World churches body responds to major election issues

By agency reporter
20 Feb 2008

Election issues fresh Kenya and Pakistan, and the larger picture of democratic electoral processes, formed the focus for three public statements adopted by the World Council of Churches' central committee on Tuesday 19 February meeting in Geneva.

The 'Statement on the crisis in Kenya and the churches' response' addresses the violence that followed the African nation's presidential election of 27 December 2007 and "shook the country".

In Pakistan, meanwhile, the situation was changing even as the committee was drafting the statement as election results were coming in on 18 February.

Through the statements, the WCC central committee has sought to raise awareness of the issues, provide reminders of solidarity, and urge advocacy and action.

In introducing the Kenya statement, Public Issues Committee member the Rev William Ingram said, "We feel the churches have a very significant part to play in building the future of that country". A WCC "Living Letters" ecumenical solidarity team visited Kenyan churches earlier this month.

The statement notes that the current conflict has roots extending well beyond the elections. "The communities in conflict have long-standing and often unvoiced concerns dating back to independence", it says.

It recognizes the inability of many Kenyan churches "to effectively confront these issues" due to partisanship, but "affirms church leaders and members who became advocates for peace" and applauds the more recent efforts toward mediation and conflict resolution. It urges churches facing similar crises elsewhere to learn from the Kenyan situation and to "support platforms for dialogue" when divisions arise.

The statement further encourages churches everywhere to "promote a culture of dialogue", to "build up interfaith collaboration and advocacy for peace and reconciliation", to become involved in educational programmes, and to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced.

The WCC's newly adopted statement about Pakistan reviews an often troubled political history—marked by several military dictatorships—but calls the outcomes to date of these latest elections "encouraging". "We very much hope this shows a return to democratic governance in Pakistan", the statement says.

It expresses "condolences to the Bhutto family and the people of Pakistan on the assassination of Mrs Benazir Bhutto" and "solidarity with the suffering people of Pakistan". It urges Pakistan's government to "order an independent and impartial inquiry" into Bhutto's death and calls on the incoming elected government "to ensure the safety and security" for political leaders and others.

The statement assures solidarity with the WCC member constituencies in Pakistan and their efforts toward peace and harmony, and calls on churches around the world "to continue to pray for peace and reconciliation in Pakistan". Earlier in the meetings, central committee member Bishop Samuel R. Azariah of the Church of Pakistan appealed to his colleagues, "Please pray for Pakistan".

Democratic electoral processes worldwide received attention in a third statement adopted Tuesday, noting the numerous significant elections that have occurred recently or will be occurring this year. It says "attention should be paid to pre- and post-electoral mechanisms" so that "an election truly reflects the will of the people".

It urges countries to set up independent and accountable structures and to "constantly monitor the electoral processes". It commends the work of the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations in doing "electoral assistance and assessment", including the observation and monitoring of elections, and requests that such efforts continue.

Churches are called on "to be actively involved, where appropriate, in civil political engagement and education" and to do their part "to ensure fair, just and participatory
democratic elections".

The full texts of the statements are available on the WCC website as follows.

On democratic electoral processes:
http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=5611

On the crisis in Pakistan :
http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=5613

On the crisis in Kenya and the churches' response:
http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=5612

More information on the 13-20 February 2008 central committee meeting :
http://www.oikoumene.org/en/events-sections/cc2008.html

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