The ‘Ceylon Today’ of the 4th of May reports of a government “consideration” in amending the Immigration and Emigration Act barring dual citizenship owners from engaging in “political activities” in Sri Lanka. The news report cites its source as a “highly placed” governmental insider. The “political activities” in question is further enumerated as “contest[ing] presidential, parliamentary, provincial council or local government election”. It is further specified that the amendment-to-be will exempt from its purview those politician cum dual citizens who are already in office.
Indeed, if at all, what the news item in question reports at this speculative stage could well be the barest outline of a possible restriction imposed on dual citizens who wish to participate in Lankan politics. The compilers of the report speculate that the recent “Kumar Gunaratnam fiasco” would have had an immediate influence in the government’s decision to tighten the screws under study. But, leaving aside other implications of such a move, we see a deep sense of establishmentarian insecurity in resorting to such an extremist bid. The question should be posed as to why a citizen who is free to enjoy the privileges of that nation state should not centrally engage in the political process of the same? It is as if disenfranchising the dual citizen from a basic and core democratic right and principle in freedom.
The duplicity of the policy and – more so – the policy-proposer’s bankruptcy is seen where the current houses of elected members are exempted from the rule. This comes in the backdrop where a sizable number of parliamentarians, at least, enjoy the fruits of a Lankan citizen, along with an extension to a lucrative first world country. So, would the bill (which, if proposed, restricts the franchise in light) bar a current dual-citizen minister from re-election? Or, by virtue of already being in office, is his “career” saved for ever? It surely will be interesting to see how these intricacies will be addressed in the occasion of such a bill.
Numerous online entries related to the violent arrest of the Frontline Socialist Party heavyweight Kumar Gunaratnam called for engaging comments from followers. There were many among them who felt that the arrest-at-dawn and the detention of Gunaratnam had been a “spine-splitting” assault on the party’s momentum. For some, the crackdown derailed the force the FSP had been garnering over months of sustained work. However, one locates the “fear factor” the FSP mobilization has created among the mainstream right wing – of which, the government is the unequivocal stalwart. Perhaps, to use the blanket term “mainstream right wing” is an ill-meditation, for the trajectory the government at present has taken cannot be compared with the traditional liberal democratic ethos of a party such as the UNP (and this is not our primary concern right now). Yet, the resurgent “socialist claim” championed by the FSP seems to have raised a few hairs in the regimental, totalitarian elements of the polity – and the current talk of the “proscription” of dual citizenship-holders from national politics is more a symptom of perceiving a threat to one’s power.
The Classical Athenians had a system of “proscription”, where, upon a vote in excess of 5000 from the citizen body, a politician who was perceived as a “threat” to the republic could be constitutionally removed from the city for a period of ten years. During this time the removed citizen would have no political or social rights and would have no access to politics at home. This dubious mechanism was effectively used to outcast politicians with potential, who could be forces to contend with in home politics. History is indeed a drawing board, for there are abundant instances in the later Roman republic where – with the use of similar dubiousness – many threatened statesmen attempt at holding an edge over their opponents. One is reminded of the political cold war between Pompey and Julius Caesar through the 60s and 50s, where the former, on more than one occasion, and in more than one way, attempts at holding Julius at bay through privileging legislation.
The rumoured amendment also brings into force a strange sense of primitiveness, where one’s being of an extended identity actually becomes a disqualifier to office and authority. At one level, our global political discussions have often dwelt on issues of regional and inter-continental co-operation. For one, the concept of the nation state and state-boundedness are becoming fast obsolete and the geo-political unit as a political definition has become insufficient and inadequate. The Olympic hopeful of the Sri Lanka athletics team, for instance, trains and resides in the USA. Successful “Sri Lankans” such as Jacqueline Fernandez and Upeksha Swarnamali have both spent extended periods of their life in overseas countries, but have been without a flinch been elected to be delegates of the nation at leading forums. The dual citizen / the citizen with multinational exposure, therefore, has been an integrated part of national representation – where lists of such persons have been drawn and tabulated. Why, then, should she not partake in the policy-making and policy-implementation at the democratically elected houses of the country?
The most critical item of the rumoured / proposed amendment is that the bill is an acute response to a temporary cause. The state and its anti-socialist agents perceive a political wave that has the potential to garner mass appeal and that it has a strong vein among the diaspora. The logical and partisan swat is to disallow such germs into the national system. What the classical Athenian would do twenty five centuries ago by ousting the “perceived threat”, the islander’s regime would do by cordoning such elements off and by “safeguarding the republic” thus. The difference is that in 2012 Sri Lanka and its political reach cannot be defined by the traditional mainstream confines of geography and political boundary. The nation has become a “spilled consciousness” of which the diaspora and the dual citizen are key players. Such agents should be featured in decision-making capacities. It would only inform and inflect better the policy-making processes.
[Originally written for the Nation]