COLOMBO, Sept 12, (AFP): The Roman Catholic church Friday urged Sri Lanka not to politicise a visit by the pope in January amid reports that President Mahinda Rajapakse may hold a snap election early next year. Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, the head of the Catholic church on the island, called on Rajapakse’s government not to use Pope Francis’ visit from January 13-15 as a “political tool”.
His remarks came amid intense media speculation that Rajapakse, who removed the two-term limit on the presidency after his 2010 re-election, was preparing a poll early next year. “We have told the president that it is not appropriate for a pope to visit a country that is in the middle of an election campaign,” the cardinal told reporters in Colombo.
“The visit should not be used as a political tool by the government, or the opposition, or anybody else for that matter.” Sri Lanka is mainly a Buddhist country, but it has a 7.5 percent Christian population whose block vote could be decisive in the event of a close presidential election. Asked if it would be acceptable if a snap election is concluded before the papal visit, Cardinal Ranjith said: “The government has to decide on those things.... It must be a visit free of politics. That is the position of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.”