Sri Lanka election commission asks army to remain neutral

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s election commission urged the military to “remain neutral” at next month’s presidential polls after army chief’s photo appeared in campaign advertisements endorsing the main opposition candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The independent Election Commission said army commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva claimed he had not authorised the use of his image or the remarks he had made a decade ago to be used in Rajapaksa’s election propaganda.

“The army commander has assured that they will not support any candidate at this election,” Chairman of the Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya, said. “Therefore, we hope , as in the past, the army will assist the election commission in conducting this election by remaining neutral.”

Newspaper advertisements carrying controversial army chief Silva’s photo endorsed Rajapaksa who was the secretary to the ministry of defence when security forces defeated Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009.

Rajapaksa has vowed he will not abide by UN Human Rights Council resolutions calling for war crimes investigations in Sri Lanka if he was elected at the November 16 election. The current army chief was a key field commander during the final stages of the war in 2009.

Silva’s appointment in August as army chief sparked international outrage because of his links to alleged war crimes, and the UN suspended the recruitment of Sri Lankan troops for peacekeeping duties.

The November 16 elections have revived debate about the end of a long-running bloody separatist conflict, with army troops accused of massacring up to 40,000 civilians in 2009 while crushing Tamil Tigers rebels, an allegation Sri Lanka has denied.

Newspaper advertisements last week quoted Silva as saying Rajapakse was “extremely efficient” and “addressed the urgent needs of the security forces… during the final stages of the conflict”.

The Election Commission warned earlier this week that it was an election law violation for a serving military officer to endorse a candidate and engage in political activity.

Silva had told the authorities that his permission had not been obtained for the propaganda campaign.

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Rajapaksa’s campaign team has also denied being behind the adverts, although they appeared with party colours in newspapers.

(COLOMBO, Oct 19, 2019)

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