How well will CHOGM Chairmanship sit on MR?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( October 30, 2103, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some believe the chairmanship of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), officially referred to as 'Chairperson-in-Office,' which will be bestowed on Mahinda Rajapaksa, could be more of a crown of thorns than a crown of power and glory. Observed in the backdrop of the Indian-levered Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections, the UK Government-influenced action in arresting a government politician for the murder of a British tourist and the withdrawal of CHOGM visa restrictions imposed on foreign journalists, who were critical of the government, are some events which hint at the possibility that the crown much anticipated by Mahinda may yet prove to be too thorny to wear. But, when considered with clear objectivity it may prove, after all, to be a crown which will adorn the wearer, Mahinda.

India, which made it possible for Sri Lanka to host CHOGM here, was strongly convinced that Mahinda Rajapaksa would be amenable for a reformed performance, once he is bestowed with the CHOGM Chairmanship. India showed the West that the strategy it adopted in persuading Mahinda to hold the NPC election was a strong indication that they are on the right track. After assuming the CHOGM Chairmanship, Mahinda would be more careful in his political pursuits, which in turn would help preserve and uphold democratic traditions in Sri Lanka.

Khuram Shaikh murder

Britain too condoned the Indian strategy and benefitted from it by exerting pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to instigate action to do justice for the murder of the British Red Cross worker, Khuram Shaikh, on Christmas Eve of 2011, by a powerful local-level politician. Britain, it is now apparent, is fully assuaged by the governmental action in the tourist murder case and is no longer seen to be displaying much interest in the apparent irregularities in the process followed in the removal of former Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake.

Mahinda Rajapaksa saw to it that the ouster of the 43rd Chief Justice went through quickly and was concluded before the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Meeting, which was then poised to seal the fate of holding CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was successful in both ventures.

Presumably, Mahinda does not appear to consider the CHOGM Chairmanship as anything detrimental to his future activities, either internally or externally. Judging by his shrewd and subtle manipulation of the opposition, the media and the NPC; it is patently clear the CHOGM crown on Mahinda's head will not just be an ornament, but a powerful weapon, which he could wield to good effect when it suits him best.

Realistically, Mahinda likes to have the CHOGM Chairmanship, not just for the sake of adding another feather to his cap. It stands to reason to think that he has an apparently weightier compulsion to wear this crown. That is, to use it as a shield for protection when Western powers with vested interests and holier-than-though attitude raise war crimes and human rights violation charges against the government. It could be effectively used to fend off such vexing unsubstantiated charges.

Medamulana diplomacy

Recently, when Kenya was calling on the African Commonwealth member countries to boycott CHOGM, Mahinda used Medamulana diplomacy to effectively silence Kenya, thus preventing a probable crisis situation.

In a media statement over the weekend, the Deputy Foreign Minister stated that after assuming the CHOGM Chairmanship, Mahinda Rajapaksa would be looking forward to addressing the problems of the African nations. It is also a clear indication that Mahinda would use his new role to widen his scope in international involvement.

Mahinda was able to successfully deflect human rights violation charges brought against the government by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), after the conclusion of the war in 2009. Yet, in 2012, he was unable to successfully handle the UNHRC allegations.

As is evident now, when the UNHRC allegations are brought to bear on the country again, Mahinda will not take things lying down; he will use his influence as the CHOGM Chairperson-in-office to elicit support from other member countries, to strengthen his hand. The Kenya crisis is a good starting point for him to cleverly use as an opening gambit to marshal forces against spurious human rights allegations raised against various countries by Western powers from time to time. Therefore, undisputedly, CHOGM Chairmanship is going to be a crown with a halo of power and strength to adorn Mahinda.