World News & Events


Q: You ran an unsuccessful race for the post of UN Secretary-General. To what would you attribute your failure to secure the job?

A: In a personal statement issued after my withdrawal from the race, I indicated that I didn’t feel the time was right for us to analyse reasons for my defeat. But, perhaps, it can be said that 1995 was the zenith of my career and the opportunity should have been seized during that time to field me as a candidate for a senior position in the UN system.

Today, three years after I had left the UN position as Under-Secretary-General, I did not have the visibility that an incumbent foreign minister like Ban Ki-moon had. Nor did I hold the positions that the other candidates held to be able to actively engage governments and be in the mainstream of diplomacy. That was probably one reason.

The other reason is that in today’s globalised world, economic relations matter much more than ideology. And, if any proof was needed that the Cold War has ended, we saw it in this election for UN Secretary-General – with China actually voting in favour of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, despite the mutual security pact that South Korea has with the US, to say nothing of 40,000 American troops on South Korean soil. Times have changed and we have to acknowledge these realities.

I derived great satisfaction from the fact that an Asian was elected Secretary-General, because that had been a fundamental plank in the Sri Lankan campaign and in my own personal set of beliefs. I am also very happy that a national of a country that has acquired nuclear weapons was not elected, because that would have eroded the moral dimension of the Secretary-General’s office.

Q: Could you analyse how the votes were cast at the election?

A: It’s very difficult for us to analyse who voted for us. I believe that the major Asian countries in the UN Security Council voted for my candidature, but they also probably voted for other Asian candidatures. This meant that they were not conferring on me any special favour. The fact is that there were no negative votes against the South Korean and he was able to succeed.

What is disappointing, however, is that the Western countries did not appear to have voted for me. I would attribute that largely to my postures on disarmament issues. I have adopted a very honest position on nuclear disarmament and I have no regrets, whatsoever, on that. The countries that voted to discourage me came from NATO and they must have feared I would take an activist position on nuclear disarmament, had I become Secretary-General. They didn’t realise that, as Secretary-General, I would have had to divorce my personal views from those of the UN.

Another reason attributed to my defeat was my age, but I think that was more a red herring than a real reason – because the President of Latvia was, in fact, older than I. Boutros Boutros-Ghali assumed duties when he was older than both the President of Latvia and myself.

As far as the Western group was concerned, it could also be that Sri Lanka is not a big investor internationally or a huge market for products. In this globalised world – in the same way that China was influenced to acquiesce vis-à-vis a Korean candidate –many Western candidates were more enticed by economic benefits than by the individual merits of a candidate. Nor did they consider his potential to lift the UN from its present state of ineffectiveness and the bad reputation it has acquired.

Several developing non-aligned countries are non-permanent members of the UN. But there again, the non-aligned ties that Sri Lanka has forged over a long period of time clearly mattered much less during the vote. Here is a sign of the times: that non-alignment and G77 links are less important now than other ties, established more recently, with countries offering benefits in terms of investment and markets.

In summary, I would think the trends of globalisation – and the fact that there was a candidate acceptable to all five permanent members – helped swing the decision in favour of the Korean and against me.

Q: An opinion has been expressed that India fielded a candidate just to cobble your chances. What role did India play in your defeat?

A: At an early stage – when I had accepted the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s proposal to be a candidate – we did approach our South Asian neighbours and the only lack of enthusiasm we detected was in New Delhi. It was never clearly articulated as to why this was so. Had it been expressed, we could have discussed it with our Indian colleagues.

It was always rumoured that Shashi Tharoor had harboured the ambition and intention of running for the post. I believe that was one of the factors preventing the Indians from endorsing me. It could have been awkward if Tharoor had sought the sponsorship of another country such as the UK where he enjoys, I’m told, nationality.

But the fact that they waited until quite late in the process to announce Tharoor’s candidature was unfortunate and it was certainly seen as a spoiler to my own candidature. Many countries asked us directly, at an early stage, what India’s attitude was to my candidature. We were unable to produce the endorsement that the Thais had from ASEAN in respect of their candidate. If we had a South Asian consensus on my candidature, or on anyone else’s candidature, I think that would have helped the region. South-East Asia had already been represented in this post through what was then Burma and it would have been logical for us to claim that it was South Asia’s turn.

Q: Do you regret vying for the post?

A: I have no regrets whatsoever. When I accepted the government’s offer to run as Sri Lanka’s candidate, I knew it was a gamble. There was as much the prospect of success as there was the spectre of defeat. In a race, you must have the equanimity to accept both. I think I ran a successful race and I was able to present the issues as I wanted them to be presented. I was treated as a serious candidate, with respect; and I am grateful to the government for having given me this opportunity.

Q: Did the prevailing conflict situation in Sri Lanka impact negatively on your candidature?

A: Sri Lanka received considerable adverse international publicity at the time. I have said that I thought it was disproportionate and not commensurate with the situation in other parts of the world. There was, for example, continuing haemorrhaging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and other parts of India experiencing Naxalite movements. Sri Lanka, sadly, continues to attract a lot of publicity and I think that also was a negative factor.

Q: Did you receive any direct indication during your campaign that the situation in Sri Lanka might work against you?

A: Nobody asked me directly. However, I heard from the diplomatic missions campaigning for us that this was a factor. Certainly, some of the media reporting indicated that the Sri Lankan conflict was a factor.

Q: It was contended in some quarters that our diplomatic missions did not adequately support your campaign. Would you agree?

A: I think that’s an unfair criticism. If you compare the Sri Lankan diplomatic machine with its Indian and Korean counterparts,, there is no way in which we could have competed. We have, perhaps, one-third the number of diplomatic missions that India and South Korea have. And due to under-resourcing, concurrent accreditation is also restricted to just one visit a year to countries such as Greece, Slovakia and so on.

Secondly, although Sri Lanka is well known internationally and has acquired a reputation – mainly through the successful foreign policy of the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike – we still suffer from the lack of peace and stability. We also don’t have the economic prosperity that must go hand-in-hand with the reputation we have acquired in order to be taken seriously in the chanceries of the world. It’s not surprising, therefore, that wealthier and bigger countries have greater influence, impact and ability to command attention both in the media and the international arena. That’s a fact of life.

Q: How will Ban Ki-moon, the new Secretary-General, influence the manner in which the UN has been conducting itself?

A: I am confident in his wisdom. He has an Asian approach to international affairs – which, I think, brings with it qualities of patience, tolerance and prudence. For example, he knows the situation in East Asia very well, where we have the North Korean nuclear issue to deal with. I do not think it was a coincidence that the nuclear test of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea occurred immediately after the decision was taken to elect Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General.

One can only hope, therefore, that his deep knowledge of the issue will help resolve it, although China will remain key in the resolution of this problem. I also feel it’s fundamentally a problem between the US and North Korea, and much depends on the attitude of Washington.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: Now that I have been defeated in my quest for the UN Secretary-General’s job, my preference is not to undertake anything full-time, but to concentrate on my existing international commitments. These give me a lot of satisfaction. I also would like to spend some time writing. I have, in the past, written mostly on international affairs. I would like to reflect on the UN in the next book I write.

I’m also thinking of relocating to Kandy, where my wife and I grew up. I continue to be a Senior Adviser to the President, but that’s an honorary position. I’m very much on the periphery. I furnish advice and opinions, as and when necessary, on an ad-hoc basis.

Q: We still have a shell of a peace process left, but there is no change in the status quo. How can this situation be reversed, so that we see some forward movement?

A: First, one must welcome the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the SLFP and the UNP. The President must be given credit for securing a southern consensus. It is left to be seen how this MOU is translated into action, in terms of practical benefits to the country. Nevertheless, it’s a promising development. For the first time in the history of post-independent Sri Lanka, there’s the possibility of a consensus on the part of the southern polity.

I would like to see this emerge now as a practical proposal from the All Party Representatives Committee, a tangible constitutional arrangement in terms of a devolution package within a united Sri Lanka. While that process is going on, it’s difficult to expect the peace talks to reach any finality. These are interdependent processes.

I would also like to see a similar process on the part of the Tamil and Muslim communities. There is no doubt that there are divisions within the Tamil and Muslim communities. I would like to see the non-LTTE Tamil forces establish a coalition and provide the country with a clear idea of what an emerging consensus could be. For instance, Veerasingham Anandasangaree has mentioned the Indian model. Douglas Devananda has also endorsed it from time to time, while sometimes alluding to regional councils.

The Muslim Peace Secretariat was, unfortunately, confined to just two parties: the NUA and the SLMC. It should be more broad-based. I hope that these two parties will try to reorganise the Muslim Peace Secretariat and make it a forum to uphold Muslim interests, to produce a common platform. The Muslims are an important minority in the country. They have traditionally played a significant role, from ancient times. Now, in the making of modern Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic pluralist society, the Muslims have a vital role to play.

Once we have these three groups producing their own ideas, it will be much easier for us to have some sense of what can be done. In that context, the LTTE will have to formulate its own response to a democratic solution – one that will respect the human rights of everybody.

Q: Are you suggesting this as a road map?

A: They are building blocks towards a solution. What I admire about the Rajapakse approach is that he is building up these blocks before attempting a solution. You might come up with a very good plan, but if spoilers in the political process can prevent it from being implemented, you will find it blowing up in your face.

It is, therefore, much better to make sure that all Muslim opinion is integrated into a platform and that all Tamil opinion – outside the LTTE, because we know it is not in the democratic mainstream – is integrated into a platform.

If all this can then be accommodated in the solution that is being negotiated by the government, it would be a lot easier for us to arrive at a national solution which is acceptable to all.

I personally find that this process of negotiating peace in the glare of publicity – in Geneva or wherever else – is not necessarily the best way forward. I’m not proposing that talks be held secretly, but I think it’s a task for the technocrats to undertake – under the guidance, of course, of their political masters.

As with all international negotiations and other negotiations which have been successful in the past, technicians must start working outside the glare of publicity. They may then report back to the political leadership, whether it be the government or the LTTE. You can’t expect automatic solutions at a two-day meeting in Geneva or Oslo. I think there’s something very wrong in the modality that the Norwegians have proposed and I hope they move away from it.

Q: Isn’t it ominous that talks between the LTTE and the government keep failing?

A: I’m not overly pessimistic that bilateral peace talks between the LTTE and the government are not showing progress right now. What I am concerned about is the lack of peace in the country. The absence of a settlement, agreed upon between the LTTE and government in the short term, is not as important as the restoration of a complete ceasefire and a respect for human rights. In this regard, there has been a sharp deterioration in 2006.

We must return to a better implementation of the 2002 ceasefire, despite all the flaws in the agreement. You can also buttress the ceasefire with parallel human-rights monitoring.

There must be a way in which the Karuna group is given some role, so that it is brought within the discipline of the ceasefire. How that can be done must be discussed, but its members can’t be allowed to get away with violations of the ceasefire simply because they are anti-LTTE.

No violations of law and order can be tolerated by an elected government in a democratic country which holds the rule of law and human rights as fundamental foundations of the nation.

Q: Do you have practical suggestions for a better implementation of the ceasefire agreement?

A: I deplored the decision of the EU members of the SLMM to leave. That was a retrograde step. They could very well have relocated to Colombo and worked here in a reconfiguration of the SLMM. I hope they come back, even at this stage. We need to expand the number of monitors and they should be able to function smoothly. There have been numerous occasions when the LTTE has not permitted them, for example, to go to the airfield that it is suspected to be building. That should not have been tolerated.

As I have said, the ceasefire agreement of 2002 is deeply flawed. But we have to live with the flaws now, because renegotiating such a ceasefire agreement is a huge task. The LTTE will certainly not cooperate, because the current ceasefire agreement is in its favour.

What we can do is to build a parallel human-rights monitoring mechanism. The international community can insist that the LTTE and the government accept that mechanism. The government itself has subscribed to international agreements on human rights. We also have constitutional guarantees of human rights. All these should be a framework for human-rights monitoring that could take place with our own people and with international observers. That will help buttress the existing ceasefire agreement.

Q: How has concern over human rights had an impact on how we are currently viewed by the world?

A: From an understanding that we are victims of terrorism, there is now also a deep concern over two things. One is our failure to produce a concrete proposal to solve the minority problems in this country. The forging of the UNP-SLFP agreement has, to some extent, helped reduce that problem. But the other issue is that there have been a number of human-rights violations and breaches of the ceasefire, where suspicion points to the government. And there has not been sufficient action taken by the state to remove that suspicion or to determine who the culprits are. I think that has resulted in a very serious credibility problem for Sri Lanka, internationally. More seriously, we are losing the moral high ground.

While nobody is looking upon the LTTE as freedom fighters, our own credibility in fighting terrorism is being seriously eroded because of these human-rights violations that are perceived to have been committed by the government. If that perception is wrong, it’s up to us to prove that they’re wrong.

(Courtesy LMD Magazine)

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The prestigious ‘Sri Lankan Of The Year’ award was recently bestowed on high-powered diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala by LMD, at a black-tie event in Colombo. The long-serving ambassador was recognised for the outstanding contribution he has made to the nation in 2006, particularly for the impeccable campaign he ran as a contender for the post of UN Secretary-General.

Dhanapala is the career diplomat who was handpicked by outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take on the challenging job of Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. He was mandated to re-establish the Department of Disarmament after the UN reforms of 1997, and headed it from 1998 to 2003.

In addition to the numerous international offices he has held, Dhanapala also served as Sri Lanka’s Secretary-General for Coordinating the Peace Process, until November 2005. He then retired to concentrate on his candidature for post of UN Secretary-General, a campaign he engaged in "with dignity and decorum at all times", according to a spokesperson for LMD. When the fact of his standing for the highest UN office was announced, Dhanapala was a firm favourite – but due to intricacies of the UN system in these globally politically-complex times, he ended up at the rear of the field of main contenders. LMD’s ‘Sri Lankan Of The Year’ then graciously opted out of the race and paved the way for another Asian candidate – Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon –who eventually secured the job. However, as LMD observed at the presentation ceremony, recently – the reality is that in Dhanapala Sri Lanka had (and has) a man with the potential to be arguably the most influential person on the planet!

Despite his withdrawal from the UN race, Dhanapala returned home late last year with some victories, underscores LMD’s forthcoming issue. The widely-read business magazine notes: "Indeed, he didn’t win the race to succeed Kofi Annan as the new Secretary-General of the UN…in fact, he ended up at the rear of the field of main contenders, having started as a veritable firm favourite. It was a year of ups and downs, with the ‘Asian flag’ fluttering incessantly – its turn had come, we were told, even before the starter’s orders…but there were many detractors; amongst them, the most powerful nation on earth."

-The Island

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JAPAN: The Council of United Nations University, which met for its annual session earlier this month at UNU Centre in Tokyo, has elected Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka as UNU Council Chair, states a United Nations University press release.

Amb. Dhanapala, who currently serves as Senior Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka, has had a distinguished four-decade career as a diplomat, peace-builder and disarmament expert. In his role as UNU Council Chair, he succeeds Peter Katjavivi, the Republic of Namibia’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Council of United Nations University, which acts as the governing board of UNU, comprises 24 appointed members (who serve as individuals and not as representatives of their home countries), the Rector of UNU and 3 ex-officio members (the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research).

Amb. Dhanapala was appointed to the Council in May 2004 for a six-year term. With UNU Rector Hans van Ginkel planning to retire in 2007, Amb. Dhanapala’s selection as UNU Council Chair comes at a transitional period for the University, and he will play a key role in overseeing the changeover.

“I am deeply honoured to be elected to lead the UNU Council at this time of momentous change for UNU, the entire UN system and the world,” said Amb. Dhanapala.

-Daily News Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s unsuccessful candidate for the post of UN Chief said yesterday his candidacy had in no way adversely affected the stature of Sri Lanka in the international arena.

“We can all rest content that, although we did not achieve our goal, we conducted a professional and ethical campaign with transparency, dignity and respect. This is neither the time nor the place to analyze the causes for the failure of my campaign,” Jayantha Dhanapala said in a statement.

He said the Sri Lankan government, in close consultation with him, announced his withdrawal from the contest in the interests of securing a consensus around the most likely Asian candidacy of South Korea’s Ban Ki-Moon.

“I accept the decision of the international community with all respect and humility. I have already congratulated Secretary-General-elect Ban Ki-Moon — whom I have known for some years — on his victory, wishing him a fruitful tenure of office leading the UN to an ampler fulfillment of the Charter in the achievement of international peace and security, human rights and economic and social development.

Consistent with my long-held convictions I am personally delighted that a career diplomat has been elected from an Asian country which is not a nuclear weapon state and is about the same size and population as the states that have previously provided Secretaries-General to the UN,” Mr. Dhanapala said.

He said he was grateful for the consistent support and strong canvassing for his candidature by the former President, the current President, former Foreign Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar and Anura Bandaranaike and the present Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. -Daily Mirror

by Namini Wijedasa

Jayantha Dhanapala, who pulled out his candidacy for the post of UN secretary-general, said yesterday that withdrawing had been "the right thing to do at the right moment in the interest of securing a consensus around an Asian candidate".

"Naturally, one is disappointed that the international community did not recognise my experience and qualifications, which were readily conceded by everybody," Dhanapala told the Sunday Island, on his return to Sri Lanka. "It seems to me that decisions (at the Security Council) are more politics-based than merit-based… and I think analysing the politics of it must wait a while."

"I am content that we conducted a very professional, dignified, ethics-based and low-budget campaign focusing on my merits as a candidate," he added. "A withdrawal at this stage was the right thing to do at the right moment in the interest of securing a consensus around an Asian candidate, which has been our principled position from the beginning."

Asked whether the entry of Indian candidate Shashi Tharoor into the race had cobbled his chances, Dhanapala replied: "The absence of a South Asia consensus was certainly a deficiency in my campaign. I don’t think it helped India or Sri Lanka."

He also said that South Korea was a country which had the size and population fitting the profile of countries that have provided secretaries-general in the past.

Dhanapala also had to contend with a concentrated LTTE campaign against him while the political and military situation in the country had attracted considerable attention. "The situation in the country got a disproportionate amount of attention while similar events were also occurring in Kashmir, Assam, Gujarat and southern Thailand," he commented.

"Right now I’m planning to have a long rest," Dhanapala said, when questioned about future plans. "I will continue with my international obligations while mulling over my future plans."

Dhanapala declined to make a more detailed statement—or analysis of the politics behind his poor performance at Security Council straw polls—saying this would come later. "I think it is premature for an analysis of the reasons," he said. "I will make a detailed statement after the election process is completed."

"I would like to thank President Mahinda Rajapakse for his unwavering support of my candidature, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera for his hard work and tireless canvassing on my behalf, to the foreign ministry staff led by the able Foreign Secretary S. Palhikaara, and to all our diplomatic missions, especially to those accredited to the UN in New York and Geneva," Dhanapala said.

by Jayantha Dhanapala

There are two contrasting job descriptions of the post of Secretary-General (SG) of the United Nations which falls vacant at the end of this year. One is by the first incumbent of this position, Trygve Lie of Norway, who famously called it "the most impossible job in the world". The other is by the first, and so far only, Asian SG – U Thant of Myanmar (formerly Burma) – who wrote, "The Secretary-Generalship is not the most impossible job in the world, although it is certainly one of the most difficult. It is without any question one of the most rewarding."

It would be all too facile and fallacious to draw conclusions from this contrast. It is not a question of hardheaded Western pragmatism versus philosophical Eastern equanimity. Both men worked at the UN during the Cold War era. Trygve Lie was forced to resign because of Soviet antagonism while U Thant declined unanimous offers of a third term. Was it because U Thant was content to be more Secretary than General or was he a more consummate diplomat harmonizing the competing interests of the two super-powers of the time?

Today, times have changed. The Cold war is over. Yet we do have the countervailing imperatives of a unipolar world on the one hand, with one super power possessing an accumulation of military, political, economic and ‘soft’ power on a global scale that is unprecedented in human history. On the other hand, we have a globalized world of rising expectations in a highly integrated political and economic world order where multilateralism is an indispensable foreign policy option for the mighty and the meek and for the rich and the poor. At the apex of this multilateral system is the 61 year old United Nations politically paralyzed when the Permanent Five of the Security Council (P5) disagree – as in the case of Iraq in 2003 – but remarkably effective when they do agree. Based on universally shared values the UN has set and monitored the implementation of norms in a wide range of fields from human rights to international trade. It has been at the forefront in peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, development policy and many other areas affecting the daily lives of people.

So how important is the choice of the next SG of this world body that everybody wants to reform? Some loudly lament the absence of a formal job description. Do we make the incumbent more effective by spelling out his complex duties? How many incompetent Presidents or unpopular Prime Ministers would have performed better if their written or unwritten constitutions had fleshed out their functions? Do the times determine the job or does the jobholder influence the manner in which the duties are discharged? What qualifications and experience are we looking for or is it, as one veteran UN observer has recently written, mainly a matter of "character and potential"? And if so how do you judge that? By common consent no one has enlarged the scope and stature of the job as much as Dag Hammarskjold (1953-61) did. Was his exemplary character pre-judged? Succeeding him, U Thant (1961-71) brought the UN into calmer waters despite the Vietnam War focussing on what the UN can do rather on what it could not. Was it foreseen that he would be the SG that he turned out to be?

Then there is the procedure for the election on which many views have been expressed. Should it be more transparent and should not the General Assembly have more control? Should the candidates present manicured manifestos and engage in a US Presidential campaign style extravaganza or should they be shrinking violets waiting coyly in the wings till the call comes?

All pertinent questions. Today, those disillusioned by the sullied reputation of the UN seek a Superman as the next SG. The media speculates wildly about past Presidents and current Prime Ministers forgetting that those elected on national mandates are more likely to be Generals than Secretaries. The UN system has already had many such square pegs in round holes. Perhaps what the UN needs today is what it has always needed – a SG who is a tried and tested diplomat with versatility and gravitas derived from experience, a flexible and modest temperament and the limitless patience of a consensus builder. We need someone who will be more of a steady moral compass than a flamboyant political weathercock. History has proved that the Charter’s Article 100 requirement for impartiality is more achievable with the citizens of smaller countries with the least amount of accompanied national baggage of territorial and other disputes in their international relations. We need a strong manager who will delegate and yet be finally the person where the buck stops. And yes – even if it is an oxymoron – we need a practical idealist.

The limitations of the job are well known. 192 sovereign states are unlikely to yield more power or latitude to the office of the SG. Nor will the Security Council be pursuaded to act speedily however often and urgently the SG draws their attention to situations threatening international peace and security under Article 99. Resources will remain unpredictable and limited. Smooth relations with the host country and largest contributor to the Budget are a sine qua non. The SG will remain the lightning conductor when things go wrong whether it is because of what the Security Council, General Assembly or some other part of the complex UN system did or did not do.

The choice will be made in a few weeks. Already some transparency in the process is evident as candidates are scrutinized by civil society and the media. And yet doubts remain about the process. Will new candidates enter the race dodging critical appraisal? Will the choice be made on the basis of realpolitik among the P 5? Will bilateral relations and the propensity for building strategic partnerships, enhanced economic investment, aid and trade between the voter country and the voted individual’s state be the criteria? Or will it be confined to the record of achievements and proven abilities of the candidates? Only time will tell.

(Jayantha Dhanapala is Sri Lanka’s candidate for the post of Secretary-General. He is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA and a former UN Under-Secretary-General)

via… The Island

“UNSGslection.org is the website of a campaign organized by a group of Non-governmental organisations calling for a more democratic, transparent and effective selection process that will ensure the appointment of the most qualified candidates as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Among the NGOs are Amnesty International, Third World Network, Equality Now and the World Federalist Movement – Institute of Global Policy. On August 11 a Questionnaire of 14 groups of questions was submitted by them to all four declared candidates. Jayanatha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka was the first to respond followed by India. The responses of the other two candidates are still being awaited.

Here are the questions and answers from Jayantha Dhanapala. (more…)

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