Sri Lankan protesters call for cleaner politics

Priests and nuns join Colombo rally urging an end to corruption that betrays voters
Sri Lankan protesters call for cleaner politics

Nuns and priests join demonstrators at a protest against political corruption organized by the People's Movement for Justice and Democracy on Nov. 4 at Kollupitiya in Colombo. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)

Civic rights groups, academics, priests and nuns have protested Sri Lanka's culture of buying and selling people's elected representatives.

Activists say political parties bribe parliamentarians with both money and ministerial posts to induce them to switch parties and to allow the offending party to obtain a majority in parliament.

One parliamentarian revealed audio recordings of bribery attempts by the new government.

President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cabinet on Oct. 26 and replaced him with ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

More than 500 demonstrators gathered on Nov. 4 at Kollupitiya in Colombo for a protest organized by the People's Movement for Justice and Democracy.

Human rights defender Ruki Fernando said protesters condemned the arbitrary action of President Sirisena in sacking a legitimate prime minister.

"We have gathered here to support democracy and justice. That's why people who lost their lands, relatives of the disappeared and people struggling against the Prevention of Terrorism Act joined with us from several parts of the country," said Fernando.

"Members of parliament cross over from one party to the other primarily based on money and the ministerial position that they receive. That practice is unethical and against democracy.

"We have seen at least one member of parliament publicly say that he has been offered a large amount of money if he crosses over. That has to be investigated. This is a betrayal of the voters."

Muthu Saroja Devi, secretary of the Women Rising group in Batticaloa, said that it had been betrayed by a Tamil politician who switched sides.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa ruled the country from 2005-15 and ended the 26-year civil war by defeating Tamil rebels in 2009. Rajapaksa's family members and some of his cabinet ministers have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption during his period in power.

Sister Nicola Emmanuel said Tamil people are in fear after the return of the Rajapaksa regime to power.

"We have bitter experiences of illegal arrests and disappearances during his time," said the nun. "Politicians cross over for their benefits and betray those who vote for them. Politicians should listen to the people."

Harini Amarasuriya, a lecturer in the Open University of Sri Lanka, said she was angry with the behavior of political leaders. 

"They have betrayed us and my vote was taken for granted. Through this protest we call on our leaders to be accountable and build a strong movement for people-centered democracy," she said.

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