28 October, 2020

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The CHOGM-Showgm Week And The Cameron Challenge

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The Rajapaksa Government’s weeklong tryst with CHOGM is over.  Well witted Sri Lankans, ever ready for political wordplay, have aptly dubbed it: Show-gm!  CHOGM and Showgm provided quite a week of political medley that saw a Youth Forum in Hambantota, the island’s investment centre-of-gravity; a People’s Forum in Galle, whose old charm is now fading away in Hambantota’s new glitter, and where no ordinary people were to be seen but only government dignitaries who travelled all the way from Colombo perhaps in the new summit limos to welcome and listen to President Rajapaksa and Commonwealth Secretary General Kamlesh Sharma; a Business Forum in Colombo where President Rajapaksa again touted his government ‘robust hub-strategy’ for economic takeoff but omitted mentioning casinos as the only hub that the government might ill-advisedly create; a Ministerial Meeting for Small States including a lecture-lunch by External Affairs Minister GL Peiris struggling as always to sustain his relevance amidst all the goings on; and the plethora of committee meetings that are standard conference fare for scurrying bureaucrats.

There were also before-and-after birthdays.  Prince Charles celebrated his 65th birthday before the summit in the company of all the members of Sri Lanka’s first family.  After the summit comes President Rajapaksa’s 69th birthday; and the current occupants of the old Wijeywardene Lake House have already announced Pirith celebration and Sangika Dana to 69 chosen Bhikkus to mark the occasion.  Not to be outdone, the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs decaled a National Flag Week from November 14 to November 19, calling on all households to fly the National Flag to observe, as the Ministry noted in a mouthful: “the Third Anniversary of the Second Term of the Presidency of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the CHOGM meeting”.

A sideshow that could become a politically significant development was the attempted disruption of the Human Rights Festival at Sri Kotha by government thugs.  The festival was organized by the United Force (Samaga Balavegaya) of opposition parties at Sri Kotha, the UNP headquarters, after no other venue could be found in Colombo due to fear of government retaliation.  The thugs even targeted the vehicle of Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as it was trying to enter Sri Kotha premises.  The upshot was that the new Leadership Council of the UNP decided to officially ‘boycott’ all Commonwealth ceremonies and events and instructed Ranil Wickremasinghe not to attend any of them.  In the end, none of the opposition parties were present at the Commonwealth ceremonies and events.  If the UNP Leadership Council were to play an equally assertive role in the future it could change the opposition political dynamic that has for so long been made dormant by whatever understanding that Ranil Wickremasinghe has been having with President Rajapaksa.

Island of two solitudes

The BBC reported during the week that what may have been planned by the government as a moment of postwar revival was seemingly turning into a public relations (PR) disaster.  This is one-sided assessment.  To see the other side one must read at least the headlines of the Daily News.  The truth is not only in between but is also complicated.  International observers and government supporters would have seen and heard what they were predisposed to see and hear and neither side would seem to have made any impact on the other.  What was PR-disaster to the BBC was political victory for the government.  The government certainly did not win over anyone new but neither did it lose any of its supporters.  On the contrary, the government used the occasion to enthuse its supporters using non-alignment and anti-colonial rhetoric which although outdated is still an effective political opium.  The detractors of the government, on the other hand, who wanted to isolate and humiliate the government, may feel that they got what they wanted but nothing has changed on the ground and in regard to future possibilities.

Sri Lanka is still an island of two solitudes and nothing illustrated this more strongly than the diametrically opposite motivations and manifestations of the protests in Jaffna and Anuradhapura.  The point is not so much to evaluate between the two as to which is more existential and which is more orchestrated, as to emphasize the challenge of having to deal with both in moving forward.  CHOGM did nothing in this regard and could not have done anything overtly significant in this regard.  The boast of Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, that “the pulse of the Commonwealth beats strongly in Sri Lanka”, is nothing more than a boast.  More than the pulse of the Commonwealth, it was Mr. Sharma’s racing pulse that must have returned to normal during the week as the summit finally got underway after two years of uncertainty and anxiety ever since Sri Lanka was chosen to host the 2013 CHOGM.

As I have noted earlier, CHOGM Sri Lanka is a personal achievement for Kamalesh Sharma and a political victory for the Rajapaksa brothers and their government.  Whether the achievement will be sustainable and victory will not be a pyrrhic one, remains to be seen.  In the coming year, Mr. Sharma will have to deal with the threats to funding cuts by Britain and Canada, and as he struggles to keep his Secretariat solvent he may not get much support from his natal Indian government in the throes of an election.  Although it was not his fault, Mr. Sharma suffered the ignominy of having his summit boycotted by his own Prime Minister.

For the government of Sri Lanka, the commonwealth aftermath would be like after a wedding massively gone overboard – huge debts to pay and old scores still to settle.  The new status as Chair of the Commonwealth will make no difference to its tattered status before the UNHRC in Geneva.  The litany over the LLRC recommendations will start all over again.  There will be an air of poignancy in future discussions of the LLRC recommendations following the untimely death of the LLRC Chairman, Mr. C. R. de Silva.  It says something of the man, given all the President’s other men, that having chaired the LLRC he declined the offer to be nominated as a tainted Chief Justice.  The President graced the occasion of Mr. de Silva’s funeral, but the President and his government must know that the only way to honour the memory of C.R.de Silva is to implement fully the recommendations of his Commission.  That is also the only way for the government to restore postwar normalcy and address the questions about war crimes

The Cameron challenge

British Prime Minister David Cameron, after his historic visit to Jaffna and his formal meeting with President Rajapaksa, has thrown down the gauntlet that if Sri Lanka does not undertake and complete its own investigation of human rights violations during the war by March 2014, the British government will force the issue at the next UNHRC meeting in Geneva in March.  President Rajapaksa is reported to have responded vigorously to David Cameron’s challenge during their meeting.  The President’s message at the meeting and statements by government leaders afterwards are a defensive response to the British Prime Minister, reminding him of Britain’s old problem in Northern Ireland and its older colonial crimes in Sri Lanka.

While these are self-satisfying debating points, the fact of the matter is that it is not Britain that is facing international censures or UNHRC resolutions over Northern Ireland or any other internal matter.  What is more, is harking back to Britain’s old colonial crimes tantamount to acknowledging and defending the Sri Lankan state’s current treatment of its own people – the Tamil and Muslim minorities, and the Sinhalese who do not agree with the misdoings of the Rajapaksa regime?  Does old western colonialism justify new internal colonialism in independent Sri Lanka?

Another aspect to the government’s defensive response not only to Britain, but also to India and Canada is to dismiss Cameron’s criticism and India’s and Canada’s boycotts as political grandstanding to play to their domestic Tamil populations.  The government’s dismissal of external criticisms is really its denial of its own internal problems and its reluctance to play to its own Tamil population.  The best way to make Britain, Canada and India mind their own business is for the Sri Lankan government to mind its own internal business and deal with national minorities and political differences democratically and with justice and fairness.  Until then external criticisms will continue and the months of March and September will become permanent biannual moments of agony in Geneva.  If the Sri Lankan government does not move forward positively to work with the new NPC government and implement the LLRC recommendations, it will find itself even more isolated in 2014 in Geneva and even elsewhere.

The experience of the Commonwealth Summit could influence President Rajapaksa in two contrasting ways, and the choice is between the two is his.  He could positively move forward, implement the LLRC recommendations, and work with the new NPC Administration. That would be the best response to Cameron’s challenge and boycotts by India and Canada.  Alternatively, he could go backward intoxicated by his own nationalistic rhetoric and that of the others during the Commonwealth week.  There is nothing wrong with nationalism and its rhetoric, provided that the President realizes sooner than later that the way forward for him, his government, and the country is to adopt the rhetoric and practice of democratic inclusiveness of all Sri Lankans, the tolerance of opposition, and term-limited governments.  It would have been too much of an ask of the Commonwealth to bestow such enlightenment on the Sri Lankan President, but one would hope that his summit experience has been positively persuasive rather than negatively entrenching.

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Latest comments

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    The Colombo declaration focuses on economic revival and equity for all via the Commonwealth which will not be possible without the goodwill and cooperation of the main funding countries, UK, Canada and Australia. Other countries too are not likely to respond in substance when they observe the confrontational situation in the country.

    So we have nothing to gain by antogonising these countries and we stand to loose what we overspent on staging this grandoise event. Further the after effects are likely to be felt next March at Geneva.

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    Everyone is predicting that Sri Lanka would be isolated; it would be taken to the court etc. Are n’ t these statements just idle gossip and wishful thinking of a handful of doom watch writers to CT. I wonder who pays for their meal tickets.
    The fact of the matter is developments and construction projects in the south and the north are booming, tons and tons of new metal in the from of consumer goods and automobiles are flooding into the country, Indians and Chinese, British, Norwegians and anyone else that you can think of is investing hard cash in Sri Lanka.
    Why are these investments if MR is going to be hauled in front of a european court, or UN is going to destabilize the country. No businessman with a balanced head is going to risk their assets in a unstable country?

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      Booming with loans upon loans, neck deep to the Chinese, no re-insurance, typical third world development WITHOUT a plan ! If that’s the case, you’re right, there is a boom !
      But, when there is no Planning, Organizing, Leading & Controlling, doing it the MahaMidhulana Meeharak way, then U’ll see the BUST soon !
      UNEDUCATED, UNQUALIFIED PEOPLE getting all the help from abroad ! What happens when the bills come in ? !

      how much did these’nickle & dime’ foreign business people invest ? $ 5.00 ? !
      You are a damn typical insular Jarapakse co_k sucker, aren’t U ? GO BACK TO THE MUD, BUFFALO !

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      these people are paid for by the same fools who paid for the LTTE . but again it will be in vain ,

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      What Rajan Phillip has highlighted are very valid points. As Bo says none who writes to CT is ot paid like hi fro MA-RA.Development should bring returns to pay the loans obtained for such developments, but most of the developments are not bringing any returns as such. Hambantota Rajapakasa Harbour has become a White Elephant so is the Mattala Airport and all other show piece developments in Hambantota. All these funds obtained from the Chiese EXIM Bank is now compounded as Rajapaksa and his brothers are unable to service these loana.
      DIrect Investments has come down to a very low level as corruption and Rule Of Law is not in SL anymore. Justice is gone through the roof.
      Rajapaksa dance and got his side kicks to harassed the foreign dignitaries as well as media, but if he remain as the Chairman of CHOGM for the next two years, he needs the support of Canada, Uk and India to do what he promised to do. Without funds from the major supporters KAmalesh Sharma will have a uphill task to maintains the Commonwealth. Furthermore all meeting Chaired by Mahinda will be in Malbourough House in London, and Mahinda is not able to take his thugs, BBS, and the Army in Civilian cloths to these meetings, but will be at British PM Cameron’s mercy. That is why Mahinda needs good people who can advice him to overcome all these future problems.
      HC Nonis, may have done a good interview but according to Sri Lankan in UK, his failure as the SriLankan HC has allowed the Tamil Daispora to multiply and attack SL. His actions has paved way for few carrier Diplomats to get marching oders from London, as Nonis didn’t like them try to keep the Tamil Diaspora at bay. Nonis is not known to most of the British FM staff as he failed to keep those important contacts.

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      Why are you talking of investments (which are mainly from China)or misleading that consumer goods are flooding the country – when the issues are regarding displaced citizens & their resettlement, white vans, missing persons, return of Lands to rightful owners, lack of Law & Order, Journalist who have been forced to leave the country, impeachment of the CJ.. etc

      These are the issues that needs to be spoken about & addressed and resolved ..

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    Sour grapes!

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    How about this ?

    “Britain will fund an additional 2.1 million pound program to clear landmines and explosive remnants from the Tamil-dominated former war zone in northern Sri Lanka.

    The fund was launched by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

    The fund will be provided over the next 2 years for the program which will clear landmines from some of the most heavily mined areas of the country.

    The program will allow heavily contaminated land to be returned to local communities so that it can be used for building livelihoods, as well as schools and roads.

    Speaking at a press conference to mark the end of his visit, Prime Minister Cameron said, “As part of our support for reconciliation efforts across this country, we will provide an additional 2.1 million pounds to support demining work in Jaffna, in Kilinochchi and in Mullaitivu districts — the location of some of the most chilling scenes from Channel 4’s No Fire Zone documentary.”

    The funding will clear approximately 2 million square metres of land per year in the most complex, heavily mined areas of the country. Complete clearance is expected in the district of Jaffna and near complete clearance in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.”

  • 0
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    SO forget about the Tangalle Murder and Rape case.

    and WE can enjoy post Show gon Carnival.

    Wait till I make My Budget Speech and Some gazette notifications.

    What a lot of governing Scoundrels????????.

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    Did Sri Lanka get any damn thing out of CHOGM other than humiliation and Human Rights accusation??? May be they attained CHOGASM..LOL !!!

    Modayas got CHOKED n F’KED by CHOGM that they had to resort to fake happy ‘CHOGASM’…!!!

    Thanks Camoron..!!! You did what the Indian PM Manmohan should have done. Tamils ‘LOVE’ Camoron with the way he is getting Sri Lanka closer to China/Pakistan against India/US/EU/UN.

    Modayas think that their elected ‘New Friends’ in UNHRC, China/Cuba/Russia will bail them out in UNHRC without realizing that UK & Western nations have also got elected while their supporters like Eucador etc etc have lost as well.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron said “We have been elected again as a full voting member of the Human Rights Council and we will be pursuing this issue”.

    Now Modapakshe is begging for time & he knows his time is running out Fast!!!

    Tamils will sure have CHOGM FUN extended for Mar 2014 thanks to Dumb Rajapakshe stupidity..LOL !!!

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    Only a fool would think that Cameron’s agenda is linked to human rights in SL. Therefore implementation of LLRC wouldn’t stop SL being targeted. Only a regime change in SL might stop the anti SL campaign.

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    The vitriol being heaped on the critics of the Rajapakse regime by its supporters is a clear sign that those criticisms have hurt. What is also abundantly clear is that while the war with the LTTE is over, the ‘Tamil Conflict ‘ which started in 1958 (in its current form) is far from over .

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