Perhaps the most decisive intervention of America’s Ambassador in Colombo, Atul Keshap during his three-year span seems to be a parting shot at a farewell meeting with ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
During the tete-a-tete, Mr Keshap had cautioned the ex-President against fielding his younger brother as the next Presidential candidate.
According to the story which first appeared in the Jaffna based newspaper Kaalaikkathir, and reproduced by senior journalist D.B.S Jeyaraj, the US Ambassador has said that the Western nations, including the USA, would not favourably regard Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid.
Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, who edits the Kaalaikkathir, and formerly the editor of Sudor Oli has a love-hate relationship with the Rajapaksas.
He reportedly visited Vanni as an emissary of Mr Rajapaksa soon after the latter’s assuming of Presidency in 2006 in order to cultivate a link between the Government and the LTTE.
Later, during the height of the war, he was abducted in a white van and later emerged in TID custody.
Mr Rajapaksa first denied that the content of the conversation had been divulged by his camp. Since then he has claimed that the US Ambassador had said no such thing. The US Embassy has been non-committal, citing the privacy of private meetings.
None of that clears uncertainty that looms over Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Presidential ambitions. There are three fundamental concerns.
First Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the United States of America. In theory, anyone who becomes a naturalized US citizen is required to renounce any prior ‘allegiance’ to other countries during the naturalization ceremony, though that does not necessarily amount to the renunciation of the other citizenship.
While the American Citizenship Law provides a clear-cut way for the renunciation of American citizenship, in practice, it may not be as straight-forward as it appears. The Foreign Minister of the UK Boris Jonson, himself a dual citizen, but wanted to get rid of his American citizenship to avoid dual taxation, had complained it was very hard.
It should be harder for Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who faces serious allegations of human rights violations.
The process would be further complicated if any of the aggrieved parties filed a case against Gota in an American court.
Mr Rajapaka’s acolytes of Viyath Maga, and other fancy forums and lobby groups have the liberty to cry blue murder, but, when he took oath as an American citizen, Mr Rajapaksa has effectively obliged to follow all its obligations. Now, his Presidential ambitions are placed at the mercy of Washington, which, obviously does not want to see him contesting the Presidential Election.
Second, the 19th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka precludes any dual citizen from holding the elected office. There is already a judicial precedence in the Supreme Court ruling that revoked the post of Member of Parliament of Geetha Kumarasinghe on the grounds of her dual citizenship.
Given the geopolitical connotations of his presidential bid, how soon Mr Rajapaksa can relinquish his American citizenship is not so much a matter of expertise of his lawyers.
His failure to make himself eligible, and the Rajapaksas’ desire to hold on to the dim hope till the eleventh hour, could well expose the SLPP to a rude shock. On the other hand, the Rajapaksa camp has no viable option other than Gota.
The third concern and the far more consequential of all is the international repercussions of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Presidency if it ever materializes by some luck or due to the complacency of the UNP.
It is easy to dismiss international concerns as a blatant interference and claim the public will would prevail. However, things are not as simplistic as that.
In 2006, the Palestinians, fed up with corruption and nepotism of Fatah, the political arm of the PLO, voted militant group Hamas to power in the Palestinian Legislative Council. By doing so, they effectively dug their own grave and that of the nascent peace process.
Palestine is withering the repercussions of that parochial choice with no end in sight.
Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is an equally destructive choice. Not only would his presidency roll-back whatever democratic reforms achieved so far, it would also trigger international repercussions with far-reaching implications, which a small State like Sri Lanka cannot afford.
Indians, who do not want another Rajapaksa in power in Colombo, would destabilize the North.
With the proactive Modi administration that is striving to reclaim India’s losing influence in South Asia, Mr Rajapaksa’s ego-fuelled antics would trigger an immediate and forceful reaction.
Americans and Europeans, who have recently subdued their calls for war-crime investigations, would find no reason for such niceties.
Rather than letting these demands die a natural death, Sri Lankans would help revive them by electing Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The Japanese who have recently shown a special interest in economic cooperation would also slide away- or would be persuaded to do so by their American allies.
Mr Rajapaksa would be compelled to rely on China for everything and anything, and he himself should know from previous experience, such overdependence entails a higher cost than it would otherwise do.
Sri Lanka needs a leader who can create stability and guide the country towards prosperity.
Unfortunately, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not that one.