| by Upul Joseph Fernando
( June 26, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In recent times Mahinda Rajapaksa has been continuously assailed by bad news about his erstwhile friends in the international arena; the latest casualty being Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Due to the two-term restriction imposed by the Iranian Constitution, Ahmadinejad was prevented from seeking another turn at the Presidency. Making things worse for him is the candidate who secured a resounding victory, is an American and Western friendly reformist.
Rajapaksa first met Ahmadinejad at the United Nations sessions in New York, which he attended for the first time as a Head of State. He was enraptured by Ahmadinejad's fiercely anti-American rhetoric. It was there Rajapaksa became the latest member of the Anti-American World Leaders' Club represented by Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya and Than Sway of Myanmar, all of who embraced him as a valuable ally to their common cause.
Rajapaksa thereafter invited Ahmadinejad to visit Sri Lanka. He came, and in a hard hitting speech delivered at an event attended in the company of Rajapaksa, castigated the US and the West with a vengeance. At a subsequent reciprocal visit by Rajapaksa to Iran, the latter was accorded the highest honours given to a visiting Head of State. Iranian media introduced him to the country as a highly valuable addition to the ranks of anti-US and Western leaders' group.
Rajapaksa became President for the first time in November 2005, whereas Ahmadinejad became President of Iran a few months before him, in August 2005. Ahmadinejad contested the next Presidential Election in June 2009 and scored a stunning victory. Rajapaksa could have been inspired by his friend's electoral victory when he faced the Presidential Election in 2010, which he also comfortably won. Ahmadinejad's clarion call at both the 2005 and 2009 elections was ultra-nationalism and religious fundamentalism. His opponents subscribed to a more pragmatic approach of friendly dealings with the US and the West, giving more importance to improving the economic power of Iran. They rejected ultra nationalism and religious fundamentalism as being retrogressive. Ahmadinejad labelled them as unpatriotic stooges of the US and the West. He was intolerant of dissent and when the opposition led agitation campaigns condemning the 2009 Presidential Election results as corrupt and unacceptable, he suppressed the opposition mercilessly and sent their leaders to prison.
Ahmadinejad's popularity meltdown began with the growing public awareness they were being forced to suffer severe economic hardships due to the US and Western economic sanctions. Little by little, the Iranian's realized Ahmadinejad's ultra nationalist and anti-US policies were the root cause of their economic woes.
In 2012, Iran succeeded in hosting the Non-Aligned Conference. Ahmadinejad was highly motivated to cobble together a powerful Third World Union, which could counter-balance US and Western powers in world affairs.
At the Rio 20 Conference, Ahmadinejad met President Rajapaksa, and both agreed on a common action plan for the creation of a New World Order. While Ahmadinejad was enamoured with the idea of carving out a niche for himself in the international arena, using the Non-Aligned Conference as a stepping stone, his countrymen were painfully realizing they were paying a huge price for Ahmadinejad's obstinate anti-American actions and pronouncements.
Disenchantment of his erstwhile supporters and their desertion of him became clearly visible when he began losing his power with the electorate. American economic sanctions were taking a heavy toll of the country's economy. It was the last nail in the coffin for Ahmadinejad's future political prospects. His opponents were gaining public confidence, acceptance and approval. A more secular and tolerant society, devoid of anti-US and Western policies geared more towards a reformist vision, was fast-gaining ground in the country. The change of public will delivered its powerful message by giving a comfortable victory to Hassan Rowhani, sending Ahmadinejad to political oblivion.
In this, there is a good lesson for Rajapaksa as he hankers for the Chairmanship post of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). With the Chairmanship of Non-Aligned Movement under his belt, Ahmadinejad was trying to act the role of a strongman on the international stage; sadly ending up in political limbo.
Of the Ahmadinejad coterie of anti-American friends, Gaddafi and Chavez are no more among the living. Than Sway is no longer a political force in his country. From among the members of the original group of anti-US and West Heads of State, only Rajapaksa remains in the world political stage.