Pope Francis’ Visit To Sri Lanka, January 12 – 15, 2015, Going Ahead, Despite The Change In Presidents — Though It Will Be Awkward.
by Anura Guruge
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It was defeated president, no longer in power, Mahinda Rajapakse who was the big fan of the papacy, his wife being a lifelong Catholic, though he himself was an ardent Buddhist who pandered to the extreme Buddhists of Sri Lanka. That is the beauty of Sri Lankan culture and politics. You can be a Buddhist, be married to a Catholic and still get the Buddhist vote even if you are seen to be openly groveling around the pope.
Well Rajapakse, who had hoped that the pope’s visit, will get him some Catholic and Tamil votes (many Tamils, Catholic) is history — on the very day of the election. That is the Sri Lankan way. There is no transition period. Bang. President one day, gone the same day.
Rajapakse never thought he would lose the election. If he did he would NOT have called for this election. This was not an election that was due. It was what per the British system is called a ‘Snap Election’. The president called it, in November, with 2 years of his 2nd term still left, hoping to win it and then continue onto a third time while he thought, quite literally given his superstitious beliefs in astrology, that his stars were in the ascend. Well he is history.
The new president, in a country that is 70% Buddhist, is a Buddhist. His wife is not a Catholic. Per Sri Lankan tradition he will be civil and cordial to the pope. But the dynamics will be different. There will not be the groveling adoration that the prior president would have lavished. In November when Rajapaksa went to the Vatican, for the second time, to meet with the pope he took a leader from the opposition to convey to the pope that things will be fine if the opposition won. The person he took was John Amaratunga and not the new President.
The pope will be fine. He will still get Sri Lanka’s impressive security to protect him. That is a given. As I have always said some poor Catholics might get subjected to some mindless violence by the unrestrained extreme Buddhists.
Things won’t be the same for Sri Lanka’s cardinal, Malcolm “Tanned Ratzinger” Ranjith either. He was heavily beholden to the defeated President. Just prior to the election his niece got a plumb posting to the SL Embassy in Paris though she didn’t have the necessary diplomatic corp. credentials. That posting probably won’t last. Actually, now with Rajapaksa gone, the “Tanned Ratzinger” will be on thin ice. Given that he is ultra-conservative he is at odds with this maverik pope. So he can’t get away from Sri Lanka and go to Rome as a curialist. He is stuck between a stone and St. Peter’s.