Pope Francis in Korea YouTube screen grab.
Sri Lanka’s election commission has set the date of presidential polls on Jan. 8 as a stream of defections between political parties is expected to turn the race into what has been called a Game of Thrones in Al Jazeera’s social network.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party general secretary Maithripala Sirisena reportedly announced on Friday he would run against the president under the united opposition. More politicians are expected to switch parties today, Monday, Ceylon Today reported in the weekend.
Rajapaksa introduced an amendment to the nation’s Constitution supposedly lifting term limits for the president and allowing himself to run for another presidential term.
The ruling party secretary’s announced plan to run against his president has reportedly led to political unrest and fear that election violence during the papal visit just five days after the polls will be used for a military clampdown, a Sri Lanka source told Catholic In Asia asking not to be named.
“The 1999, 2005 and 2010 presidential elections were followed by 76, 39 and 85 incidents of post election violence. While people fear for the pope’s safety, it is a prestige battle for leaders,” the Sri Lankan political analyst said.
“There is a growing opinion that it would be better if the pope visit the country on the pope’s possible trip for the 2016 Eucharistic Congress in Cebu,” the journalist added.
Four Philippines cardinals pull together to launch 2016 Int’l Eucharistic Congress preparations in Manila / NJ Viehland Photos
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in the International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Jan. 13, 2015, Tuesday, for his 3-day apostolic visit to the South Asian country. He is to pay a courtesy visit with President Rajapaksa, lead the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz – Sri Lanka’s first saint – and pray with pilgrims at a popular Marian shrine in Madhu in the country’s north west region.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church leaders are relying on “faith in God” and government assurances that the upcoming presidential election will not interfere with the scheduled visit of Pope Francis, a spokesman reportedly told the online news website sundaytimes.lk after the date for the polls was announced.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has reportedly kept mum on the announcement as he and local Church groups discussed the impact of polls on the papal visit. Earlier reports of impending elections had reportedly moved the cardinal to write to Rajapaksa asking the president to inform the Church about the date of election and to tell the nation’s leader that it has not been deemed appropriate for the pope to visit any country at times of national elections.
Meanwhile this weekend Father Cyril Gamini, cited as spokesman for the papal visit media secretariat when asked about the impact of the polls on the papal visit has been quoted saying: “Nobody knew that the elections will be held close to the Holy Father’s visit. We would have been happy if the elections had been held well before the papal visit.”
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka [Wikimedia commons}
Fr. Gamini said, “There is already a security concern and we cannot dismiss that. But we have complete faith and we hope the Government will keep its word.” He said the Church was going ahead with the preparations.
“Nobody can say there will or won’t be pre- or post-poll violence. But…
Read full report Pope’s visit: Church depends on God
On Sunday, a top Buddhist monk campaigning to scrap the executive presidency and return the country to a parliamentary democracy declared support for Sirisena, who is also Sri Lanka’s health secretary, Agence France Presse news agency reported.
Read the full report Opposition secures Buddhist backing for Sri Lanka vote
Read update Opinion : Sri Lanka polls and papal visit 2015 – Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando