07/09/2015, 00.00
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Civil society groups call for honest candidates in Sri Lanka’s upcoming parliamentary election

Political parties prepare for the 17 August poll. Christian and Muslim leaders and rights activists take part in a rally in favour of the rule of law. Former President Rajapaksa will likely win in his native district. Current President Sirisena remains ambiguous. Various groups appeal for vote fairness, women’s participation, and controls on third party propaganda.

Sri Lanka (AsiaNews) – Throughout Sri Lanka, civil society groups, including Catholics and Muslims, are calling for honesty in the upcoming parliamentary scheduled for 17 August. With this in mind, they held a rally on Tuesday and presented a petition to the various parties in support of the 12 March petition.

More than a million people signed the latter, demanding that clean candidates be elected based on eight criteria, including a ban on anyone involved in criminal activity and corruption, as well as equal opportunity for women and young people.

"It is the duty of citizens to elect honest people in parliament,” the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero told AsiaNews, “and it is also the responsibility of political parties to check carefully their candidates."

Sri Lanka goes to the polls in a few weeks. The political debate is centred on various issues, most notably women’s participation, fairness in the voting process, honest candidates and the possible return of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena in last January presidential election, the most important in the recent history of the country.

The election is set to take place in an unstable situation, still feeling the effects of more than 30 years of civil war between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, whose legacy of violence is still felt today.

Current President Sirisena is set to allow Rajapaksa to run again, despite accusations that he favoured a system of corruption and restricted personal freedoms.

Elected for the first time in 2005 and re-elected in 2010 after defeating Tamil Tiger rebels, Rajapaksa has always rejected the accusation of war crimes issued by the United Nations in a resolution condemning the violence perpetrated by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the last stages of the civil war.

For some analysts, the attitude of the current president is contradictory since he seems to be willing to let Rajapaksa run locally but has placed tighter conditions in recent days.

In fact, Sirisena said that he would not appoint his predecessor to the post of prime minister, insisting that the latter could only run in the constituency where he was born (Hambantota, in the south of the country).

Secondly, he said that he expected Rajapaksa to resign “voluntarily” from his parliamentary seat if he is charged by any court, domestic or international, but that he would be entitled to regain that seat if he is cleared of all charges.

At the same time, President Sirisena has made public a list of 44 people close to Sri Lanka’s former strongman who cannot run because they are formally on trial for corruption or drug-related charges.

One of the people on that list is Rajapaksa’s younger brother, Basil, who was indicted last April for misappropriation of state funds in connection with a housing project.

For some Catholic priests, who took part in a march on Tuesday, the country is going through a crucial moment. "As religious,” they said, “we have to work even harder in this election than in the past. The current situation is not secure. We shall tell people not to vote for Rajapaksa should he be allowed to run. We call on voters not to elect corrupt candidates or criminals.”

Sri Lankan Muslims have also called for honest candidates. For many of them, the upcoming elections provides a golden opportunity to choose the best qualified, honest and capable candidates, even if they are not Muslim.

Cited by the Sri Lanka Guardian, Muslim intellectual Usthaz Hajjul Akbar said that candidates sent to Parliament must be an example for all the other members,

(Melani Manel Perera contributed to this article)

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