Summits & beauty contests: Same, up to a point

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 19, 2013
Miss World

China’s ZiLin Zhang, who became Miss World 2007. It is the oldest, surviving, major international beauty pageant

What’s the difference between a political summit and a beauty contest? The second picks a winner, who almost always wants to be like Mother Teresa. Other than that, both are performances, staged to impress, with a lot of sashaying, preening, prinking and pancake make-up.

The parallels were fairly obvious at Monday’s opening session of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community summit, here in the Haitian capital, Port au Prince. A minor triumph for Haiti that it was trusted to hold it, 11 years after joining CARICOM – so perhaps the preening was entirely right and proper. There was a bit of pancake make-up on the dusty, disordered streets of Port au Prince, particularly its toniest part, Petionville, where the summit was held at a major hotel. And Haiti’s irrepressible President Martelly sashayed as he welcomed 11 heads of government to his higgledy-piggledy capital. The substance was, to quote Khruschev, the usual stuff of policy posturing: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges, even where there are no rivers”.

But to return to the subject of summits and beauty contests. Here’s one crucial difference, I can offer from years of covering the Miss World pageant – not a personal choice, just part of the job as The Times of India’s London correspondent: beauty contests have a defined beginning and an end and generally know what will go in between (say, commercial breaks, photo-ops). Haiti’s CARICOM summit didn’t have a clear start time, a defined schedule or a discernible agenda till it started. And unlike a beauty pageant, there was no clear winner, at least not on day one.