Sri Lanka has 7,000 Buddhist temples where Theravada Buddhism is practiced. A presidential election is set for 7 December. For Caritas secretary, monks "could exploit the lack of trust in political leaders and government instability. But I don't think this will happen because the people have never voted for them."
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The head of a radical Sri Lankan Buddhist group has appealed to monks and believers to create a Sinhala government.
Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, charismatic leader of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), spoke yesterday in front of thousands of followers in Kandy, saying that if each of the country’s 7,000 temples garnered 10,000 votes, they could get a Sinhala government.
In the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks, the words of the extremist monk could further inflame the situation.
"The monk’s initiative has raised concerns among minority communities, because if he wins, everything we have achieved – constitutional democracy, independence, respect for rights – could be weakened," said Caritas Sri Lanka national secretary Fr Mahendra Gunatilleke, speaking to AsiaNews.
This comes as the country prepares for presidential election scheduled for 7 December. Many have called for the vote to be postponed as a result of the attacks of 21 April.
In addition, the island nation has been in the middle of a profound constitutional crisis since late 2018, which is undermining the very foundations of parliamentary democracy.
For now, the main political parties have not put forward their candidates yet, but pundits expect incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena to run for re-election against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, former strongman and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa or his brother Gotabhaya, a former Defence Minister between 2005 to 2015, who played a decisive role in defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country. About 70.2 per cent follow Theravada Buddhism, 12.6 per cent are Hindus, 9.7 per cent are Muslims and 7.4 per cent are Christians (6.1 per cent Catholic).
The Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 258 people, mostly Christians, left the country reeling, underscoring the presence of Islamic extremists with international ties. However, Sri Lankan Muslim leaders were quick to strongly condemn the violence.
Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara leads an extremist group that has carried out acts of violence and intimidation since 2014, especially against the Muslim minority.
Speaking in front of a cheering crowd, he did not specify whether his group would support any one candidate or create a political party of its own.
"We have already done our calculations. Everybody now talks about parliamentary democracy. If the need is to have a democratic parliament, then we monks have to own that," Gnanasara said. "If all the monks get together, we can win with the help of the [people in] robes," i.e. the monks.
For Fr Gunatilleke, "In the last decade politics has lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the people and public opinion, who have never seen their demands met.”
“This has obviously led to a swing. Nonetheless, radicals are not the only one growing. Different civil society and grassroots movements are also growing, as well as youth groups who use various platforms to express their dissatisfaction."
At the same time, "the creation of a political group in such a short period of time is implausible. I believe the Buddhist leader’s political move is more to generate consensus and engage in dialogue.”
"The people of Sri Lanka has always been peaceful,” the Caritas secretary noted. “I believe that both the monk and the people around him have come to realise that they will never be able to win people's hearts if they continue with an aggressive attitude. For this reason, he now declares himself open to dialogue with other communities."
It must be also noted, "that the monks could exploit the lack of trust in political leaders and government instability. But I don't think this will happen because the people have never voted for them."