Presidential elections in Sri Lanka, between hope for democracy and fears of fraud
by Melani Manel Perera
Presidential elections of will be held on 26 January 2010. Corruption and election fraud threaten the fairness of the process. Catholic priest hopes that everyone will have access to the media and “lasting” solutions will be found for war victims. The Church defends the values of truth, liberty, justice and human dignity.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The announcement that presidential elections will take place on 26 January next year will provide an opportunity to strengthen peace and national reconciliation in Sri Lanka on condition that the process is not marred by fraud and corruption, said Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, a Catholic priest and expert on local affairs. Whilst the list of candidates will be made public on 17 December, the main contenders are already known; they are incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka and Vickremabahu Karunarathna.

“Today it is hard to say whether the vote will represent the true voice of the people or not, because election laws are flouted by aberrations, corruption and violence. Results are too often not the verdict of the people, and this does not represent God’s will,” he said. Indeed, despite laws, checks, and balances, “many come to power by illegal means” and actions taken after the election are “ineffective,” the clergyman explained.

Power is used to corrupt, and those in government “keep their posts even against the popular will. Voting thus turns into a cover-up for the world” to prove the democratic nature of the country’s political system.

Media play a fundamental role in protecting democratic institutions, which means that all candidates should have equal access to them. “In reality, this does not occur because those already in power use mass media to their own benefit,” Father Fernando said.

Giving visibility to only one side distorts freedom of expression and represents a serious breach of democratic principles. For this reason, media “ought to be free,” he noted. They must guarantee “equal opportunity” even if that requires “courage” to fight against those who “threaten freedom of the press.”

Fr Reid Shelton Fernando also mentioned the end of the civil war that devastated Sri Lanka in order to urge presidential candidates to “promote lasting solutions” for all those who suffer, like the refugees stuck in camps. “We must guarantee respect for life and human dignity, which are basics rights for everyone,” he said.

It is something incumbent first and foremost upon Catholic leaders and the Church, who must strongly support “voting for the best candidate” rather than giving in to politicking among parties.

“The Church must resist the temptation of asking the various candidates for privileges, and should [instead] reiterate the values of truth, justice, human dignity and liberty for all. It is an opportunity to show everyone that the country has put behind its dark past and is now able to meet [the right] moral and ethical standards.”