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Sri Lankan religious leaders bat for free and fair elections

Demand came as Basil Rajapaksa, brother of the president, quit as an MP amid criticism of his role in the ongoing crisis

Sri Lanka's former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, speaks during a press conference to announce his resignation as an MP in Colombo on June 9

Sri Lanka's former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, speaks during a press conference to announce his resignation as an MP in Colombo on June 9. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 10, 2022 08:59 AM GMT

Updated: June 10, 2022 09:40 AM GMT

Religious leaders in Sri Lanka have urged its election commission to ensure free and fair elections that reflect public opinion.

Father Anura Perera, a Christian priest who joined a delegation of religious leaders which met the commission on June 9, asked for new laws or amendments if necessary to create the right environment for holding elections.

The demand came on the same day that Basil Rajapaksa, 70, former finance minister and younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned from parliament amid mounting criticism of his alleged role in dragging the country into its worst economic crisis.

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"From today I will not be involved in any government activities but I cannot and will not step away from politics," he said as quoted by Reuters.

He is the second politician from the influential family to step down since Mahinda Rajapaksa, elder brother of the president, resigned as prime minister last month after prolonged protests.

Hundreds of protesters have occupied the entrance to the president's office for more than 50 days demanding that he take primary responsibility for the economic crisis and resign immediately.

"There should be a limit to the amount of money a candidate can offer to contest the election. The election commission should take responsibility for blocking the chances of such people"

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, a leading Buddhist monk, said a system must be developed to prevent the "gang of thugs" claiming to be the people's representatives from gaining power in the country.

"There should be a limit to the amount of money a candidate can offer to contest the election," he said. "The election commission should take responsibility for blocking the chances of such people.”

Ven. Sobitha Thera said they proposed the commission close all avenues for thugs to enter the parliament by spending large sums of money.

The religious leaders maintained that the parliamentary system can be cleansed only if the electoral system is cleaned of all ills.

Patali Champika Ranawaka, an opposition lawmaker, said the only solution to the problems facing the country was for all members of the Rajapaksa family to leave parliament and politics.

Rohana Hettiarchchi, executive director of the People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), said the need to limit candidates' spending and hold elections in a free and fair environment has been underlined in the past by the courts in Sri Lanka.

"The president and the election commission are responsible for taking further action on this decision and we hope that those decisions will be implemented soon," he said.

PAFFREL will continue to take legal action against those involved in election fraud in future elections, he said.

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