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Learning English   

This is an extract from a book for Learners of English. A selection of books which may be downloaded can be found on the website of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka ( in the English and Education Section. Books which are still in print may be obtained from International Book House, 151 A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 7.

Below  is the first Unit of the Grade 6 Junior English Textbook published by International Book House for the use of Sri Lankan students. As noted in the introduction,    

this book explains elements of English in a manner that will help both students and teachers to understand what they learn and teach. ..    

Each unit contains one or more reading texts, on which several exercises are based. Pre-reading questions are given in some instances, and … writing tasks should be given due attention and … Each unit also includes a Conversation section, which avoids the familiar practice of setting out a dialogue which students learn by rote. Students should first develop understanding of the speech patterns they use, and for this purpose they should first fill in the blanks as indicated. Initially much help may be required, and group work may be desirable….Teachers are also advised, on the pattern of the texts included here, to encourage active learning of useful subjects… including matters of wider interest that will be useful for students in the future.Read the rest of this entry »

John Galsworthy (14 August 1867 – 31 January 1933)

In quoting David Cecil last week about Agatha Christie, it was brought home to me quite clearly that I had omitted previously in this series the writer he had noted first as being amongst the most distinguished of his generation.  Reflecting on my motive for this, I realized that it was essentially laziness, an unwillingness to read again through a text before I began writing.

For all the writers I had covered previously, memory has been sufficient, supplemented on occasion by reference to a particular work. But in Galsworthy’s case I realized I had forgotten almost everything about his work, save only the highlight of the first novel in his epic series ‘The Forsyte Saga’. This was sad, because I remember having been quite impressed with all his work, when I first read him.

That had been at the behest of my great aunt Ida, who much loved the British and had worried in the sixties that I knew nothing of the writers of her youth. Earlier my father, disappointed that my voracious reading was confined to Enid Blyton and C S Lewis and suchlike, had drawn attention to my lack of interest in Shakespeare and the Victorians. A determination to prove him wrong soon became a pleasurable obsession, and these then became the staples of my teens – except indeed for Dickens, whose joys I only properly understood nearly a decade later. But in those early years I had found Galsworthy also fun, reading him from cover to cover in the old Government Agent’s Lodge in Kandy, so much so that, a few years later, thinking about my doctoral thesis, I had contemplated a comparison of his epics and those of Trollope.

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Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975)

Rereading books one has enjoyed can be enormous fun. Sadly, due to some sort of residual streak of puritanism, a feeling that one should be getting on with new things, this is not a pleasure I often allow myself.

Fortunately a collection of circumstances last week allowed for a change of perspective. First was the need to read again a novel by Galsworthy, which turned out to be particularly illuminating. Second was a bad attack of flu, convalescence from which required activity that was not too demanding. And finally, there was a decision to bring out a book based on these essays, which endowed preparation for them with the sanctity of productive work. Since I had less to occupy myself with currently than at any time over the last few years, rereading Wodehouse and others of that ilk seemed then positively a virtue.

Wodehouse, I must admit, has not been someone who commanded my devotion, as he does that of others with more distinguished literary credentials than my own. It was Yasmine Gooneratne who first suggested that I include Wodehouse in this series, and she has kindly supplied me with a draft chart of links between the various characters who appear in the Jeeves books.

Jeeves, for those very few who might not have read Wodehouse but are still interested in this series, is the endlessly resourceful manservant of Bertie Wooster, the narrator and principal character of fourteen Wodehouse books. Bertie is a classic upper class twit, who has no ambitions and little intellect, but is full of loyalty to his friends, chivalry towards ladies, and a healthy appetite for good food and much drink. He made his first appearance in 1923 and hardly changed in the fifty years that passed before the last book in which he features, ‘Aunts aren’t Gentlemen’.

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Speech at the felicitation of Senator Jovi Salonga by the

Philippine Liberal Party and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

On the occasion of the inauguration of

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

Let me begin by thanking the Philippine Liberal Party, and so many of its Presidents gathered here, for sharing such a memorable occasion with your fellow members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. Today is really a great day for us external  delegates because, while all of you members of the Philippine Liberal Party  have had the pleasure of knowing and listening to Senator Salonga previously, some of us knew him before only by reputation. When I was young, many years ago, we had certain icons of Asian Democracy and, amongst these, all the names that we heard of during the struggle against the Marcos regime have always reverberated in my mind.

So it is an extreme pleasure today to have been able to meet one of the shining stars of that time. And then, a few years later, following the replacement of Marcos by President Corazon Aquino, we also had the situation where, after the restoration of democracy, many of us thrilled to the struggle for national liberation which still continued. At that time the name of Senator Salonga became synonymous with the decision of the Philippines to ask the Americans very politely to leave the bases they had owned here previously. And let me say that I think those steps were very important, because what I might call the more civilized nature of western engagement with the third world springs from decisions like that. You remember the support which was highlighted  today that America gave to regimes like that of President Marcos in the old days when democratic values did not matter in comparison with partisan support, In such a context we had to say that we wanted more from what was supposed to be an alliance, we need to work with you, but we need to work with you on our terms, not on yours.

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On behalf of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), let me convey greetings and warm felicitations to participants at the conference on “Asian Liberal Parties in Power: Getting There, Remaining There”.

It is eminently suitable that we meet here in Manila for this event, given the success of our friends from the Liberal Party of the Philippines in the recent elections. The landslide victory of Noynoy Aquino in the presidential race signals the return of the party to government after half a century, and also, more importantly, heralds a new beginning for the Filipino nation.

In congratulating him, we must also congratulate the Filipino people for their commitment to the democratic process and for choosing the path of progress and change. Under the leadership of the Liberal Party, the prospect is bright for the Philippines to achieve economic growth and social justice so that all citizens can enjoy democracy and its fruits.

As we celebrate with our Filipino liberal friends, let us not forget the liberal gains in other parts of the globe. In Europe, in the Americas and in the rest of Asia, liberal parties and individuals are also entering governments on their own or in coalition with other parties. This development is significant for it provides liberal individuals and parties an opportunity to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and the rule of law all over the world.

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Junius Richard Jayewardene - 2nd President of Sri Lanka. In office February 4, 1978 – January 2, 1989.

Election systems

Sri Lanka has in fact been singularly unlucky in the election systems it has adopted over the years. Initially we had the first past the post system used in Britain, whereby the country was divided into constituencies, which elected members by simple majority. There were just a few constituencies which had more than one member, a system designed to ensure representation of different communities where they were mixed up together so that two separate constituencies would not have served the purpose. Thus Akurana usually returned one Sinhala and one Muslim member, while Nuwara Eliya, which became a multi-member constituency for the 1977 election, had one representative each of the UNP, the SLFP and the CWC.

In general however the philosophy was that the winner, by however small a margin, took all. In Britain, the effect of this is mitigated in the country at large in that there are certain constituencies which always stay with one party, so that the party that loses the election still generally has substantial strength in parliament. In Sri Lanka however, where most constituencies are what are termed marginals, ie a small shift either way changes the result, the two major parties found themselves reduced to very small numbers when they lost an election. Thus the UNP got 8 seats out of 101 in 1956 and 17 out of 157 in 1970, while the SLFP had 8 out of 168 in 1977. The party that won conversely had a massive majority, even though its share of the national vote was just around 50%.

Both in 1970 and in 1977 these massive majorities enabled the party in power to do virtually anything it wanted, including the introduction of new constitutions that represented only their own desires, and the extension of the term of parliament. It is conceivable that in 1970 those who perpetrated this injustice actually believed in the slogan that Parliament was supreme, in that it represented the people. The Constitutional principle that representatives elected by the people for a particular period cannot deprive the people of their basic rights was not recognized in those days.

J R Jayewardene however, who presided over the 1977 government and its majoritarian excesses, understood himself the need for better representation and more safeguards, and in his new constitution he introduced proportional representation. For the future he instituted an election system whereby voting was by district, with the quota of seats for the district divided according to the proportion of votes each party got within that district as a whole. On that system a majority of two thirds in Parliament would have represented a high proportion of the population, so allowing certain measures to be passed by such a majority would have been based on their having the support of representatives of well over half the people. However he passed several measures with the two thirds majority he had obtained under the earlier system, including a bill to amend the constitution to extend the life of that parliament by a further six years.

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I am happy to contribute a message to the 2009 Annual Report of CALD. Founded over a decade and a half ago by a few young liberal political leaders from Asia, the organization has grown substantially over the years and now includes nine political parties, one official observer, and a number of distinguished individual members. It has also established itself as perhaps the most thoughtful and creative political forum in the region.

Activities in the past year include the now regular workshops for the Women’s Caucus and in Communication Skills, and a very useful training program that brought home lessons from the Obama campaign. CALD also contributed to various national and international events, including the Liberal International Congress and Liberal Networks Meeting in Egypt in October.

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Mr Speaker

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this occasion, in what should have been a debate on the 2010 budget. I had missed most of the exchanges in this House last week but, in following what was said, I felt that I had not missed much in terms of rational argument from the Opposition. This week was more interesting, because individual hysteria is always more entertaining than mass hysteria. But it was sad that the same simple and in fact contradictory themes emerged in most of the speeches of the big guns, in terms of noise if not of content, of the opposition.

The two themes that seemed to reverberate were those of submission to the International Monetary Fund and carelessness in dealing with the International Community. There were charges of inconsistency this morning from the Brains Trust of the opposition, the Hon Kabir Hashim, who failed singularly to grasp that this budget is based on three very simple principles. They are fiscal responsibility, social justice and national unity and security. The last of these had for obvious reasons had to predominate in the last few years, and it is satisfying that now the opposition too at least pays lip service to this principle. But their new found conversion to patriotism should not blind them to the need for continuing engagement with those who support our national goals. They should certainly be ashamed of encouraging demonstrations against the IMF, and I hope the Brains of the Opposition will refrain from such cheap debating points in the future – unless indeed he was hoping to be taken seriously.

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S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (January 8, 1899 – September 26, 1959) was the fourth Prime Minister of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), serving from 1956 until his assassination by a Buddhist monk in 1959.

In 1956 S W R D Bandaranaike became Prime Minister, in a coalition of nationalist forces dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that he established on leaving the UNP. Though initially he had presented himself as the champion of the common man against the elite which had dominated Sri Lankan politics, due to the pressures of political competition his victory was seen as the triumph of Sinhala nationalism. Practically his first measure was a bill that made Sinhala the official language of the country. Earlier both he and J R Jayewardene, who was the virtual leader of the UNP after its defeat, had advanced the claims of Sinhala as opposed to English (without any desire to denigrate Tamil). By 1956 however parity of status of Sinhala and Tamil was abandoned by both parties in their pursuit of votes.

The Act was challenged under the provisions of Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, which forbade discrimination against any segment of the population. That clause was supposed to be entrenched, in that it could not be changed without a 2/3 majority of Parliament, which Soulbury had believed no party would ever achieve. The Official Languages Act was passed with a simple majority, and the Sri Lankan courts seemed to find against some of its provisions, but the government appealed to the Privy Council in Britain which, under the Soulbury Dominion Constitution, had the final say. Unfortunately the Privy Council, which followed the British tradition of subscribing in general to the supremacy of Parliament, upheld the legality of the Act. Read the rest of this entry »

Don Stephen Senanayake (October 20, 1884–22 March 1952), first Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1947 to 1952.

(This simplified version of the fifth chapter of Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka, presents the constitutional history of Sri Lanka in light of the principles discussed in the earlier chapters)

It was D S Senanayake who presided over negotiations towards independence, with the Commission led by Lord Soulbury, which was sent to Ceylon to commence discussions during the war, in recognition of the loyal service to the British war effort made by Ceylon and the Board of Ministers. Though initially what was planned was simply a larger measure of self-government, the logic of history, and the imminent independence of India, prompted Britain to agree also to the Ceylonese request for independence.

The new Constitution, under which Ceylon became independent in February 1948, abolished the State Council principle of encouraging a sense of responsibility regarding government in all members of the Legislature. It introduced instead an oppositional system based almost entirely on the British cabinet system. After Parliament was elected, the person who commanded the confidence of a majority of the members of parliament was appointed Prime Minister, and he then appointed a Cabinet to exercise executive power.

Though in the first Parliament that was elected there was no clear majority, D S Senanayake managed to put together a coalition, consisting of his own United National Party (into which S W R D Bandaranaike had already merged his Sinhala Maha Sabha), Goonesinha’s Labour Party, G G Ponnambalam’s Tamil Congress, and some other independent politicians. The British system (or Westminster, as it is termed, after the site of the British Parliament), institutionalizes oppositional politics, and accordingly Sri Lanka too now had a leader of the Opposition, who was N M Perera, leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Pakshaya, a Trotskyist grouping. The opposition included other Marxist parties, and also a breakaway group from the Tamil Congress, the Federal Party led by S J Chelvanayakam.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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