Sri Lanka’s army chief in controversy over election ad

Mahinda Deshapriya - Elections chief of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s election chief said Wednesday that he has asked for an explanation from the defense ministry on why the army commander features in an advertisement promoting a candidate for next month’s presidential election.

The advertisement, which appeared in a newspaper last weekend, had comments made by Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the current army chief, in 2009 praising presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his role in ending the country’s long civil war.

Rajapaksa was defense chief at the time, serving under his brother, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Silva was an army division commander. The advertisement includes a photo of Silva in uniform with his comments.

Election chief Mahinda Deshapriya criticized the advertisement and said he has sought an explanation from the secretary to the defense ministry on why the army chief was being used to promote a presidential candidate.

“We highly regret this advertisement,” said Deshapriya, adding that “it could be an old statement, but it is regrettable that the rank and designation of the present army commander had been used.”

Mahinda Rajapaksa has swept to victory in several elections by promoting himself as the leader who defeated the once invincible Tamil Tiger rebels in the long civil war.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s popularity is on the increase after April’s Easter attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 263 people and wounded 500. But to his opponents and critics, he is a feared defense official accused of condoning rape, torture and shadowy disappearances of critics.

On Tuesday, he said that if he wins the Nov. 16 election, he won’t recognize an agreement the government made with the U.N. human rights council to investigate alleged war crimes during the civil war. If he does win and follows through with his comments, it would be a severe setback to Sri Lanka’s post-war reconciliation process.

(Source: AP)