An Interfaith Coalition, which brings together representatives of the four main religions, called on all candidates and citizens to act without violence, abuse and corruption in the elections on 8 April.
They state that “coexistence is important, we must work for it. All of us, as religious leaders, reject any kind of violence. We hope that those who participate in elections reject it as we do”.
There were similar calls before the Presidential election in January 2010 by the Interfaith Coalition and the Friday Forum which comprised of prominent Buddhist, Hindu and Christian civil society members.
At the press conference held in Colombo on March 30th, Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, Bishop of Kurunegala, stated that the interfaith group “is the only guide and representative” of all faiths and the prelate stressed the importance of this joint initiative to ensure the expression of a free and informed vote.
The Buddhist Monk Venerable Weligama Dhammissara Thero noted that in Sri Lanka is home to the four most popular religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism) and that all teach the same message of condemnation of violence, abuse and corruption. The Hindu religious Lakshmikanthan Jegadeeshan Kurukkal also asked all candidates and voters to act fairly and peacefully.
As well as their plea to the Political leaders and the public, Venerable Thero Madampagama Assaji, coordinator of the Interfaith Coalition also stated that they were meeting all the candidates to urge them in person for free and fair elections. The group has also prepared a sticker written in Sinhalese and Tamil “Our vote for peaceful election” for use on vehicles and places of transit.
In past elections the country has seen widespread violence and credible accusations of vote manipulation. Whether this call has the effect these concerned religious leaders want will depend on how effectively they and others can influence senior figures in the Government of Sri Lanka and ordinary Sri Lankans, and hence the importance of the outreach.
One is reminded that in many situations around the world, religious groups have led the way towards non-violent victory in transforming systems of oppression. In particular, mobilising peace-loving people into action can reverse the spiral of violence.
Religious leaders in the Philippines played a critical role in the change from the authoritarian Marcos regime to a democracy. They founded AKKAPKA (“Action for Peace and Justice”). They worked in a variety of way to protecting against election fraud. When the crisis came, they and other organisations had trained half a million poll watchers who were prepared to stand up to prevent falsification of ballots.
We support and urge the religious leaders to step out in leading their members. It takes bold action.