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Sri Lankan bishops at odds over presidential election?

Catholic World News - February 11, 2010

Four of the bishops of Sri Lanka’s 11 dioceses, joined by two Anglican leaders, have signed a statement criticizing the recent presidential election.

According to the official results of the January 26 election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa won reelection by a 58-40% margin. In the weeks following the election, the nation’s parliament has been dissolved, and the runner-up, General Sarath Fonseka, was arrested on February 8 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

“The willful violation of electoral laws … sadly demonstrated that might is right,” the four bishops said. “We should take serious note of the majority who did not vote in some Tamil areas. The lack of transport deprived thousands of internally displaced people from voting.”

“From here we need to collectively address the pressing priorities of political devolution, good governance, media freedom, economic development, the application of equal rights for the vulnerable, the total independence of the judiciary and poverty alleviation,” they added. “We urge the President, the Cabinet and the Opposition to work towards these goals with purpose and commitment.”

The statement of the four bishops is more confrontational than the public approach taken by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, the former secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments who is now Sri Lanka’s leading prelate.

“[The] presidential election results show the consent of the common man in the country,” Archbishop Ranjith said on January 27 as he congratulated President Rajapaksa for the victory. He cautioned in a February 4 statement, however, that “it is essential that political parties should free themselves from undemocratic and unethical practices.”

Archbishop Ranjith added:

Even though the war is ended, today what is urgently needed is to work towards economic and social development of our country. To bring about this development, it is necessary that all races, religious groups and all political parties should be united. We should no longer work with separatist tendencies in our minds. We should not imprison ourselves within our own frameworks created by us as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or Burghers …

In this task it is important to act with justice and fair play. It is pertinent to ask at this crucial moment when will the sons and daughters of Sri Lanka think about each other? Division among ourselves is not only a hindrance to progress but also paves the way to becoming an easy prey to foreign elements. The need of the hour is the search for true independence through unity. Let us all dedicate ourselves to this cause.

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