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British Prime Minister Sunak Britain’s Obama Moment?

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The parallels between the recent rise to premiership of the United Kingdom of Rishi Sunak and the election to the presidency of the United States of Barack Obama in 2008 bear a few similarities. They also represent the differences in the circumstances by which leadership could be achieved in two of the leading democracies in the world; similarities and differences both personal and national.The main personal and national similarity is that both Sunak and Obama were the first heads of state of countries never previously been so adorned by men of colour. They were both young when they took on the mantle of leadership. Sunak is 42-years old now. Obama was 47 when he was first elected to the presidency.

They are both highly educated. Sunak got his first degree at Worcester College, Oxford and an MBA on a Fulbright Scholarship at Stanford University in California. Obama earned his degrees from the Universities of Columbia and Harvard Law School. They are both extremely good-looking. In fact, Sunak is known as Dishy Rishi, and Obama has always been considered to be attractive by the opposite sex. Coincidentally, both their fathers were born and raised in Kenya, though of different ethnicities. And, probably most importantly, each have the great good fortune of being blessed with two lovely daughters.

Sunak being elevated to be the occupant of No. 10, Downing Street would have that infamous Indian hater, Winston Churchill spinning violently in his grave. He was the first British Prime Minister to vociferously bemoan the disintegration of the British Empire, especially its crown jewel, India. Obama’s election to the US presidency would have evoked a similar upheaval in the grave of Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States from 1861 till the end of the Civil War in 1865, who publicly decried the Emancipation Proclamation, by which Lincoln granted freedom to all slaves in the United States of America.

The similarities seem to end there. Although they both had brilliant academic careers, the routes which got them their education differed greatly both in family circumstances and the systems of education in England and the United States.

Sunak is a first generation Britisher, born in Southampton in 1980; his parents were of Indian origin, having emigrated to England from East Africa in the 1960s. His father was a doctor and his mother ran her own pharmacy; good upper middle-class stock able to send their son to Winchester College, one of the leading – and most expensive – private schools in England and then to the University of Oxford.

Obama is a first generation American, born in Hawaii, to a Kenyan father and a white American woman from Kansas. Barack Obama Snr. won a scholarship to study in America. He met his wife, Obama’s mother, while they were both studying at the University of Hawaii. Obama’s parents divorced in 1964, when he was two years old. After his graduation from the University of Hawaii, Obama Snr. went on to Harvard to study for a doctoral program in economics. He went back to Kenya after completing his Master’s degree, to become a senior economist in the Kenyan government.

Junior’s mother remarried another foreign student from Indonesia, and Barack spent a couple of his formative years at a government-run school in Jakarta. He returned to Hawaii in 1971, lived with his grandparents and graduated from an elite preparatory academy in Honolulu. He then attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, transferred to Columbia University in New York, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Barack went on to Harvard Law School for his Juris Doctor (JD). After a few years of study of literature and philosophy, while serving as a writer and editor for a publisher, he decided to enter politics in 1985, serving as a community organizer in Chicago. He was elected to the US Senate in 2004.

A career totally different from that of Sunak, who, after Stanford and Oxford, worked at Goldman Sachs and then moved onto Hedge Fund management. He entered politics, being elected as an MP to a safe Conservative seat in north Yorkshire in 2015. Sunak had a rapid rise in the Conservative Party, being appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) by Boris Johnson in 2020.

Their wives could not be more different. Michelle Robinson was the descendant of African slaves, who grew up as part of a working-class family in a poor neighbourhood in the South Side of Chicago. The family lived in a one-roomed apartment. She shared her “bedroom” – which was the living room split down the center – with her brother. Michelle’s father, Fraser Robinson, suffered from multiple sclerosis, worked as a city pump operator, and never missed a day of work. He ingrained into his children the values of achievement through hard work. Michelle excelled in her secondary education, and then followed her brother, Craig with a scholarship to Princeton University. She went on to get her law degree at Harvard University, returned home to Chicago, where she met Barack. They were married in 1992 when Obama was working as a community organizer for the Democratic Party in the South Side of Chicago.

Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, is the daughter of Indian billionaire, Narayan Murthy, the founder of Infosys, who has often been dubbed as the Bill Gates of India. She went on to study economics and French at a private liberal college in Claremont, California. She met Sunak while they were both studying at Stanford. She is the heiress to a fortune, worth billions. They were married in a simple but elegant ceremony in Bangalore in 2009. Rishi Sunak is said to be the richest politician in Britain.

At least, he was a rich man before he became the Prime Minister, unlike many Sri Lankans who held that coveted office. From rags to red sashes is the thought that comes to mind when talking about our politics.As for their religions, Sunak is a practicing Hindu, Obama is a Christian. England pays no heed to one’s religion as a requirement for any job, including Prime Minister. In fact, when a reporter questioned a British Prime Minister in the 90s about his religion, I may be wrong but I think it was Blair, his response was “that’s none of your bloody business.”

As we all know, it would be impossible to win the US presidency without placing one hand on the Bible, the other holding an AR15 military style rifle. Sunak and Obama inherited near recession economies. Obama rose to the challenge, and ran a progressive, scandal free, two-term administration, which saw a thriving economy, ending with 72 months of growth and the lowest unemployment figures in history. Through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he gave health-care insurance to over 30 million hitherto uninsured Americans. All this achieved despite a hostile and confrontational Republican majority in Congress.

Time will only tell what economic and political strategies Sunak will use to pull Britain out of its current economic malaise. Being a lifelong Conservative, these will almost certainly not be the progressive measures which helped Obama to get out of the near recession he inherited from Bush.

Sunak is a Conservative, at a time when both his Party and the British economy are fractured. He doesn’t represent change, hope or success against the odds as Obama did a decade ago. A formidable task of rescue awaits him, for which his seven-year career in national politics has hardly prepared him. The truncated nature of his period as Prime Minister – the next British general election will be held no later than January 2025 – won’t give him sufficient time to address, much less solve the immediate problems facing the British economy. Also, with a divided Conservative Party, the task of remaining in power over the next two years, and so avoiding the possibility of No. 10 Downing Street having a revolving door, highlighted by the recent departures of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, will be formidable.In any event, Ms Truss can truthfully boast that her 44 days as the British Prime Minister spanned two monarchies!

Mr. Sunak has one advantage over the Americans, in racism against minorities and coloured people. Britain and America were both apologetically racist as late as in the 1960s. Though racism still exists in Britain, it has evolved to be far more muted. I have no doubt that there are white supremacists longing for the good old days when Britain ruled the world. But it certainly has not grown into the virulent post-Trump, racist monstrosity that represents fascism and white supremacy currently dominating the United States.

Britain surely will not have a Hitler moment that is threatening to destroy democracy. They have, by and large, racially evolved and accepted the diverse reality of their country. In any event, Sunak is more British than the British. His ultimate departure from office will not end in the pathological resentment and fear in America, caused by Obama’s successful presidency, which has led to the racial violence by white Americans terrified of losing the centuries-long privileges they have enjoyed.

We will know the fate of America’s future at the midterm elections on November 8. My most fervent hope, against all polls, is that a sufficient majority of decent American people will understand the real and present danger to the nation presented by Trump and his white supremacist cult; that they will come out in droves and vote to wipe out an armed, violent and bigoted Republican Party.

Whatever the result will be, whichever Party will be elected to control one or both Houses in Congress on November 8, it is certain that there will be widespread allegations of voter fraud with the inevitable violence in the streets. That political violence has already begun with the recent brutal, Trump-motivated attack on Speaker Pelosis’s 82-year-old husband in San Francisco.

As Sonia Sodha, London Observer columnist writes, “Ultimately, I am not sure it is any less bigoted to apply benevolent rather than malevolent stereotypes to Asian and black people. It undermines the goal of a society where the colour of someone’s skin isn’t worth commenting on because it genuinely no longer matters…. when we understand that our common humanity encompasses the good and the bad.”

That indeed is the noble goal, the achievement of which, on present form, is in the long-distant future for the United States of America. If ever. But hopefully doable in the United Kingdom as they continue to emulate the progressive, socially and economically just policies of developed nations in Europe and beyond.



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HSBC appoints new Country Head of Wholesale Banking for Sri Lanka and Maldives

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HSBC Sri Lanka has appointed Kevin Green as the new Country Head of Wholesale Banking for Sri Lanka and Maldives with effect from 1 November 2022.Kevin has been with the HSBC Group for over 24 years and has held several senior positions in commercial banking, retail banking and risk management.

Prior to taking on his new role, Kevin was the Country Head of Wholesale Banking in HSBC Bangladesh, and prior to that he was the Chief Risk Officer for HSBC Vietnam.Kevin will lead the bank’s Wholesale Banking business in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, supporting corporate banking clients. He will lead a dynamic team of professionals to provide tailored solutions and services to customers and ensure the continued growth of the business.

Kevin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from the University of Warwick and a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services from the University of Manchester. He is also an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers.

Commenting on the appointment, Mark Surgenor, Chief Executive Officer for HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives, said “As the leading international bank in Sri Lanka and with a presence in 63 markets globally, we want to open up a world of opportunity for our internationally minded clients. Therefore, I am pleased to bring in an experienced leader like Kevin to lead our Wholesale Banking operations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. This is further evidence of our commitment to invest in the country and to support our clients. I am confident that Kevin’s extensive experience with HSBC Group will be an advantage to both our clients and colleagues, and further support the banks efforts towards economic growth of the country.”

HSBC, as the leading international bank has enjoyed a longstanding presence in Sri Lanka having completed 130 years of operations this year. The bank will continue to support Sri Lankan clients to connect globally and will continue to play a key role in supporting local businesses looking to expand across international markets by leveraging its global footprint and expertise in international trade, global payment services, sustainable finance and other financial services, whilst supporting its people and communities.

HSBC was recognised with the Sri Lanka International Initiative of the Year, won by Wholesale Banking for the dynamism, uniqueness, effectiveness & impact in green financing, for its first corporate ‘Green Loan’ for USD 6.3mn to Eco Spindles that was awarded by Asian Banking & Finance, this year. The bank was also named Best International Bank in Sri Lanka by Asiamoney, International Retail Bank of the Year by Asian Banking and Finance and Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka by Global Finance for 2022.

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Sri Lanka Red Cross Society launches ‘Elixir’ to match donation in aid of medical requirements

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The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society launched Sri Lanka’s first-ever medical-supply-to-donation matching platform on October 19, 2022, called the Elixir Platform. The initiative is a volunteer-run, private-public-private partnership under the aegis of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, and allows hospitals and treatment centres from across Sri Lanka to register their requirements for lifesaving medicines and medical supplies that may be in short supply, due to the country’s ongoing economic and foreign exchange crises. ‘Elixir’ also provides a single streamlined interface for donors who would like to support Sri Lanka at this time. By having all requirements and donations coming in via a unified and seamless platform, ‘Elixir’ can then match requirements and donations for efficient use of funds and time, while also reducing the total turnaround time for assistance and increasing transparency.

Designed and operated by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, together with its global network of volunteers and professionals, and in partnership with the Sri Lanka Medical Supplies Division of the Ministry of Health, the Elixir Platform is a huge collaborative undertaking to help Sri Lanka overcome the shortage of lifesaving medicines due to the present economic crisis.

Discussing the initiative, Dr Mahesh Gunasekara, Director General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society said, “First, we must express our sincere gratitude to all the donors, including individuals, corporations and governments, who have come to Sri Lanka’s aid at this time of need. With a large number of donations, we found that it was becoming challenging to track and fulfil medical needs across the system and prioritize based on urgency. Other challenges including oversupply due to duplicative efforts, high costs due to not utilizing economies of scale, internal competition for donations and other issues have arisen, along with a lack of transparency. Thus, ‘Elixir’ is our answer to these problems, and will facilitate transparency and accountability throughout the entire supply chain for the benefit of all stakeholders. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, I take this opportunity to thank all volunteers and partners in this endeavour. Elixir is truly a landmark achievement and we look forward to supporting Sri Lanka as it overcomes its present challenges.”

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Seylan World Mastercard cardholder offers

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Marking its most recent effort to reward its loyal customers, Seylan Cards recently announced the launch of an exclusive promotion for the benefit of all Seylan World Mastercard cardholders.

One lucky Seylan World Mastercard cardholder will receive an Omega timepiece worth over Rs. 2 million at the end of the promotion period. Founded in 1848, Omega is a Swiss watch brand synonymous with excellence, innovation and precision. Given that the brand’s history has been dedicated to a quest for perfection, such a prize is expected to appeal to the elite Seylan World Mastercard cardholders. In order to stand a chance to win, cardholders must spend a cumulative total of Rs. 1 million during the promotion period until the 15th of December 2022.

As the festive season approaches, Seylan Cards has aptly timed this promotion in an effort to reward cardholders as they complete their Christmas shopping lists. Since both local and international spends are valid for the draw, cardholders travelling overseas could purchase their air tickets and shop overseas to benefit from current exchange rates.

Cardholders are also encouraged to utilise their Seylan World Mastercard card for high value spends on items such as jewellery or even solar power installations to reach the Rs. 1 million threshold to enter the draw.

As Seylan World Mastercard cards are limited to an exclusive number of members, the chances of winning the luxury timepiece are much higher, and is a unique opportunity that should not be missed.As the essential card for essential needs, several merchants offer Seylan Cardholders special discounts and easy payment facilities with 0% interest. Anyone interested in obtaining a Seylan Card is encouraged to call the hotline on 011 2008 888.

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