The recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka violated democratic boundaries through “willful violations” of election laws and did not address the concerns of the Tamil minority, Catholic and Anglican bishops in the country have said in a joint statement.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory over former army chief Sarath Foneska in January’s “acrimonious” elections, according to Caritas. The election followed the government victory over the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.
Since the elections, Foneska has been arrested, parliament has been dissolved and parliamentary elections have been called for April. Riots have occurred in the capital and a journalist has disappeared.
A letter from the country’s Catholic and Anglican bishops said the elections disregarded the norms of democratic debate by focusing on “personal slander” and through perpetrating “willful violation of electoral laws.”
“Our political leaders can still rectify these trends by setting self-imposed codes of conduct, especially as we approach a general election. A voter preference for those who demonstrate this change will result in a welcome transformation of our political culture,” the prelates wrote.
The bishops noted that a majority in some Tamil areas did not vote and blamed lack of transportation for depriving internally displaced people of the chance to participate.
Lack of participation among those who could vote, the bishops said, may indicate a “lack of confidence” in an electoral contest which “offered little in terms of the problems faced by Tamils.”
“Their silence may be seen as a clear message that their expectations were not being addressed.”
The bishops urged a response to “pressing priorities” including political devolution, good governance, media freedom, economic development, equal rights for the vulnerable, and the alleviation of poverty.
“We urge the President, the Cabinet and the Opposition to work towards these goals with purpose and commitment,” their letter said.
Catholic signatories to the letter were Bishops Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna; Kingsley Swampillai of Trincomalee and Batticaloa; Rayappu Joseph of Mannar; and Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura. Anglican signatories included Bishop of Colombo Duleep de Chickera.