Amid speculation, rumours and conflicting claims in the intensive campaign for the crucial Presidential Election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given a solemn pledge that if he was defeated at the election, he would peacefully and without hesitation hand-over office to the winner.
The reassuring pledge was given by the President to the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and other Bishops when they met the President after the nominations last Monday.
According to the Catholic Messenger, the official organ of the Catholic Church, the President said he would also ensure there would be no violent backlash and thereby the environment for the visit of Pope Francis from January 13 to 15 would be peaceful.
The Bishops also met the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena and he also assured them that whether he won or lost, the parties in the common opposition front would ensure a peaceful setting for the much awaited visit of Pope Francis.
The pledges by President Rajapaksa and Mr. Sirisena – the main contenders in what most independent analysts see as a neck-to-neck race for the Presidency – came amid fears and reports even by the International Crisis Group of a possible violent backlash and even speculation of martial law being declared.
Despite reservations and pleas by various groups and individuals that the Pope should postpone his visit due to the likelihood of post-poll violence, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in an interview said that there was now hope that the Pope’s visit would bring peace and unity to Sri Lanka.
The Cardinal said leaders of all major political parties were aware that hundreds of international media personnel would be coming with the Pope and the world would be watching Sri Lanka. He said it would be the ideal time for Sri Lankans of all religions, races and political parties to show the world the non-violent virtues and values of our hallowed civilisation and culture.
Earlier the Sri Lankan Catholic Church and the Vatican had advised the Government that a cooling down period of at least 10 days might be required after the Presidential Election to ensure a peaceful setting and adequate security for the Pope’s visit – especially the highpoint of a Holy Mass at the Galle Face Green on January 14 for the Canonisation of Sri Lanka’s first Saint, the Blessed Joseph Vaz.
More than half a million people from all parts of the country and dignitaries from other countries in Asia are expected to attend this historic ceremony.
President Rajapaksa had indicated to the Church he hoped elections would be held on January 2 so that there would be a space of more than 10 days. But when the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya announced that the elections would be on January 8, doubts arose about the Pope’s visit with many groups calling for a postponement.
Thankfully now a possible calamity is turning into a blessing with the main candidates agreeing that all the parties in their coalitions would respect the verdict of the sovereign people and ensure a peaceful setting for the Pope’s visit.
We urge the people of Sri Lanka to co-operate with the two main candidates in ensuring a free, fair and peaceful election, while also respecting the verdict of the people.
We need to restore the virtues of magnanimity in victory and courage in defeat, so that the world will see not a war-torn country and a divided people but a regained multi-racial and multi-religious paradise of unity in diversity.