Hail, the emperor!

• Crowned emperor of the new Commonwealth and with a war crimes inquiry in the offing next March, at home President Mahinda Rajapaksa is looking more invincible than ever ovember !", !#"$

%here&s a new emperor in town %he posters and hoardings to celebrate President Mahinda Rajapaksa&s ascension to the Chair of the Commonwealth, a grouping mostly made up of territories of the former 'ritish (mpire, must have been ready weeks in advance) 'y happy coincidence, the President was also celebrating his *+th birthday and his eighth year in office this week) ,ocally, the Commonwealth summit, dogged by controversy over -ri ,anka&s human rights record and plagued by eleventh.hour boycotts and embarrassing no.shows, had been President Rajapaksa&s crowning moment) %he posters all over the capital summed it up/ 0anquisher of

terrorism, now conquering the world) 1 fawning local media has ensured the domestic success of the summit) 2ith the ruling regime determined to play the showpiece meeting off as a resounding success, excessive negativity on the pages of newsprint and on air were deemed unwise) %hus, C345M unfolded in 2onderland, an unwalled city of manicured islands and tree.lined streets) C345M in 2onderland 6n 2onderland, buses full of families of the disappeared travelling to the capital from the former conflict 7one were not turned back by the military) -tate.sponsored demonstrations, ably abetted by the 'odu 'ala -ena brigade of monks, did not shut down a legitimate human rights festival at the 4pposition headquarters in the suburbs of the capital) 6n the parallel C345M universe, 'ritish broadcast journalists from Channel 8, the controversial crew responsible for two documentaries alleging major crimes in the final phase of -ri ,anka&s war against the ,%%(, were thieving scum, defrauding a poor van driver) 1ccording to the 5overnment&s C345M -pokesperson 1nuradha 3erath, the demonstration to prevent the Channel 8 crew travelling to the north was a shining illustration of -ri ,ankan democracy at work) 6n the final chapter of the Channel 8 saga in Colombo, six burly 6mmigration officials did not visit the crew at their hotel at dawn and inform them their freedom of movement was restricted between the hotel and the summit venue, prompting the crew to make an unscheduled exit from -ri ,anka) 6n fact, the 2onderland narrative would have it, the 'ritish journalists fled in fear of having to make their case during a live %0 debate against a senior criminal lawyer and a -ri ,ankan journalist) Playing into the farce, -ri ,anka&s 3igh Commissioner to the 9:, ;r) Chris onis dismissed the Channel 8 documentaries as being no more significant than 5eorge ,ucas& <-tar 2ars& movie franchise) 2hat the eloquent envoy failed to explain was why his 5overnment was taking <-tar 2ars& and its makers quite so seriously and allowing their victimisation in Colombo to become the dominant narrative of the Commonwealth summit)

=ortunately, one needs never over.think things in 2onderland, where repression is democracy and ignorance, to borrow from 4rwell&s prophetic ">+8, is truth) 'ut outside the C345M bubble, things were looking distinctly less rosy) %he hoards of international press teams in Colombo to report on the summit more than compensated for the reporting deficiencies within the country) (very report leaving -ri ,ankan shores to be aired globally across cable news networks and on the internet were crushingly critical of the summit hosts) 1n unmitigated Public Relations disaster, some pundits have called the week.long summit, and the overwhelmingly negative international reportage had sections of the 5overnment wondering how senior officials and advisors of the ruling administration had failed to foretell the extent of the impending crisis) 'y the time President Rajapaksa addressed his second C345M press briefing, the strain was beginning to show) %he pre.summit briefing on %hursday ?"8@ had been one of good cheer, with a beaming President seated beside a somewhat stiff Commonwealth -ecretary 5eneral) %he next day&s briefing was mysteriously cancelled, prompting accusations by the 'ritish press, including Channel 8 that the -ri ,ankan President was trying to avoid the foreign media) 5overnment officials said the President was chairing an important C345M session and could not be drawn away during crucial discussions) -howing strain 'ut it was a distinctly less.happy President who sat on the dais at -aturday&s press briefing at the 'M6C3) 1ides scurrying back and forth between the President at the head table and Presidential -ecretary ,alith 2eeratunga to scribble notes that were then rushed back to the dais were a dead giveaway about the state of nerves in the 5overnment camp) 4nce dubbed the <Cabinet Reporter& in President Chandrika :umaratunga&s 5overnment because of his liaisons with local media personnel, President Rajapaksa has preferred his press encounters to be <managed& since he was made the -,=P presidential nominee in !##A) 3is aides have ensured interviews with the President have been restricted to -ri ,anka&s -tate.controlled media or pre.arranged with the international press) 1 free.for.all of the C345M media briefing variety was unprecedented and it was making senior officials justifiably jittery) -enior Commonwealth -ecretariat officials were heard to comment among themselves at the C345M Media Centre that senior 5overnment officials were increasingly reluctant to place President Rajapaksa before the press again and again) %he officials remarked that it was odd how the 3ead of -tate himself did not appear unwilling to

face the media despite the concerns of those around him) 6n the end, at all three briefings President Rajapaksa performed, for the most part flawlessly, unfa7ed by the toughest questions, even if his answers proved somewhat repetitive) %he ;avid Cameron aspect of C345M proved harder for the regime to navigate) %he 'ritish Prime Minister was under severe pressure at home to justify his attendance at the Colombo summit, given -ri ,anka&s deteriorating human rights situation and the erosion of democratic values in the country) ;igging in their heels 2hen Prime Minister Cameron touched down at the 'andaranaike 6nternational 1irport on %hursday, therefore, with his own media entourage in tow, he had already made it clear he was not in -ri ,anka to win any friends) 'rushing past the 006P guest book at the airport and making only a brief appearance at the C345M opening, Cameron stole the 5overnment&s thunder when he made a flying visit to the orthern Province to Bshine a lightC on issues on the ground there four years after the war) Cameron&s show.stopper became the C345M story for the world&s media) 3is tour had created the perfect platform for northern %amils to air their grievances about the 5overnment&s policies as the world focused on -ri ,anka&s former battle 7one) 1 stormy bilateral meeting between the 'ritish PM and President Rajapaksa was to follow) Cameron raised the issue of an inquiry into alleged crimes of war as the 5overnment executed the final push to defeat the ,%%( in May !##>) President Rajapaksa, in a classic tit.for.tat, raked up the stalled Chilcott inquiry, a 'ritish public investigation into the country&s involvement in the 6raq 2ar) 'oth leaders had effectively dug in their heels) 1nd in their respective countries, both President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Cameron had become heroes overnight) 1t a fiery press briefing the next day ?"*@, Cameron threw down the gauntlet and delivered the message it was clear he had come to -ri ,anka to give) 'ritain had just secured membership in the 9 3uman Rights Council, the main battleground of -ri ,anka&s greatest post.war international challenges) %he Prime Minister assured the 5overnment that if a credible domestic probe into alleged violations during the war&s final phase was not forthcoming, -ri ,anka would face a full.blown international war crimes inquiry in March !#"8) 3is 5overnment, Cameron said, would push for the investigation) President Mahinda Rajapaksa retorted the same day that <people in glass houses should not throw stones& D a clear reference to the 'ritish Prime Minister and possibly the Chilcott inquiry, although he refused to elaborate) %he -tate.controlled press and

other local media have echoed the sentiment, believing the Prime Minister&s strong message to be imperialist in tone and needlessly insulting of his host) 3ome truths

4utwardly, the -ri ,ankan 5overnment is all bluster and bravado) 'ut behind closed doors, sources say, the panic is setting in) =or all the victory the regime is playing C345M out to be, the summit had brought some nasty home truths to the fore) 1fter the 5overnment boasted there would be more world leaders present at the meeting than there were in Perth in !#"", in fact C345M !#"$ had seen the lowest turnout of 3eads of 5overnment at a Commonwealth summit in several decades) %he Commonwealth -ecretariat was particularly peeved by the last minute drop.outs since logistical arrangements had been put in place in vain) 2hen the roll call of Commonwealth leaders was taken on "A ovember, only !E heads of government took the stage at the elum Pokuna auditorium for the C345M opening ceremony) 1t last count, the 5overnment was expecting at least 8# heads of government) %hat someone had pulled a coup was clear, even if the protagonist remains in doubt) Conventional wisdom in 5overnment ranks was that the snubs had been orchestrated by ew ;elhi, whose own Prime Minister staged a tacit boycott and whose influence with Mauritius, at least, is in little doubt) 4ther analysts point to another powerful 2estern nation, with no direct links to the Commonwealth but enough muscle to discourage overwhelming attendance at the Colombo C345M) =or :amalesh -harma, the 3ead of the Commonwealth and firm friend of -ri ,anka,

the turnout was a stinging indictment against his role in ensuring the Colombo summit went ahead as scheduled) Most importantly perhaps, Cameron&s March ultimatum had brought a ruling administration caught up in the fantasy and promise of C345M crashing back to earth about the monumental challenges it faces four months after the summit closes) othing new in ultimatum =or all its sound and fury, the Cameron ultimatum was not news to the -ri ,ankan 5overnment D or at least the more initiated sections of it) Colombo has had March !#"8 and the very real threat of an international war crimes inquiry hanging over its head since March !#"$) %he writing was on the wall more clearly when 9 3igh Commissioner for 3uman Rights avi Pillay issued her report to the Council in -eptember this year, pledging to call for an international probe if -ri ,anka did not address accountability issues about the final phase of its war against the ,%%( by March !#"8) Pillay&s March !#"8 deadline was in the offing since at least Fune this year, according to diplomatic sources) -upport for the setting up of that inquiry is already being sought among the membership of the 9 3RC, and the tabulation of the stumbling block nations D like 1ustralia D has already begun) %he 'ritish Prime Minister was essentially riding on the coat.tails of these initiatives) 'ut Cameron&s decision to issue the deadline in unmistakable terms has allowed his 5overnment ownership of the international campaign aimed at holding Colombo to account) %he international community, led by the 2estern lobby the -ri ,ankan 5overnment has grown increasingly mistrustful of, is making it loud and clear that four years of military inquiries that have largely absolved 5overnment troops of blame and foot. dragging on key investigations into alleged executions during the war will not meet the international benchmarks of a <credible& investigation) 1fter strutting upon the global stage for an all.too.brief moment, President Rajapaksa&s administration must now face a dismal reality) 6ts international fortunes look bleak and

it will take diplomacy of high calibre or genuine progress to dial down the pressure) %he proposition made by -outh 1frican President Facob Guma, for his country&s assistance to set up a %ruth and Reconciliation Commission ?%RC@ for -ri ,anka, is being seriously contemplated as one way out of the 9 3RC quagmire) %he ,essons ,earnt and Reconciliation Commission was loosely based on the -outh 1frican %RC model to deal with its 1partheid era atrocities) 'ut a proper %RC would bring victims and perpetrators together to deliver restorative rather than punitive justice and has long been prescribed as a panacea for the complex post.war issues facing -ri ,anka)

(lectionsH %he other contemplation is more pedestrian and less focused on post.conflict healing) 5overnment and 4pposition circles are bu77ing with speculation about a presidential poll as early as March next year) 6f international calculations were to be weighed in, the month of March is not being bandied about randomly) 1 question has already been referred to the -upreme Court for interpretation about how soon the President can seek election for a third term, since the "+th 1mendment that removed presidential term limits does not explicitly stipulate how early another term can be sought) %he ">E+ Constitution provides that a President may seek a second term in office after he completes the fourth year of his first term) Presidential polls were last held in Fanuary !#"#, but the President assumed his second term in office only later that year D in ovember) %he -upreme Court interpretation, once delivered, will be key to understanding the regime&s thinking on the likely date of the next presidential poll) =rom the perspective of the ruling administration, there is no reason to postpone holding an election to reinforce President Rajapaksa&s mandate) %he summit was a success and the Rajapaksa regime can bask in its glory) ;espite negative forecasts, the economy is holding firm) 1 pro.people 'udget is likely to be unveiled today) Cynical city.dwellers are pacified by the pretty capital the accelerated beautification program for C345M has left behind) 2hat&s more, even the more cosmopolitan sections of -ri ,ankan society are bristling with indignation over ;avid Cameron&s high.handedness during the summit) 'row.beaten and tamed over the years, sections of the media danced admirably to the Piper&s tune during C345M) 1ny swing towards a war crimes inquiry in March !#"8 at the 9 3RC in 5eneva will, with the assistance of the pliant media, strengthen the

President&s position back home) %he incumbent President can go into the polls battle crowned emperor of the Commonwealth and vanquisher of terrorism, pledging to save the motherland and her heroic troops from new international enemies) 3e will be effectively, invincible) ;omestically therefore, his domain is peaceful) 1nd as far as President Rajapaksa is concerned, the domestic is the only real calculation he ever makes)