Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s US Citizenship and Presidential Ambition

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap will conclude his three year term in Colombo this August.He will be succeded by Alaina B. Teplitz the current US Ambassador to Nepal. Both Keshap and Teplitz were appointed envoys to Sri Lanka and Nepal respectively by former US president Barack Obama in March 2015. Both however are US foreign service career officers and not political appointees of President Obama

Ex-Def Secy Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

Ambassador Keshap is currently winding up his duties in Sri Lanka gradually and bidding “Gihila Ennang/Poaittu Vaaraen”. He has been making a number of courtesy calls to prominent Sri Lankan leaders and dignitaries to bid au revoir. Very few of these farewell meetings – seen as a routine matter – were publicised in the Sri Lankan media. One such meeting however received wide publicity last week.This was when Atul Keshap paid a courtesy call to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at his Wijerama Mawatte residence on Sunday June 10th. The main reason for this was a newspaper report stating that the proposed presidential candidacy of ex -defence secretary and Mahinda’s sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa figured prominently at the one to one talks.

Ambassador Atul Keshap

Interestingly enough the story about the Mahinda-Atul meeting was not broken by any newspaper published in Colombo. It was the Jaffna based Tamil Daily “Kaalaikkathir” (Morning Ray) of June 12th 2018 which scooped the story.The “Kaalaikkathir” in an exclusive report by a “special political correspondent” published as the lead story revealed details of the meeting between Rajapaksa and Keshap. The newspaper cited “Miha miha nambikkaiyaana vattaarangal” (very very trustworthy circles) as the source of the news story.

The newspaper which commenced publication two years ago is edited by senior Tamil journalist Nadesapillai Vithyatharan who earlier edited the Tamil newspapers “Uthayan” and Sudar Oli”. Vithyatharan is also the brother in law of TNA Jaffna district parliamentarian E.Saravanabavaan who owns the “Uthayan” and “Sudar Oli” newspapers. There is little love lost between the brothers in law nowadays. The “Kaalaikkathir” has made a name for itself within a relatively short span of time. Although prone to a certain degree of sensationalism (Somewhat understandable in a competitive climate) the paper has published some very good news stories in the past. Some of these have been about the Ruhunu Rajapaksas. The tone and tenor of these news items could result in the discerning reader concluding that the newspaper has some good contacts within the Rajapaksa clan. Editor Vithyatharan is believed to be one of the few Tamil journalists who interacts closely with Mahinda Rajapaksa,Namal Rajapaksa and possibly Basil Rajapaksa.

Mahinda Rajapaksa – Atul Keshap Meeting

According to details disclosed by the Jaffna daily the meeting between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Atul Keshap was held on Sunday June the ex-president’s residence. The talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and dealt with a number of relevant matters. Among these the most significant issue was about the possible presidential candidacy of ex-defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. “Kaalaikkathir” quoting very reliable sources said that the US envoy had in ‘clear,unambiguous and definite’ terms told Mahinda Rajapaksa directly that the western nations including the USA would not favourably regard Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa being nominated as a Presidential candidate.

The newspaper went on to say that Atul Keshap had reportedly stated the international community was looking forward to a person with political maturity and experience who could interact effectively within the sphere of democratic politics to be the leader of the country. The US envoy had emphasised that crushing terrorism with an iron hand during times of conflict and engaging in governance within a functioning political democracy were two different things. Ambassador Keshap had bluntly told Mahinda Rajapaksa that the US and West would not be in favour of a person like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa becoming Sri Lanka’s leader and wont welcome his contesting the presidency.

The “Kaalaikkathir” also stated that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was required to renounce his US citizenship to be a presidential candidate because a dual citizen was Constitutionally debarred from contesting the Sri Lankan presidency. However the newspaper said that current US laws would not permit Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to renounce US citizenship at this juncture.Gotabhaya Rajapaksa needed to clear himself of allegations against him before the US would allow him to renounce US citizenship formally.It is only after he is cleared fully that the US would let him renounce citizenship and be eligible to contest Parliamentary or Presidential elections reported the newspaper.

“Kaalaikkathir” did not say what Mahinda Rajapaksa’s response to the US ambassador was. However the newspaper speculated that Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been dazed as the US envoy’s pronouncements meant Gotabhaya Rajapaksa could not revoke US citizenship and contest the presidential election in the near future.

Nineteenth Constitutional Amendment

As is well-known the 19th Constitutional amendment forbids a dual citizen from contesting Parliamentary or presidential elections.It is widely believed that the provision was a pre-emptive move to prevent Gotabaya Rajapaksa from seeking electoral office. The Nineteenth Constitutional amendment has reversed the Eighteenth amendment and blocked Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting for the presidency again. If the envisaged new constitution materialises and the executive presidency is abolished and the Prime ministerial office is further empowered then Mahinda Rajapaksa can or may seek Prime ministerial office. If however, the diluted executive presidency continues to remain then an alternative to Mahinda has to be found. Many think the alternative is Gotabaya. In recent times the Gotabaya fan club has been working overtime promoting the retired Army Colonel as the prospective presidential candidate.

As of now Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a dual citizen holding US citizenship. His only son is well-settled in the US. If Gota is to contest the presidential or Parliamentary poll in the future he would have to give up his US citizenship. In spite of critically denouncing the US at times, Gotabaya has not shown any inclination to renounce his US citizenship so far. A few years ago when Gota addressed the Foreign Correspondents Association in Colombo the ex-Defence secretary was non – committal about renouncing US citizenship and entering active politics.

Mahinda too has not been too enthusiastic about Gota contesting polls to date.

Of late however Gota has demonstrated a clear interest in contesting for the presidency. Two organizations namely “Eliya” and “Viyathmaga” are actively endorsing his presidential bid. In addition there are groups of retired defence service personnel engaging in organizing efforts to promote his candidacy.Gota outlined an economic vision for Sri Lanka recently. He has also been attending “Ifthar”ceremonies with the intention of establishing amicable relations with the Muslim people. He has also indicated that he would renounce US citizenship to contest polls at the appropriate time.

Since Ex Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is both a citizen of Sri Lanka and the USA he has said that he would renounce his US citizenship if selected as a Presidential candidate. Although an orchestrated campaign was launched in support of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s presidential candidacy no definite decision about Gota’s candidacy has been taken by the opposition party groups supportive of Mahinda Rajapaksa so far.

Common Joint Opposition Candidate

The ex-president himself is yet to give the green light explicitly for his sibling to contest. One of the reasons attributed for this was perceived opposition within sections of the Rajapaksa family circle to Gota being the presidential candidate.In recent times there have been media reports that the Rajapaksa clan had arrived at a united decision and that the common Joint opposition candidate at the next Presidential poll would be Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It is against this backdrop that outgoing US envoy Atul Keshap reportedly dropped a political bombshell which may possibly destroy Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s hopes of being the 7th President of Sri Lanka.

Even before the Mahinda-Atul meeting the Sri Lankan political grapevine has been buzzing with the news that the USA would not allow Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to contest the next Presidential poll in Sri Lanka. Since Gota needs to have his US citizenship revoked to be eligible to contest the Presodential poll , the rumour mills have been working overtime that the US would not permit that. It is being said that the US would block or delay matters if and when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa tried to renounce US citizenship. I myself have heard this viewpoint from multiple sources reflecting different shades of political opinion like the UNP, SLFP, TNA, SLMC, TPA,SLPP and the Joint Opposition.

The “Gota Kalliya” or Group supporting Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s presidential candidacy have succeeded in propagating the impression that the success of the Gota juggernaut at the next presidential poll is inevitable. This has made the people in rival political camps quite jittery. More importantly the thinking sections among the people who are aware of the dangers in a return or revival of an emasculated democracy that existed under the Rajapaksa regime are extremely concerned about an electoral triumph of Gota. The only silver lining they perceive in a dark cloud is the anticipated US role in thwarting Gota’s presidential ambition. Even the left-leaning progressives who have been traditionally critical of “US imperialism” see “Uncle Sam’s intervention” as the sole impediment to Gota’s political journey.

Sunanda Deshapriya’s Gotabhaya Perahera

A striking illustration of this growing mindset was provided by well-known journalist and media rights activist Sunanda Deshapriya. The former editor of “Yukthiya” now writes a weekly column in the Sinhala journal “Ravaya”. Sunanda wrote a column on June 3rd titled “Gotabhaya Perahera”.An English translation of relevant paragraphs at the tail -end of the article are reproduced here-

“The decision of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) to oppose 20th amendment proposed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP) indicates that Gotabhaya’s presidential aim has begun to be its political focus. As it seems for now, whether Mahinada Rajapaksa likes it or not, Gotabhaya will be the presidential candidate of the Pohottu party.”

“The main factor which can stop this probability is in the hands of USA. If American state machinery takes steps to delay Gotabhaya’s request to rescind his American citizenship, Gota’s presidential dream will be shattered. In this sense the the power to raise or close the curtain of Gotabhaya perahera (procession/parade) is in the hands of American imperialism.What an irony, that the destiny of Gotabhaya, who is is aspiring to be the war mongering, nationalist and populist dictator of Sri Lanka now rests in the hands of Western politics which is the main political enemy of populist Rajapaksa politics!

Udaya Gammanpila’s Press Conference

Conscious perhaps of this growning expectation among sections of the people that he would not be able to renounce US citizenship and be eligible to contest the presidential poll, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa felt the need to set the record straight on this issue. He had to convey to the nation at large that renouncing his US citizenship is not an issue and that doing so was a very simple procedure without any hassle.Pivithuru Hela Urumaya(PHU)leader and Colombo district MP Udaya Gammanpila was asked to clarify that US citizenship was not a barrier for Gota to contest the presidential poll. Udaya Gammanpila conducted a press briefing at 2.30 PM on Monday June 11th 2018 where he said that Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had requested him to explain the true legal position and the procedure in respect of renunciation of the US citizenship.Interestingly the press briefing took place just one day after the Mahinda Rajapaksa -Atul Keshap meeting.

A communique outlining the legal position on a US citizen renouncing his citizenship status was issued at Gammanpila’s media briefing.It is reproduced in full here –

“After the 19th Amendment, dual citizens are barred from contesting presidential election. Hence, the government being suffered with Gota-phobia, spread rumors that US government has rejected Gota’s application for renunciation of US citizenship. Some say, the US Government would sit on the application until conclusion of the presidential election and renunciation of the citizenship would be accepted soon after the election. He will then lose both citizenship and the candidacy. In the backdrop of these rumors, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested me to explain the true legal position and the procedure in respect of renunciation of the US citizenship.”

“Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 is the governing law in respect of renunciation of citizenship. According to Section 349(a)(5) of the Act, any citizen who wishes to relinquish the citizenship, can do so without any restriction. However, two restrictions have been introduced by case law. Firstly, if the citizen lodges the application, being in the USA, it will definitely be rejected. Secondly, if the applicant does not have any other citizenship, his application may be rejected.”

“In this backdrop, the first step towards renouncing US citizenship is obtaining citizenship in another country. The second step is collecting requirements mentioned in form DS4079 to DS4083. Thirdly, the applicant should make the renunciation appointment with the US embassy.”

Certificate of Loss of Nationality

“As the fourth step, you should attend the appointment with two persons to witness your signature. After briefing you about the consequences of renunciation of the citizenship, the documents will be executed. Thereafter, you will be issued with DS4083, Certificate of Loss of Nationality. It is like an insurance cover note or temporary driving license. It will be later replaced with a certificate issued by the Department of State. It is so simple and so quick. Therefore, with great responsibility, I am telling you that, US Citizenship would not be a bar in any manner for Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa to contest the forthcoming presidential election.”


This article was written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appearing in the “Daily Mirror” of June 16, 2018. It can be reached via this link:

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at