presidential elections in 2019 as the SLPP or SLPP Led Coalition candidate. The decision will have its impact on the current political scene and add much excitement. The coming days will prove to be interesting indeed!
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org