Dual Citizenship and politics

Daily News Editorial

In a landmark judgement, the Appeal Court has ruled that Geetha Kumarasinghe is no longer eligible to continue as a Member of Parliament on account of her being a dual citizen – of Switzerland as well as Sri Lanka. This is a direct result of an inclusion of a clause in the 19th Amendment which expressly bars dual citizens from contesting national elections. However, this is the first time that the law has been put to the test.

While Ms. Kumarasinghe will no doubt appeal to the Supreme Court, one cannot underestimate the significance of the Appeal Court decision. The crux of the matter is that one cannot have one leg in Sri Lanka and the other in another country if the true intention is to serve the Motherland. Being an MP or minister requires total loyalty and dedication to the Motherland. Having citizenship or interests in another country may interfere with this mission.  

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But as several political parties have pointed out, the law in this regard should be equal to all. It is no secret that there are several MPs representing practically all the parties in Parliament who hold dual citizenship or Permanent Resident status in another country, mostly the USA. In fact, several ministers acknowledged that others having dual citizenship could face the same fate and JVP MP Vijitha Herath has also called on the authorities to take similar action against other MPs, both in the Government and the Opposition, having dual citizenship. All right thinking citizens will agree with his suggestion that Parliament should reveal the names of dual citizens in Parliament. Afterwards, they should be given a choice – either renounce the foreign citizenship to become a full-time citizen in Sri Lanka or if that citizenship sounds better than being an MP in Sri Lanka, retain it. In that case, the MP will have to bid adieu to Parliamentary politics. This should be extended to provincial councils and local bodies too.

Although the Frontline Socialist Party (Peratugami) leader Kumar Gunaratnam is not an MP, his case perfectly illustrates the need for insisting on Sri Lankan citizenship for becoming an MP. Gunaratnam who came here from Australia, where he was known as Noel Mudalige, on a visitor visa tried to engage in local politics. Since our laws clearly state that foreigners cannot engage in local politics while on a normal visa, he was taken into custody. Recently, he agreed to renounce his Australian citizenship and regain Sri Lankan citizenship. Now he is freely engaging in local politics without experiencing any problem.

Most local politicians vent their ire on the “imperialist white supremacists” of the West in front of appreciative local audiences, but they actually covet residential status in countries such as the UK, USA and Canada. Some of them no doubt seek citizenship in another land as an “insurance policy” lest the political climate in the home country take a turn for the worse from their point of view.

The sons and daughters of most MPs are also studying in Western countries. This is true even for some of the most vociferous followers of Lenin and Marx in local politics. Do they send their offspring to Russia or China? Hardly. Such hypocrisy must end.

The concept of dual citizenship in itself is not a bad one. Many Sri Lankans who had lived abroad for decades are now keen to come back to repay their debt to the Motherland. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has appealed to all Lankan expatriates and Diaspora groups to contribute generously to the country’s development drive. Many have already accepted this invitation.

Becoming a Sri Lankan citizen again has many advantages, from property rights to voting rights. Some others do not want to come back on a permanent basis, but seek the convenience of unlimited stays when they come to Sri Lanka occasionally. The demand for dual citizenship is rising and each citizenship ceremony of the Department of Immigration and Emigration attracts over 1,000 Lankans living overseas. The Government has been criticized for the high fees charged for dual citizenship from the principal applicants, but the amount is perfectly reasonable in the context of funds the State had spent on them for education, health and other facilities during the years they had spent in Sri Lanka.

But politics and dual citizenship do not essentially mix, as there is a real possibility of a conflict of interest and distraction from duties. Politics is all about serving the people, every hour of the day. Once simply cannot swear allegiance to another country if there is a genuine desire to uplift the people of Sri Lanka. Only a bona fide citizen and full-time resident can feel the pulse of the people and resolve their problems. Thus the architects of the 19th Amendment, one of the most progressive pieces of legislation seen in recent times, were correct in deciding to include the clause on dual citizenship. Those representatives of the people still holding on to their citizenship in another country must now consider where their loyalties lie and act accordingly.