Ambassador Athauda analyses US election and its impact on Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 23 November 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Like every US presidential election, the 2016 race to the presidency was pursued by media stations, student groups, voters and international by standards alike. In 

Sri Lanka especially the phenomenal interest of corporate Colombo and the suburbs was evidenced by the outpour of commentaries on social media during the hours 

following the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump shall now be the ruler of the Free World during his tenure in the White House. The sentiments expressed encapsulated inter alia concern, trepidation, amazement, and disconcertment.

Meanwhile, I was fortunate enough to meet the former Ambassador to the Netherlands, Amb. Buddhi Athauda at the Hilton during an evening titled ‘Celebrating US Democracy’ opened to the public and attended by several alumni of US universities, lawyers, business and political leaders organised by Sri Lanka America Alumni on the evening of the election of President Donald Trump. 

The undertone of the evening was however neutral with an equal representation of both Democrat and Republican supporters and interesting conversation. In fact, the 

celebration highlighting the power of democracy of a populous eager to embrace a new philosophy of political reign that will impact their daily lives. The tale that will be told, felt by the former Ambassador, would be of a 

demographic sector forming the majority of the USA that felt underrepresented by its leaders. The solution as they saw fit was to vote for the obvious candidate that 

promised to improve infrastructure, and create 

employment opportunities within the nation. 

The former Ambassador is the Founding President of the Diplomatic Council, and was unanimously elected as Chairman of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH for Hague Conférence de La Haye). In 2013, Amb. Athauda was chosen to lead as Chair of the Budget Committee of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), established by treaty in 1899 under the United Nations umbrella, an intergovernmental 

organisation providing a variety of dispute resolution services to the international community. PCA has been developed into a modern, multi-faceted arbitral institution that is perfectly situated at the juncture between public and private sectors to meet the rapidly evolving dispute resolution needs of the international community.

Following is a summary of the views expressed by the former Ambassador on the unfolding of the election 

campaign and its ensuing result:



By Tanya Goonewardene 

Q: Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre who was a lawyer, diplomat, writer, and philosopher, once said, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” This appears to be true more so than ever. Do you agree and does the announcement that Donald Trump has won the election surprise you? 

A: Absolutely! Indeed in a democracy people get the leaders they deserve, we have seen it to be true time and time again. In a democracy what roars louder than any candidate is the power of universal franchise, in the hands of the everyday people. If you analyse the response of the media throughout the campaign they all had a united message to the people which was largely elitist. However Trump’s campaign spoke above it, straight to the everyday folk, to the pulse of the working class Americans. His message resonated well with them and prompted them to support him in spite of what they heard on the deafening voice of the media. 

It is yet another example of how you can have all the research and media in your favour and yet employ this unique two step electoral process to harness the popular vote and the Electoral College through the democratic procedure to elect the leader one prefers. The city pulse however was different – their rhythm was in favour of Clinton. This is a good lesson for many countries. We saw this in Britain a few months ago too. The city vibe was totally different to that of the country folk – if the politicians and diplomats fail to comprehend this distinction, they will experience a large disconnect and will soon have to leave their elected positions. 

The Government of the United States of America is that of a federal structure which results largely in decentralised power and can be used by the politicians to address the pulse of the masses which was successfully executed by the Trump campaign. This trend is not novel. World over we see new leadership is elected on the basis of treating economies as trading hubs. China, India and the US are great examples of an aspiration to reduce corruption and re-engineer growth centric economies towards job creation and infrastructure development won the highest office in their respective nations. USA is in fact, a story of how the promise to empower growth centric commerce trumps all else. 

Q: Since your academic background is deeply rooted in the discipline of finance, what are your sentiments on the campaign tag line ‘Make America Great Again’?

A: The tagline is largely misconstrued by many to mean something that it is not – it is perceived to be caustic politics, to be a bulldog to the rest of the world. It is not. What was always great about America was how it could catapult a person of less than average economic means from rags to riches. This is the American dream. This is only one side of the dream. The other is – making America a competitive force again. They have lost this edge and their people feel that their leaders have neglected the country. 

Having the best economy and almost the best technology in the world, the best education system in the world, the best health care system – they could be number one in these areas which is the current promise. New economic hubs in the world have taken over and America has not reached her true potential. To make America great again they have to return to the white board and upgrade their infrastructure, knowledge centres, access-to-all-health-care, manufacturing bases, financial centres and their strategic energy mix. Even in his speech the President Elect promises to trigger in growth – this is the message that was heard loud and clear, a promise which was an answer to many people’s grievances. 

Q: How will President Trump’s reign affect Sri Lanka and how must we as a people prepare for it? 

A: The Presidency of one of the greatest democracies in the world is of critical importance to us all. The separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are clearly demarcated by the constitution of the US. In fact the engineering of these three stalwarts and their roles become of paramount importance to all countries, diplomats and the international community. The decentralisation of power ensures that every decision made by the different branches of the US Government has passed through and rigorously questioned, argued and whetted by all stakeholders.

Our role in this process is to be informed and keep informed all relevant parties of the US Government and ensure that our interested is well represented at every rung and every branch of Government. This brings to mind the importance of lobbying our interest among the US Governmental institutions. It will be a shame not to join the US in her journey to prosperity. For example, let’s take the industry of infrastructure. In fact all architects, city planners and those in the construction industry should be geared towards the impending demand for their expertise. The same sort of expertise that built iconic infrastructure in the Middle East making them world class projects must now look to the USA for their next assignment. My humble advice to Sri Lanka is to share the aspirations of the USA.