04/03/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa bishop calls for postponement of election

Mgr Raphael Cheenath writes to the state election commissioner saying that the existing atmosphere of violence and intimidation that is oppressing the population is compromising the election campaign. Under present circumstances it would be impossible to hold “free and fair elections”.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews-Agencies) – Mgr Raphael Cheenath, bishop of Bhubaneshwar, has asked the state election commissioner to postpone the elections to the Lok Sabha (lower house) and the state Assembly scheduled to take place between 16 and 23 April. A few days ago the prelate had called on the authorities to guarantee refugees and other displaced people their right to vote, but given the continued tensions and reports about violence in the state’s Kandhamal district, he came to the conclusion that postponement was the only possible alternative.

It is “[n]eedless to reiterate,” the bishop said, “that the first and foremost requirement for holding a free and fair poll is a secure and peaceful environment where the candidates and their supporters [. . .] enjoy freedom of movement and speech to go round to every nook and corner of a constituency to meet the voters and canvas votes from them. [. . .] at the same time, the socio-cultural environment of the constituencies should [. . .] enable citizens [. . .] to speak out, propagate [their views] and join in any rally or meeting in favour of a party or candidate of his/her choice.”

In the bishop’s view these “foremost requirements” are absent in Kandhamal, the district in Orissa most affected by sectarian violence, where more than 50,000 Christians and Dalits are targeted by violence: the former from Hindu fundamentalists; the latter from “Maoists and M-2”.

According to the bishop of Bhubaneshwar, in the district some 3,200 people are still stranded in government-run refugee camps set up after last August anti-Christian pogroms.

What is more “as the entire nation knows, the situation in Kandhamal, greatly disturbed by the continuing communal holocaust since the last week of August 2008, is still very tense and abnormal, completely unsuitable to [. . .] a peaceful electoral process, let alone free and fair polls on the scheduled dates.” Hence “we consider the Kandhamal situation as exceptionally abnormal and therefore unsuitable to the scheduled holding of Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.”

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