[Roman Catholics account for around six percent of the population in Sri Lanka- Filepphoto]
Sri Lanka’s snap poll casts doubt on Pope’s visit-
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka on Tuesday asked the government to clarify its plans for a snap presidential election, amid fears the polls will scupper a planned visit by the Pope.
Sri Lanka has not yet announced an election date, but the country’s information minister said Monday that the polls would be held in January, the same month that Pope Francis is due to visit.
The Church had earlier said it would be “inappropriate” for the Pope to visit any country at the time of a national election.
“We are yet to decide anything,” said church spokesman Cyril Gamini Fernando. “There will be a meeting of the bishops to discuss this.”
Official sources said Church authorities had asked the government to clarify Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s announcement Monday that President Mahinda Rajapakse would run for a third term at an election in January.
United National Party opposition parliamentarian John Amaratunga told ucanews.com that it would be wise to delay the election until after Pope Francis’ visit.
“The Pope will come to Sri Lanka to hold the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz and this is a great opportunity for the Catholic community in the country,” said Amarathunga. “The election should not be in January and it could be held at any time in March.”
Amaratunga also cautioned that there could be “post election violence”.
An early election had been widely expected, but Monday’s announcement was the first confirmation that Rajapakse is seeking a fresh mandate after removing the two-term limit on the presidency soon after winning re-election in 2010.
Official sources said January 7, 8 and 9 were considered astrologically auspicious for Rajapakse and the vote could be held on any of those three days.
Rajapakse gained popularity among Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community by crushing a Tamil separatist rebellion in May 2009 and ending a 37-year-long Tamil separatist war.
But his party’s popularity has fallen in recent months and saw its share of the vote plummet by over 20 percentage points in September local elections.
Roman Catholics account for around six percent of the population in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka.
– AFP and ucanews.com, Colombo