orld leaders -- whether they come from the US, North Korea or even from Sri Lanka -- are not like us, the ordinary people. They wine and dine on the best of fare, travel in luxury and to some degree are immune from prosecution for the actions they take... quite unlike lesser mortals like you and me. As we come to year’s end, it is time to look back, ‘not necessarily in anger‘, to check out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice and whom you and I would like being adjudged as ‘Person of the Year’.
After all, it is ‘We the People’ who put these leaders in the seats of power they now enjoy holding. Yes, through our mighty vote, ‘We the People’, elected certain men and women to rule the societies from which they come. Among the pack of world leaders in line choice as ‘World Leader of the Year’, is President Donald Trump of the US, the country which continues to be at war in far-flung parts of the world from Afghanistan, to Syria, to Libya, to Iraq and to Palestine.
In Palestine, the US proxy -- Israel -- continues to illegally occupy Palestinian lands, uses live ammunition against unarmed Palestinian men, women and children who only seek the right to return to the lands from which Israel has evicted them. Using a variety of tactics ranging from armed attacks by Israeli citizens occupying Palestinian fields, lands and homes to outright armed incursions into supposed areas under the control of Palestinian authorities Israel continues it’s policy of grabbing Palestinian land, demolishing homes and incarcerating Palestinian civillians.
To date, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which commenced with the setting up of the State of Israel in what was the land of Palestine in 1946, continues unabated. The struggle has resulted in millions of Palestinians living as refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed and large areas of Palestine have been ethnically cleansed while others have been thrown out of their homes in the Israeli-occupied territories.
The UN, the organisation which set up the State of Israel on Palestinian soil, declared Jerusalem (a holy city to Christians, Jews and Muslims) as an international city under UN protection. Today the Israelis illegally occupy Jerusalem and claim it as the capital of Israel. The Christian and Muslim clergy who travel to their places of worship in religious dress are spat upon by young Israeli children and abused by adult Israeli fundamentalist sects.
President Trump backs the Israeli claims to the holy city of Jerusalem, recognises Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, has moved the US embassy into that city and has decided to close his eyes, ears and mouth to ongoing Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. The US-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War saw the US invasion and military occupation of portions of Syria, in support of Syrian opposition forces.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), US-led coalition airstrikes have resulted in the killing of 12,596 people across Syria. In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the United Nations (UN) identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of whom more than six million were internally displaced within Syria, and around five million remain refugees outside of Syria.
However, despite protests from the US military-industrial complex and shrill screams from its media, President Trump has called time on the American military adventure in Syria. To give credit where it is due, Trump had the courage to defy his generals and the munitions industry to bring to an end US intervention in Syria.
On October 7, 2001, supported by its close allies the US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of Al-Qaeda attack on the US on September 11, 2001. The stated aim of the mission was to dismantle Al-Qaeda and its secondary aim was to remove the Taliban from power in revenge for its refusal to hand Osama bin Laden over to US authorities for his role in the 9/11 attack.
Today, seven years later, the Al-Qaeda leader has been killed, and US forces have overthrown the Taliban from power. Yet, the US forces still remain in that country. It is widely believed, however, the US presence in Afghanistan continues because the country is a veritable treasure trove of minerals, precious metals and rare earths which US multinationals lust after.
"President Trump backs the Israeli claims to the holy city of Jerusalem, recognises Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, has moved the US embassy into that city and has decided to close his eyes, ears and mouth to ongoing Israeli atrocities against Palestinians"
According to surveys carried out by US authorities, Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and loads of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements. Afghanistan’s mineral resources have been valued at $908 billion, by the US task force, while the Afghan government’s estimate is $3 trillion. Not surprisingly all US Presidents are loath to leave Afghanistan.
UN figures reveal 3,179 children were killed or wounded in 2017, accounting for almost one-third of the total civilian casualties for the year. During the war in Afghanistan (2001–present), over 31,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 111,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.
Recognising the injustice of the Afghan war former President Obama campaigned on a ticket to end the war and pull US troops out of Afghanistan. But he was unable to stand up to the military and armaments industry. President Trump is not only in the process of pulling troops out of Syria, but has called for immediate withdrawal of2,000 troops from Afghanistan, seen by many as a first step toward a full draw down of US troops from that country.
The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will be the first step towards reconciliation between the different factions fighting to drive the invaders out of that country and Trump’s gesture for whatever his reasons, for getting US troops out of that country needs to appreciated.
In March 2003, the US invaded Iraq on a blatantly false accusation of Iraq possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). US troops still remain in Iraq and the US continues to treat Iraq with the contempt colonial rulers treat its colonial minions. We saw proof of this when President Trump visited US forces in Iraq without so much as by-your-leave from the Iraqi government or without even paying common courtesy of visiting the Iraqi head of State. The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) puts documented civilian deaths resulting from violence as between 173,686 – 193,965 as at April 2017.
Trump has been a controversial figure in his own country. His speeches exacerbating race differences and tensions between coloured and white Americans. He demonises migrants, referring to them as rapists and underworld characters. He calls for his political opponents to be locked up and continues attacking the media. Most shocking has been his absolute disrespect towards women. Trump has also withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and made the world a less safe place to live in through his unilateral withdrawal from the Seven-Nation Iran Nuclear Agreement and slapping unilateral sanctions on Iran.
The Person of the Year was originally selected by the ‘Time Magazine’ . ‘Time’ features and profiles a person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse... has done the most to influence the events of the year”.
"President Xi has shown the imperial powers that Asians are vassal states no longer. He has also led China on the road to making it the second strongest economy and third strongest military power behind the US and Russia"
So is Donald Trump a suitable candidate for the World Leader of the Year Award? Germany’s Angela Merkel is a strong candidate. She is considered the leader of European Union (EU). Her focus and determination is believed to have saved the Eurozone from collapse after bailouts were organised three times for Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland. She has come under intense criticism for her handling of the European migrants crisis through the opening of Germany’s borders to a million or more refugees from Libya, Syria and Iraq in 2015. But has maintained she would do it all over again if she had to.
Merkel’s leadership helped calm and stabilise the situation in Central Europe after Russia annexed Crimea and subsequent crises following tensions with the Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation. She has also been a firm supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and has effectively countered anti-NATO rhetoric from President Trump. It is expected she will continue to play key role in deciding Britain’s transition and Brexit deal when it (Britain) exits the EU in March 2019.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a charismatic politician who came to power after his party won the 2014 general election with an outright majority securing 282 seats in the 543-strong parliament. His main election pledge was to transform India’s economy. A corruption-free regime, an inclusive India, clean governance, 10 million new jobs per year and increasing farm income by 2022.
But the promises remain a distant dream. According to Sudha Pai, a political scientist, the agriculture sector has suffered, unemployment rate has spiked, fiscal deficit is increasing, and Indian society is more polarized than ever.
The ‘Financial Express’ of June 2017 quoting official figures said India witnessed more than 700 outbreaks of communal violence last year that killed 86 and injured 2,321 people. The actual number, however, could be higher as many cases go unreported.
A report by the data-based news organisation ‘India Spend’ found that “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017). They comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.”
The UN report of June 2018 regarding Kashmir is damning, it accuses India’s security forces of using excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. It highlights the use of pellet firing shotguns as a means of crowd control. According to official figures, 17 people were killed by shotgun pellets between July 2016 and August 2017, and 6,221 people were injured by the metal pellets between 2016 and March 2017. Civil society organizations believe that many of them have been partially or completely blinded.
The question we must ask ourselves is: Can premier Modi be your choice and mine as ‘World Leader of the Year’? keeping in mind that the person of the year, is a person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse... done the most to influence the events of the year”.
Though small in size, Sri Lanka, the land described as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean has been in the international limelight since October 2018 for all the wrong reasons. President Maithripala Sirisena, the man who joined hands with his erstwhile Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, to defeat the charismatic Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 Presidential election brought into being the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. The amendment effectively divested the executive presidency of most of its executive powers, including the president’s ability to sack a prime minister or to dissolve parliament! An excellent choice one may not be blamed for thinking for ‘World Leader of the Year’.
"PM Modi’s main election pledge was to transform India’s economy. A corruption-free regime, an inclusive India, clean governance, 10 million new jobs per year and increasing farm income by 2022"
But hark, when none was stirring... not even a mouse so-to-say ‘Maithri’ as he was fondly referred to, surprised a nation preparing for its nightly slumber, when he announced, he had pulled his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) out of the ruling coalition; sacked PM Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Rajapaksa as PM. For better for worse Sirisena had plunged the country into its first Constitutional crisis.
Premier Wickremesinghe rejected the president’s actions, accused the president of engineering a constitutional coup, and claimed he was the lawful prime minister as he enjoyed the confidence of the House. When Wickremesinghe proved his majority in Parliament, President Sirisena without much ado ordered the dissolution of parliament and called for fresh elections.The disturbed president had forgotten that he had shorn himself of his executive powers and had no power to either dissolve parliament or call for snap elections. From one constitutional mess the president had thrown himself and the country into the next constitutional imbroglio.
Challenged in the Courts of law for acting ultra vires of the Constitution, Sirisena had to eat humble pie when the Supreme Courts held his actions were unconstitutional. Sirisena was forced to swear-in the very Prime Minister he had, but 50-days earlier outed. The wheels of justice as Charles Dickens was wont to say, ‘grind slowly but surely’.
The islanders it is said, tend to see themselves as the centrepiece on any stage they enter, and so it is, little Sri Lanka has thrown up four possible candidates for a choice of World Leader of the year. It’s safe to bet no single individual has influenced events in Sri Lanka more than ex-President Rajapaksa - conqueror of the LTTE, a one-term premier, two-term President, reduced to a simple Member of Parliament and most recently a 50-day Premier.
MP Rajapaksa now awaits news of whether his days in parliament are numbered for leaving the political coalition from which he was elected to parliament, for an entity he himself created while remaining a member of that coalition of parties. What must be kept in mind is that despite his present setbacks, the former president has had the ability to influence events in the country... even if that influence seems to be fading since the events of October 26, 2018 unfolded.
"Challenged in the Courts of law for acting ultra vires of the Constitution, Sirisena had to eat humble pie when the Supreme Courts held his actions were unconstitutional. Sirisena was forced to swear-in the very PM he had, but 50-days earlier outed"
Then we have Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who prior to the constitutional crisis overtaking the country, was probably best remembered for his cross-over from the opposition United National Party (UNP) to the ruling SLFP. Only to cross the rubicon when he rejoined the UNP once again. Sri Lankans today remember Speaker Jayasuriya as the man who upheld the dignity and office of the Speaker of the House in the face of physical threats and abuse from President Sirisena’s allies.
And last, but not least, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, though tarnished by the central bank bond scam among other misdemeanours, today holds sway as the Prime Minister once more. He has to his credit the capping of the powers of the once all-powerful Executive President of Sri Lanka.
We have not included Chinese President Xi Jingping, or Russian President Vladimir Putin as they operate from a political system quite different to ours and it is difficult to judge when we do not understand. Suffice to say President Xi has shown the imperial powers that Asians are vassal states no longer. He has also led China on the road to making it the second strongest economy and third strongest military power behind the US and Russia.
President Putin has brought Russia which was reduced to a non-entity status in the wake of Boris Yeltsin’s runious era to one of the world’s foremost powers and into a position where it has faced the combined sanctions of the EU and the US untrammelled.
So, which one of these great leaders if any would we wish to name as ‘World Leader of the Year’?