INTERNATIONAL

"Next Commonwealth chief should be Indian"

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to have mooted the idea that SAARC member countries should work for election of an Indian as the next Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

According to official circles here, Mr. Rajapaksa conveyed the suggestion to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his meeting with him in New Delhi on Wednesday on the sidelines of the SAARC summit.

Official sources hinted that Mr. Rajapaksa has already broached the subject with other SAARC members and their response is "positive". The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 sovereign states.

The second tenure of the current Secretary-General, Donald C. McKinnon, is due to end in April 2008. He was elected at the November 1999 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban, South Africa.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, who is elected by heads of Government for no more than two four-year terms, heads the Secretariat. The Secretary-General and two Deputy Secretaries-General direct the divisions of the Secretariat.

The proposal made by Mr. Rajapaksa assumes importance as India and Sri Lanka were on different wavelengths during the recent election to the post of the Secretary-General to the United Nations.

Several weeks after Sri Lanka had announced the candidature of Jayantha Dhanapala, India proposed Shashi Tharoor as its nominee. Ultimately, both of them withdrew after it became clear that the U.S. backed Ban Ki-moon of Korea.

The manner in which both New Delhi and Colombo persisted with their respective candidates until the last minute was a subject of criticism among neutral observers in the context of South Asian solidarity. Back home, Mr. Rajapaksa has been targeted by the Opposition for his proposal at the SAARC Summit for a common currency in South Asia. Raising the subject in Parliament, Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe said there was also an aspect pertaining to the sovereignty of the country and his party favoured free flow of currencies in the region but not a common currency.