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The Presidential Election - Yet Another Opportunity for Goodwill, Growth And Peace
by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
CEYLON 051114-1
November 18, 2005

A Pastoral Statement from the Bishop of Colombo

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] Any election is an opportunity for the people to evaluate the quality and suitability of our leadership, the ideology of the various political parties and our achievements and failures through the political process. The forthcoming Presidential Election has once again provided us with such an opportunity.

The campaign of the two main candidates has set out their respective manifestoes. The needs of the country are known to all. The intentions of the candidates are clear. Keeping in mind the massive gap between promises and implementation, regardless of who the candidate is, the people of this country are now called upon to elect a new President.

In doing so both leaders and people have an obligation to ensure that all Sri Lankans should be allowed to vote according to their conscience, and that there should be no intimidation or undue influence in the exercise of this democratic right, either geographically or ideologically. (“For you were called to freedom, brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another’. Gal. 5.13)

The Need to Act Inclusively

An added responsibility we all carry is to ensure that unnecessary confrontation and conflict, that could further divide us, is avoided. While we all fall short of it, the ideal we need to keep in mind is that elections should take place as far as possible concurrent with trust building. All leaders, political, civil society and religious play a particularly important role in this task.

Since political campaigning in a pluralistic society tends to separate already estranged communities, all responsible political leaders and parties must ensure that national problems are seen as common problems that inevitably affect us all. For instance, poverty and peace and corruption, will have to be addressed in their entirety, on behalf of us all whoever the new President is and no matter which way individuals and groups voted.

When the result is known, the new President becomes the President of all and will be called upon to win the confidence of most if not all, through his ability to think and act inclusively. Three priority challenge in this regard will be the need to address the evil of poverty, motivate the peace process towards participatory devolution and allay minority fears and majority suspicions. The ability to hear all and read genuine human aspirations in these challenges is perhaps the best way to begin to deal with them. (“Seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow’ Is 1:17”)

A challenge towards consensual politics

A creative challenge that both chief contenders should take on after the election is to discover a way of working together for the common good. That they will both still have important political roles and that they both possess the experience and maturity to do so is to their advantage and the advantage of the country. A shared leadership style of vulnerable inter-dependence will be a major break through in the existing political culture of confrontation and contempt, and could become the first steps towards consensual politics. (“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves”. Phil. 2.3)

Religion and Politics

The Religions too should strive to bring out the best in our respective traditions and teachings. This is all the more necessary today because of certain inter religious tensions and suspicions that have plagued us over the recent past. While Religion is duty-bound to speak a prophetic word to politics when politics is biased or corrupt or dehumanises any or all, we must be particularly careful not to allow Party politics to exploit religious sensitivities or tensions. On the other hand it is exactly in times like these that we are called upon to harness the tremendous good will that still exists, as well as that which is inclusive in our respective teachings to build social trust. (“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’. Heb. 13.16)

This thrust towards Inter-Religious solidarity, is never a threat to our own respective identities. In fact many testify to the positive impact it has on our ability to rediscover and interpret our respective spiritualities and teachings in a still more dynamic way.

This is one reason why the Christian Church has and continues to encourage Christians to engage in the affairs of the country in an informed and constructive manner. That, inspite of some terrible historical mistakes the Church has made, Christians have yet made a substantial contribution to all sectors of National life is common knowledge. This trend will and must continue. It is also for this reason that the Church prays daily for all our political leaders, without bias or exception, the afflicted of the Land, without bias or exception, and peace and justice and unity for all, without bias or exception. Such prayer is possible and appropriate because we as Sri Lankan Christians are an intrinsic part of this country, the land of our birth, and because we stand shoulder to shoulder as equals with our sisters and brothers of all religions in the shared trials and joys, aspirations and destiny of our country and people. (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law”. Gal.5.22-23)

Our shared responsibility for Peace

It is in this context and with this understanding that we hope and pray for a free and fair and peaceful election on the 17th. The result must be well received by all. We cannot afford post election violence, and the main candidates, their parties and their alliances must take full responsibility for ensuring proper post election behaviour. The police in particular should be given the space to exercise their duties and the IGP must ensure that his Officers act without fear or favour. (“And we exhort you bretheren, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all “. 1 Thess. 5.14-15)

May all beings, very specially the candidates and their representatives, the Elections Commissioner and his staff, the IGP and his team, and their respective families be relieved of undue stress, be endowed with wisdom and generosity, and be at peace.

May the God of history, ever present at all times to bring light out of darkness and hope out of despair, bless Sri Lanka and multiply our endeavours towards good-will, good governance, and ensuing peace for all. (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”Jn.14.27)

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo