01/05/2010, 00.00
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Sri Lankan Christians want to be part of the election process

by Melani Manel Perera
For Fr Rohan Silva, from the Centre for Society and Religion, Churches should do more. Human rights activists agree. The bishop of Jaffna talks about the Tamil situation.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Human rights activists and representatives from the Catholic Church in Colombo who took part in a round table on Sunday organised by the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) agree people must become more aware of what is at stake in the 26 January presidential election. They also concluded that Christians can play a key role in the political debate.

"Hardly anything [during the campaign] is said about the real issues that matter to the people," CSR Director Fr Rohan Silva told AsiaNews. However, "elections are an opportunity to educate voters" about "civic responsibility".

"We believe people of faith need to be involved in the political process and vote with a sense of empowerment and conscience," he added. "Unfortunately, Churches have not sufficiently educated their clergy and faithful on the civic responsibility to play a pro-active role in the political process".

Human rights activists agree. "The clergy should help the population become more aware of their rights," said Buddhist attorney S. G. Punchihewa, who attended the CSR meeting.

"Those who will not vote for current President Mahinda Rajapaksa or General Sarath Fonseka can choose among 20 more candidates," Punchihewa said. "What counts is voting. "

"For our part, we shall call on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka to issue a pastoral letter on the election," Father Rohan said. "We shall collect signature for those who want a free and fair race, and shall write to all candidates that they insist on having an election without manipulation."

Meanwhile Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, met opposition candidate General Fonseka to discuss the aftermath of the war on Tamils.

"We hope that Tamils will not make the mistakes of the past, and that this time they will vote," the prelate said. "However, restrictions imposed on them must be lifted and they must feel free to choose according to their conscience. After this election, the Tamil question must be solved once and for all."

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