A Sri Lankan court has dismissed a case seeking the cancellation of the citizenship of presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa, clearing the way for him to register as a candidate in elections next month.
Two civil activists had asked the Court of Appeal to withdraw Rajapaksa’s citizenship, saying he renounced it in 2003 to become a citizen of the United States and regained it two years later in an irregular manner.
The three-judge panel on Friday unanimously rejected the case, saying it had no merit.
Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary and the brother of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is seen as a frontrunner in the November 16 presidential vote.
Nominations for the election will be accepted on Monday. Only citizens can contest presidential elections.
Gotabaya is a hero to many Sinhalese, who are Buddhist and make up about 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, over his role in ending a 26-year civil war in 2009.
As secretary of defence under his brother’s rule, Gotabaya played a key role in ending the Tamil Tigers’ campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. But he was accused of using extralegal methods and cracking down on those who criticised his style.
During the decade that he served as defence secretary, the military was accused of various abuses, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
A United Nations panel found breaches of international law by both the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Named by the main opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party as its presidential candidate last month, Rajapaksa also faces uncertainty over a legal battle regarding misappropriation of funds.
Still, Rajapaksa’s popularity has grown in recent months, especially after it emerged that the government had failed to act on repeated intelligence warnings from India before the Easter Day bombings that killed 250 people, which were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
Most Buddhist leaders, and some victims of the “terror attacks”, have since expressed their desire for the Rajapaksa family to return to power.
The activists who filed the petition, Gamini Viyangoda, an official of a citizens’ group and Chandraguptha Thenuwara, an artist and lecturer, have campaigned for democracy, good governance and rule of law.
In the 2015 presidential election, they had backed the winner, Maithripala Sirisena, against Mahinda Rajapaksa.