Activist who had Diana unseated now warns SJB



‘EC should review utterly flawed process of registering political parties’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society activist Oshla Herath says the Supreme Court judgment in the case against Diana Gamage has restored public confidence in the judiciary.Herath, a one-time media aide to Yahapalana President Maithripala Sirisena, believes the no-nonsense stand taken by the SC in respect of an extremely politically sensitive case should encourage political parties to review their strategies.

In a brief interview with The Island over the weekend, Herath declared: “It is certainly an extraordinary judgment. Contrary to skepticism expressed by many, particularly on social media, I felt the SC would upend the Court of Appeal’s judgment.”

The SC, last week, disqualified dissident SJB National List MP Gamage from being a member of Parliament on the basis that she was not a Sri Lankan citizen. Shavindra Fernando, PC with M. Skandarajah appeared for the first respondent.

Asked why he had moved the SC after the Court of Appeal upheld the preliminary objections raised by first respondent Gamage, Herath said he had was determined to bring the court action to a successful conclusion. He pointed out that the case had been heard by a divisional bench of the Court of Appeal and a majority judgment upheld the first respondent’s preliminary objections. The justices were N. Bandula Karunarathna, President of the Court of Appeal, and K. K. A. V. Swarnadhipathi.

“The minority judgment was for granting the Writ of Quo Warranto sought by me, Herath,” said. Justice M. A. R. Marikar disagreed with the President of the Court of Appeal. Hafeel Farisz with Nishika Fonseka and Shannon Tillekeratne appeared for the petitioner.

The historic SC judgment was delivered by Justices Janak De Silva, E.A.G.R. Amarasekara and Kumudini Wickremasinghe. The three-judge bench declared that the majority report had erred in law by upholding three preliminary objections made on behalf of the first respondent while pointing out that the minority judgment had not taken into consideration preliminary objections, at all.

Responding to another query, Herath pointed out that the SC had rectified, what he called, a flawed majority decision given by the Court of Appeal within four months. “Instead of being critical of the Appeal Court decision, I was determined to set the record straight.”

Herath dismissed statements made by the former State Minister and her husband subsequent to the SC ruling as mere rhetoric.

Asked whether he had targeted the State Minister over a personal enmity, Herath said that he had never met her or at least talked to her over the phone. Declaring that he had absolutely no personal problem with the ousted MP, Herath said that he had first lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and then moved court as she was not a Sri Lankan citizen.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, should be ashamed of their pathetic failure to take up this issue, even after he exposed the State Minister, Herath said. “I never asked her to be deported, under any circumstances, or punished in any other way. The intervention of the Court of Appeal was sought to deprive her of the SJB National List slot as she remained a British citizen.

The civil society activist said that in addition to the ousted lawmaker, there were other MPs who should have been dealt with under the law over various offences. “I have no intention or any interest in pursuing them. What prompted me to take on Gamage was her foreign citizenship,” Herath said.

Now that she had been found to be a British national, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government should look into the circumstances under which she had received a salary from Parliament and enjoyed a range of other perks and privileges at the taxpayers’ expense.

Commenting on the SC judgment on the SJB, Herath said that some believed and, in fact, publicly asserted that the rebel MP’s ouster could be beneficial to the main Opposition party. However, the SC declaration that Gamage had been a foreign citizen at the time she, along with her husband, transferred a political party, registered by them, to the breakaway UNP group, led by Sajith Premadasa and later re-named as Samagi Jana Balawegaya, in 2020, exposed an utterly corrupt system, Herath said.

Acknowledging that he had failed to block the registration of the new party ahead of the last general election conducted in August 2020, Herath questioned the responsibility on the part of the Election Commission to look into this matter. “Whatever the SJB says today, the fact remains that of those who signed the transfer papers, one was a foreigner. This is the undeniable truth.”

Perhaps, Sajith Premadasa should seriously consider contesting from a constituent party of the SJB-led grouping, Herath said, warning the SJB that it couldn’t wish that Gamaga’s removal from Parliament wouldn’t affect it.

Herath unsuccessfully contested the last general election on the UNP ticket. He was on the Colombo district list, along with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ravi Karunanayake. The UNP was reduced to a single National List slot.

Herath urged Parliament and the Election Commission to take tangible measures to stop taking over political parties through financial and other deals.

“The legitimacy of SJB is at stake. Similarly, the constitutionality of the whole process of registering political parties is questionable” Herath said, alleging that political parties were being sold.

Herath said many people had told him that Diana couldn’t be ousted as she had the backing of both President Wickremesinghe as well as the ruling SLPP. Having entered Parliament through the SJB National List, she crossed over to the SLPP. Soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been ousted through a public protest campaign in July 2022, the SJBer had switched her allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, Herath said.