EC drives it home | Daily News


EC drives it home

Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya who enforced a clampdown on the use of places of religious worship for political campaigning during the Presidential Election has gone a step further and threatened to disqualify a candidate from entering Parliament if he/she is found to have used places of religious worship for his/her electioneering purposes for the General Election.

Deshapriya who paid a visit to Most Venerable Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters on Tuesday apprised the Chief Prelates of the provisions under the Parliamentary Elections Act which prohibit the use of places of religious worship for canvassing during elections. He called on the Mahanayakes to instruct other monks not to allow election campaigning in temples which was illegal under Parliament Election Act (No.1 of 1981) to which the Chief Prelates gave him their ready assurance for ensuring compliance.

He subsequently told the media that the visit to the Mahanayakes was his first port of call since 75 percent of the Sri Lankan population was Buddhist. He would be similarly visiting churches, mosques, and kovils with the same message of not lending their places of worship for political purposes to candidates at the upcoming elections. It is plain to anyone today observing the passing political scene that religious clergy of all faiths are being assiduously sought after by candidates seeking their endorsement.

Regrettably certain religious leaders too have allowed themselves to be used in the political projects of some of these candidates. The clergy, while conferring blessing on these candidates during such audiences not only speak of the virtues of the supplicant in glowing terms but also indirectly cast aspersions on their rivals and their poor track record.

The clergy in this country have a considerable sway over the masses and could influence their thinking. This negates the very essence of the level playing field that needs to be upheld in democratic elections to ensure which the Elections Commission is going to great lengths as seen from the active role played by him in this regard. No doubt it is such undue influence that the EC Chairman had in mind when he decided to put the brakes on religious rituals and sermons being made use for political purposes the last time around.

Besides, Bana preaching and sermons of any religion should be strictly confined to the religious content. After all, they are disseminated for spiritual nourishment and not to poison minds against individuals. They should not be seen to be promoting any particular political party or candidate while condemning his/her rivals. It is also odd to see religious leaders who preach the virtues of justice and equality in their sermons and homilies at the same time going against these very tenets by promoting and speaking on behalf of one side or the other.

Certain religious clergy have also openly identified themselves with political parties and political party leaders. It is also incongruous to have religious leaders lend patronage to certain politicians who are not exactly known for good conduct. By doing so they will be going against the grain of the religious codes they are entrusted to uphold.

The Elections Commission Chairman, no doubt, has every reason to read the riot act. Places of religious worship are after all sanctuaries for spiritual cleansing. They should not be made market places for the purveyance of hate and political rhetoric.

On the other hand, politicians take advantage of the large gatherings of devotees at places of religious worship to spew out their political line, and, in the course, slander and vilify their opponents, violating the sanctity of the sacred premises. Places of religious worship have become the happy hunting ground for politicians to get closer to the voters which is an abuse of such places of worship. It is also not unknown for politicians to dispense largess to places of religious worship.

Of course, candidates cannot be stopped from making religious observances at temples. But they ought to be told to act strictly within the confines of the election laws and not espouse their own political cause or attack their opponents within the sanctuary of the sacred premises. The clergy, too, for their part, should act with circumspection. After all they are treated with reverence and respect and must conduct themselves as befitting such honour. They should, on no account, be seen to be dabbling in politics or promoting any candidate directly or by innuendo.

It is gladdening that the most Venerable Mahanayakes, after being apprised by the Commissioner on the status of the law, has undertaken to halt the practice of temples being used for political purposes, henceforth. Religion and politics are not the ideal mix. Make no mistake, the clergy do have political rights, as explained by the EC Chairman himself. But they should ensure that their places of worship do not become a political stage.

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