Geetha Kumarasinghe’s Swiss dairy milk chocolate refused to melt in her mouth this Thursday but turned hard and bitter when the Supreme Court held that her dual Swiss citizenship rendered her ineligible to be a member of Lanka’s Parliament. Ever since she was first elected to Parliament in August 2015 — coming one before the [...]

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Geetha’s Swiss choc turns bitter in the Supreme Court’s alpine air

Highest Court atop Hulftsdorp Hill rules: Lanka’s Constitution does not grant MPs the right to enjoy the best of both worlds
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Geetha Kumarasinghe’s Swiss dairy milk chocolate refused to melt in her mouth this Thursday but turned hard and bitter when the Supreme Court held that her dual Swiss citizenship rendered her ineligible to be a member of Lanka’s Parliament. Ever since she was first elected to Parliament in August 2015 — coming one before the last of the six seats the UPFA had won in the Galle district — the question whether the 19th Amendment which added a new addition to Article 91 of the Constitution, “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament or to sit and vote in Parliament if he is “a citizen of Sri Lanka who is also a citizen of any other country’, had cast a damper on her election victory celebrations and dogged her chances of basking in parliamentary glory for long.

THE END: Supreme Court drops final curtain on Geetha’s two year performance on Parliament’s stage

But though dampened and dogged, she remained defiant unto the end. Her simple defence to the grave serious charge of being an imposter in Parliament, flouting the constitutional necessity of being a citizen solely of Sri Lanka was to blithely say she had written a letter to the Swiss Government before the August general election 2015, stating that she was cancelling her Swiss citizenship, thank you very much — in the self same manner a person would cancel a Visa Credit Card membership.

A week after the August 17, 2015 election she said: “Losers are in a futile attempt to sling mud at me saying I am a Switzerland citizen. According to the 19th Amendment Sri Lankan politicians with a citizenship in another country are prevented from holding high posts. I obtained the Switzerland citizenship through my husband. But, I cancelled it a long time ago.” It was claimed in court that she had sent the letter on 25th June 2015.

In October 2015, in a newspaper interview, she declared: “I became a millionaire and came to politics. If I was wishing for something, will I give up the citizenship in Switzerland? Now I have withdrawn the citizenship, if I had that I would have got much assistance from the Swiss Government; they considered me as their citizen.”
And later, in September this year, she said: “I am the first person in the world to give up Swiss citizenship. The embassy has said so. I did this for the people who voted for me.”

Unfortunately, her glib explanation did not carry much water nor did it hold for long both in the Appeal Court and in Lanka’s highest court in which supreme air, it blew an unstemmable leak; even as her tears had once become an unstoppable trickle down her cheeks two years ago when, as she related to the media then, “I got this citizenship through marriage. I felt so sad after withdrawing it, I was crying, I couldn’t eat for a couple of days. It is a 30-year relationship. My husband, my child, my house and relatives, all are there in Switzerland. It was very emotional for me. My husband is a very calm person but he shouted saying, ‘You are a fool. What are you going to do? Why do you want to withdraw your citizenship? You want to go to Parliament? Our Government will help your people.’”

But, alas, neither her tears for being torn between two countries — one born into, the other married into — nor her avowals of renouncing Swiss citizenship through the simple medium of positing a letter — registered or no is unknown — to the Swiss Government could salvage her two-year stint in Parliament and ensure her full five year course. Thursday saw her fall at the Supreme Court fence and land face down in the final ditch of the legal steeplechase and emerge with mud splattered on her once pretty film star face.

The judgment which was delivered by Supreme Court Judge Sisira de Abrew, with the other four justices namely, Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare, Justice Sisira de Abrew, Justice Anil Goonaratne and Justice Nalin Perera, unanimously concurring, stated:

“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 Parliament election or on the day of taking oaths as a Member of Parliament (MP), he/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 an MP, if he/she becomes a citizen of any other country or continues to be a citizen of any other country, he/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.

“I have earlier held that Geetha Kumarasinghe was not qualified to be elected as an MP on August 17, 2015 that she was not qualified to take oaths as MP on September 1, 2015. Thus, a writ of Quo Warranto is available to oust her from MP position. The Supreme Court affirms the Court of Appeal judgment and dismisses the appeal with cost.”

Thus did the Supreme Court hammer home the last nail to send Geetha’s parliamentary hopes coffined home to her. But, yet, on this Sunday morn, one must smypathise with the plight that has befallen this ex-Sinhala silver screen siren turned politician who brought her theatricals skills to the House after seeking and winning the public mandate, hook or by crook, and enlivened its proceedings as Parliament’s nautch girl — unlike her counterpart, Malini Fonseka who, after gaining her entry through the rear, as MP from Mahinda’s Rajapaksa’s National List, played the role of a Carmelite nun, observing the Order’s oath of strictest silence and holds the record for being the MP who uttered hardly a sentence during her five-year tenure – or penance – in Parliament’s conclave.

Geetha, on the other hand, whilst she worshipped her Guruji Mahinda and paid pada namaskaram to his feet every morn, noon, eve and night, at least brought colour to the house, with her fiery femme fatale no holds barred rants resounding within its dry as dust male dominated portals. But all good things must come to an end; and even as the Supreme Court brought the curtain down on her brief manifestation on the parliamentary stage, at least, to her credit, it must be said, she earned her Rs 2,500 per parliamentary visit the public paid her to attend and keep the nation enthralled with her razzle dazzle cameo performances.

So will it be back to the boonies? To the topless snow capped Alpine Mounts to ski its snow clad slopes or to graze in the grasslands of its verdant valleys in placid rest, tasting its Swiss sweet dairy milk chocolates and keeping watch on the cuckoo popping out hourly to announce the time of day?

Or, if as claimed in court by her through counsel, she received a letter from the Swiss Government accepting her renunciation of citizenship on the 25th of August 2015 – still 8 days too late to save her seat, for the determining date of the election when she had to be a non dual citizen was the election date of August 17 – will she now be bereft of her 30-year Swiss citizenship too, having already lost her parliamentary seat with the Supreme Court adjudication rendering her two year parliamentary membership a nullity?

One question, however, remains to be answered. Are there similar cuckoos nesting in Parliament today, yet to reveal their dual citizenship?
In Geetha’s case her marriage to a Swiss national thrust Swiss citizenship upon her, as her counsel Romesh de Silva PC told the Supreme Court. He said, “Geetha Kumarasinghe never applied for Swiss citizenship. She married a Swiss national. She was conferred Swiss Citizenship involuntarily.”

If that argument didn’t carry weight before the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, pity the fate of those parliamentarians, if any, who actively canvassed for the USA or any other country’s dual citizenship and gained it; and today keep their dual status and double allegiance well concealed beneath their patriotic prattle from both Parliament’s eye and public’s gaze: The Artful Dodgers who, while crowing chauvinism and pretending sole fidelity to Lanka, presently sit in a Parliament cuckolded.

Why Gotabaya cannot bat in Lanka’s Twenty-Twenty pollsUSA may hold key to Rajapaksa’s presidential ambitionsHe maybe padding up in the dressing room waiting for his turn to take the crease now that his brother Mahinda has been ruled unfit to occupy the pitch for a third innings. But in the wake of the Supreme Umpire ruling that even a reserve is not eligible to field even from the boundary line on the basis that one cannot be on both teams at the same time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa may be wondering, even as he gets down to tying his boot laces, whether he, too, maybe ruled out of play even before he leaves the dressing room and makes his appearance before the spectators, awaiting him to wield the willow and strike a blow for Lanka in his brother’s stride.
But now there is a legal hitch that may well prevent him from making his mark on Lanka’s turf in the forthcoming Twenty-Twenty Poll Cup.

MAHINDA AND GOTABAYA IN THEIR HEYDAYS: Has Maithri’s 19th Amendment knocked both siblings out of the running?

This Thursday’s decision not merely by two judges, not even with the approval of the third umpire but by five judges, no less, deciding in unison that no one can represent two teams simultaneously and then claim the right to play for one side with one foot in another’s camp, must disturb him, must give him pause, must make him hark the death knell rung on his political batting future as captain of the team.

The Supreme Court decision which made Geetha Kumarasinghe’s election to Parliament a nullity on the basis that she held dual citizenship must indeed worry him.
And the quintessence of Judge Abrew’s judgment, approved by all the other Supreme Court Judges, stating “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 or on the day of Parliament election or on the day of taking oaths as a Member of Parliament (MP), he/she cannot be considered as an MP and that office of such a person as an MP is a nullity,” must seem to him the scaffolding being erected to hang his political future on the noose of Sirisena’s 19th Amendment even as it hanged his brother’s chances from contesting as President again with the restoration of the two term limit for a president.

But where there’s a noose, isn’t there also a loop to wriggle out?
True, he has never announced in public his presidential ambitions; and, though his heart may have been driven in that direction by the constant prodding of his loyal brigade of admirers to usurp the helm of political power and re-dawn Lanka’s lost Rajapaksa heritage, his head had applied the brakes and urged wise counsel to prevail: and had dictated to resist the temptation to seek the elusive throne of Lanka for most often heaven’s malice grants ambition’s prayers and makes one soon come a cropper.

True, he had never denied being a citizen of the USA. To his credit, unlike some who may professes their undying patriotism to this isle of Lanka whist having sworn allegiance to some foreign state and kept their double game under wraps, draped in the Lion flag, he has had the frankness to proudly declare his American dual citizenship.

Sri Lankan law allows dual citizenship as does the American Government. So why hide it?
Except for one thing. As long as you are a private citizen, it’s okay, it’s cool. It’s something certain desperadoes will give their right arms to get. But if you are in the arena of politics, it’s quite another matter, as Gladiatress Geetha discovered to her dismay when her shield was shattered three days ago and found herself impaled on the 19th Amendment’s sword which debars a person holding dual citizenship from contesting either a presidential or general election.

Though the 19th Amendment does not specifically refer to a presidential candidate holding dual citizenship, Article 92 of the constitution says that any disqualification a member of Parliament is subject to will apply to a president too; and thus, ipso facto, neither can a presidential candidate be a dual citizen on the date of his election.
But Gotabaya had neither cause nor reason to conceal his duality from the nation’s eye. As he said in a television interview in May this year, “I will not give up my US citizenship since I have not decided to enter active politics. My family members are currently living in the US which means I will have to travel to the US often. I also receive a pension from the work I did when I was there in the US. This will be lost if I give up my USA citizenship. “

Nothing wrong in putting family before all else, is there? Ninety nine percent of the nation will rise in unison and applaud him for his candour, for unlike the pseudo patriots who say they will lay down their lives in sacrifice for the motherland, here is a man who has the frankness and strength of character to put family and a USA pension before presidential ambition. And for his sincerity and honesty, he deserves the nation’s salute.

But when the interviewer asked him whether he was attempting to renounce his US citizenship to enter active politics, he said: I have no intention at the moment to do so. If I wish to renounce it, there is a simple easy method. I have only to go to the American Embassy and fill the application form and then within a period of two weeks I can renounce my US citizenship. So it’s not such a difficult thing. It’s not a matter I should meet Trump for. It can be done within two weeks.”

But with all respects to Mr. Gotabaya’s optimism, is it correct that, should he wish to enter active politics and even contest the presidency of Lanka, removing the local legal bar of his US citizenship that would stand between him and the President’s Office, would be a simple matter? And that ‘it would not require a personal one to one chat with Trump to renounce it’ but only a form to be filled at the local US Embassy, coupled with a two week processing delay to achieve it?

True, under Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of the USA all it takes, for a person holding dual US citizenship to renounce it, is to appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer, in a foreign country at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate; and sign an oath of renunciation.

Simple, isn’t it? Not like Geetha having to post a letter renouncing her Swiss citizenship and have to ask the postman day after day ‘Please, Mr. Postman, is there a letter, a letter for me, I am waiting for a letter from the Swiss you see?’ The US Government demands that a person who has the impudence to swine like spurn the pearl of US citizenship to show his face in person. As the clause of the act insists, one cannot do so by mail, electronically, or through agents.

But though Section 349(a)(5) of the Act may seem renunciation of USA citizenship to be a very simple process, one that can be done within two weeks of a personal visit to one’s nearest downtown USA Embassy or consular office, practically its far from that.

The United States of America sees the grant of citizenship as a sacred covenant with its recipient. It does not bestow it lightly and it does not accept its repudiation lightly. Once granted, it becomes a binding agreement between the USA and the person concerned. It cannot be repudiated unilaterally at the whim and fancy of the recipient. And the very intention of renouncing the awesome prestige of holding US citizenship is treated with the utmost repugnance, a slap in Uncle Sam’s face, the ultimate insult to the grant of solicited hospitality. There is also the added threat that those who renounce US citizenship and are granted it will never be able to set foot on that vast soil again. For, as the Act states, “former U.S. citizens would be required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States or show that they are eligible for admission pursuant to the terms of the Visa Waiver Program. If unable to qualify for a visa, the person could be permanently barred from entering the United States. “

Furthermore, once renunciation of citizenship has duly taken place it is irrevocable. Under the Act, those contemplating a renunciation of U.S. citizenship should understand that the act is irrevocable, except as provided in section 351 of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1483), and cannot be canceled or set aside absent a successful administrative review or judicial appeal.

Here’s the lowdown what will happen to a person who, holding dual citizenship, walks into a US Embassy and announces to a stupefied clerk there, that he wishes to renounce US citizenship. He will then be met by a consular officer who will give him a set of forms to be filled and forwarded to the embassy. There is no time frame. He can take his time. Once the forms are handed over, the process begins before the Oath of Renunciation can be done. And this can take an awful long time. It’s in the hands of the USA Government. And like Geetha having to wait the postman to bring her glad tidings from the Swiss Alps, Gotabaya too, will have to wait the summons to the American Embassy to be told Washington has given the all clear for him to sign the oath of renunciation.

For its only after the intention to renounce is informally expressed that the process begins before one can make his oath of renunciation. The local Embassy will forward the filled application form to the US State Department which in turn will forward it to several relevant agencies which will then proceed to process the application.
Some of the agencies the request will be referred to will be the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Inland Revenue.

The task of these agencies will be to ascertain whether the applicant seeking renunciation of citizenship has been involved in money laundering, in any criminal activity, in drug dealings, in human rights abuse, in war crimes, whether he is or she is in the midst of divorce proceedings, in tax evasion, in short, in every gamut of activity that, in their discretion, may hold their attention.

Depending on the case in hand, the process can take three months to three years. For US law sets no time frame and leaves the investigative agencies to take their own cool time to furnish their reports.

In Gotabaya’s case the US Tamil Diaspora has filed many law suits against him in the US courts alleging war crimes. And until the due process has been exhausted, and the judicial cases done with, it’s rarely that the US Government sets a US citizen free from US bondage. If the agencies find that the applicant has divorce proceedings pending against him or faces war crime charges or human rights abuses or any other criminal charge in a US court, he will have to wait till the proceedings are over and matters of alimony settled before his request to free him from the manacles of matrimony to the US will be granted.

But, of course, politics, rule supreme, even in the US of A and should by chance the US Administration see in Gotabaya a twinkling star to shine upon American interests in the South Asian region, no doubt, his request for renunciation will be done in double quick time. Not in two weeks. But in forty eight hours.

But if the US Government does not discern any advantage in having Gotabaya at the helm, if they do not notice the wink in his eyes, the US Government will have the power to delay Gotabaya’s application to renounce his USA citizenship rights – even if he make his initial application on Monday morn- for well over three years and thus successfully debar him from contesting Lanka Twenty-Twenty Presidential Poll.

And leave the field clear to their chosen seed Maithri and Ranil to battle it out to a finish and declare, with their best wishes: ‘May the best man win, for whoever survives the duel and rises to gain the cup will be our man and ours will be the spoils of poll war. God Bless America.”

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