Over the last week the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka has been subject to a spate of attacks by those who are irritated that we continue to support the current government. The attacks now take the form of the claim that we are letting down our Founder, Chanaka Amaratunga, in supporting a regime that is not concerned with Human Rights.

The most sustained attack has come from Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission. In addition to a snide article in the Sri Lanka Guardian, he and his boss, Jack Clancey, have roused the Hongkong lawyer and politician Martin Lee to launch a massive attack on both the Sri Lankan Liberal Party and myself.

Martin Lee of Hong Kong

Typically, Mr Lee’s letter reproduces material from Mr Fernando’s article, and angrily attacks me by name (which Mr Fernando had graciously refrained from doing) in claiming that adherence to liberal principles ‘seems to have disappeared since the formation of a new government in 2005 with Mahinda Rajapaksha as President’. Mr Lee may be forgiven for his stunning ignorance of the Sri Lankan situation since, though he quotes from my writings at length, he does not seem to have actually read them. He claims now to have not known till recently that I worked for the government. CALD had been informed of this, and passed an appropriate resolution on Sri Lanka a couple of years back in which it affirmed its opposition to terrorism whilst welcoming efforts at a pluralistic solution.   

Martin Lee obviously was not interested in this country, until he was roused by Mr Clancey. Fortunately his effort to have the CALD Education Conference cancelled or boycotted seems to have been rejected by our Asian and European partners. We need not therefore bother about him, since ignorance, though culpable if excessive and accompanied by sanctimoniousness, is not as bad as hypocrisy.

Basil Fernando however is either cynically hypocritical, or else he has forgotten about Chanaka’s support for President Premadasa, who was not high on Mr Fernando’s list of liberal democrats. Indeed Mr Fernando has told me he had to flee Sri Lanka for his life during what he still considers the UNP reign of terror. Though it is possible that his particular ordeal occurred during President Jayewardene’s term in office, he was certainly hard on President Premadasa too, and never thought evidently of returning to work in Sri Lanka.

Even more entertainingly, Mr Fernando’s article comparing Chanaka’s loyalty to the shortcomings of liberals now is being circulated by those who actually left the Liberal Party in 1991 in protest at Chanaka’s desire to move to an alliance with President Premadasa. I was initially in two minds about this myself, and they told me later that they had expected me to resign with them, but in the end I felt that Chanaka was right. This is not a decision I have regretted, because in politics one needs to work with those who will ensure a better future for the country whilst being committed to democracy and pluralism. President Premadasa never shirked elections, he was tough on terror, he worked well with the minorities and he promoted development.  

President Rajapakse is doing a much better job in all these areas, and he is doing it without the initial mistakes that made the decision to support President Premadasa a difficult one. I have long thought however that President Premadasa was initially ruined, as indeed Ranil Wickremesinghe was, by having to develop as a politician under President Jayewardene who was crafty, cynical and controlled everything. President Rajapakse had no such problem. Apart from his long experience in politics before President Kumaratunga came on the scene, he was fortunate in that she was both a much nicer person than President Jayewardene and also much less effective.

I am proud therefore to be associated with this government. I can sympathize however with those who will not touch anything that is not totally perfect, and who therefore reject both President Premadasa and President Rajapakse, and dream perhaps of a government led by Wickramabahu Karunaratne. Idealism that trumps judgment cannot be condemned, however silly it might seem. But since this sanctimonious brigade promoted the candidature of General Sarath Fonseka, it would seem that they have neither ideals nor judgment. And when they suggest that we now in the Liberal Party, who supported Chanaka’s call in 1991, albeit not without discussion and argument as befits such a party, are letting him down, it is clear that we have to deal with unashamed subjectivity.

I hope later to assess the mindset of those who ended up riding on the General’s bandwagon, even though initially they were horrified at the thought of such a candidacy. It is an interesting question as to whether they are morally more reprehensible than those denizens of Colombo High Society who did not think twice, but clutched at anything that might have helped them to get rid of this government. But meanwhile the crocodile tears of those who harassed Chanaka while he lived provide in themselves an interesting case study of the capacity of apparent intellectuals to remember nothing of history, to forget nothing of their inbuilt hostility to governments focused on the people.