I'm a politician who loves election days - the campaigning stops and the voter makes their choice at the ballot box, but on the 17th September I swapped my rosette for a high vis jacket with 'observer' on the back. My job was not to persuade people who to vote for, but watch the election process as Fiji went to the polls for the first time since the 2006 coup.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been in London this week as the honoured guest of the Commonwealth Business Council. Yet just 10 weeks ago President Museveni made it punishable by life imprisonment to be a lesbian or gay man in his country. Anybody daring even to speak up for the rights of LGBT citizens can now go to jail for seven years.
Soft power can influence others to want the same things as the UK "by building positive international relationships and coalitions which defend our interests and security, uphold our national reputation and promote our trade and prosperity." The report also says it should be carefully combined with hard power, essentially military force, to form "smart power."
This government has made no secret of its strong support for the Commonwealth. But no institution today can be complacent. People rightly want to know why institutions exist and what they achieve. The European Union is familiar with this sort of scrutiny - and in recent times, the UK and others across Europe have been asking how it can become more competitive, more flexible and more democratically accountable. The Commonwealth's challenge is very different. It has to explain to all of us how it can be relevant to us in a 21st century world, a world of competing bodies and organisations covering every area of international activity.
As the British government seeks to ensure that centenary activities fully mark the contribution of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers, can it find common ground to reflect Australian and Canadian pride in the birth of a nation, Indian and Pakistani concerns about getting the form of recognition right, and South African scepticism about the contemporary relevance of a conflict fought between long lost Empires?
For Rajapaksa and his government, it is obviously a privilege to be hosting CHOGM - a surprising choice, by any measure, given the country's dismal human rights track record, including disappearances, war crimes and what a UN report described as "a grave assault on the entire regime of international law". Rajapaksa wants to ensure that the Sri Lankan government comes out of this with reputation enhanced.
Commonwealth leaders from around the world meet in Sri Lanka on Friday. Yet again they plan to ignore the criminalisation of lesbian and gay people in 80% of Commonwealth member states. They are refusing to even discuss the current homophobic persecution in Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda and Nigeria... At least 41 of the 53 Commonwealth member states still criminalise homosexuality. They account for more than half of the world's countries where same-sex relations are illegal.
The Sri Lankan Government had also previously asked the Malaysian Government to ban the showing of No Fire Zone. Len Hendry of the Malaysian Human Rights organisation Pusat Komas appeared in court and was charged with organizing the screening. She faces a maximum of three years in jail if convicted.
As Boris Johnson highlighted, the historical and contemporary links between Britain and Australia have cultivated a deep cultural and emotional connection. Based on current evidence, there is plenty to suggest that a deep and valuable economic connection between the two also exists and is evolving. By working together to explore and strengthen this connection, we can re-establish our positions as world leading economies.
A heavily worked phrase used by the tourist industry is to describe a particular destination as a "country of contrast". Sri Lanka is surely such a country - at one level a popular tourist destination... In contrast it also detains its citizens without trial, restricts freedom of expression, arrests members of the judiciary, stands accused of committing war crimes and routinely tortures.
For the UK, the G8 seems to serve as a symbol of continuing angst about this country's relative position globally, the nature of our own influence and the direction in which we are heading. The idea of the G8 as a collection of twentieth-century powers with ever-diminishing relevance and power seems to fit the UK perfectly.