Snap polls cast doubt on Pope’s visit

Pope Francis - TimeThe 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 information minister said Monday that the polls would be held in January, when 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,” church spokesman Cyril Gamini Fernando told AFP. “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.

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 reelection 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)

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