Closing address by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats , at the Conference on Pluralism and Development In Asia: Issues and Prospects – 6th November 2011

First and foremost, my thanks to all those who have made this Congress one of our most memorable. First, to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and our friends who have contributed much to CALD since they were first involved in our work, and who have done even more after they took up membership. I must also pay special tribute to Dr Rainer Adam, not only for his stewardship currently of the Regional Office of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung that works with CALD, but also for his seminal work while he was in Indonesia to support political parties as they strove to restore democracy. I was sorry when he left India where he briefly headed the South Asia Regional Office, but our loss was Indonesia’s gain, and now that of the Region, for he truly manifests the spirit of pluralism and equitable development which is essential throughout Asia.

My thanks also to the FNS representative in Manila, Jules Maaten, who has fitted in so well with our work as well as the country and the region. He has of course been helped by superb office staff in Manila. The CALD Secretariat has done a fantastic job as usual, and this is the more remarkable in that they have had a very full year, which will have encompassed 8 very significant events before it concludes. Unfortunately I cannot take credit for any of this, but as Chairman I shall certainly encourage appreciation of the fact that this has I think been CALD’s most active year since its inception.

I must also thank Liberal International, and in particular its indefatigable President and its equally energetic Secretary General, for their support throughout the year, not only for the Liberal International Congress in Manila, but also for ensuring a memorable ceremony to award the Liberal International Prize for Freedom to my predecessor as Chair, Dr Chee Soon Juan. Let me also thank Neric Acosta, our Secretary General, who has been a rock of support now to three Chairs of CALD. I can and will take credit for noting, in encouraging the Singapore Democrat Party to take up the CALD Chair when its turn came, that they could appoint a Secretary General from elsewhere. Sadly, being translated to higher things now – if there be anything higher than CALD – Neric will not be available for this in the future, but we cannot, for the sake of CALD, allow the environment of the Philippines to suffer without his advice.

I am grateful for the presence of so many international visitors. The FNS has been unfailingly supportive of our work, so it is a pleasure to have with us here the Vice-President of its Board of Directors. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has been a devoted partner, largely I believe because of the commitment of Nicolo Rinaldi, and we are glad that once again he has taken the trouble to join one of our events in Asia. Last but not least, the Vice President of the International Network of Liberal Women has been with us three times this year, and her advice and assistance and ready involvement with our work has been most heartening. We look forward to increasing involvement of all three and the organizations they represent in our future activities.

Finally let me thank all my colleagues, and in particular Mr Banday from the Pakistan Liberal Forum for contributing to the concept of this Congress. The proposal he drafted along with our Indonesian colleagues allowed the ideal mix of subjects that we need to explore in CALD, whilst also providing space for particular concerns. I had long been keen on a discussion on what was meant by Asian values, and though I would strongly oppose any suggestion that those values can conflict with the demands of freedom, I believe it is necessary to consider the different cultural perspectives that can help build up a continuously developing ideology that maximizes opportunities for exercising the freedoms we cherish.

I believe this is especially important as the world expands in terms of opportunities available, as it contracts through the increasing effectiveness of the links that modern technology has produced. The increasing power and influence of more players on the world stage can be a threat, but it should also be an opportunity. In this regard the increasing concern with democracy and the will of the people is a positive factor that must be nurtured. While it is true that opinion can be manipulated, the answer is more information not less, and the encouragement of diverse mechanisms to convey news and to register viewpoints.

In short we need more pluralism. A Manichaean view of the world, postulating polar opposites, and absolute goods, would be disastrous. In my welcome address I noted what Nirmal Verma had characterized as an Eastern  view of the world, that rejected notions of othering. Let me end then with the story of what the monk who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka asked the king, in testing whether he was a fit person to be enlightened.

He asked the king if he saw the mango tree ahead of them. When he said yes, he asked if there were other mango trees. When the king said yes, he asked if, apart from those other mango trees, there were other trees. When the king said yes, he asked if, apart from those other mango trees, and those other trees that were not mango trees, there were any other trees.

The king thought hard, and then said, yes, there was the first mango tree that had been pointed out. The monk proceeded to teach him only then.

I used as a child to think the story was silly, but later I realized that it was all about the concentric circles to which we belong. In the end, we see the world from our own perspective, as an individual, but it should be in terms of being part of all else. We should not see ourselves as part of one group, in opposition to another, but rather as a part of all we see, just as all others belong in such overlapping circles. That trope, in accord with the stress Liberals place on individual freedom, seems to me the reason for, as well as the explanation of, the pluralism we should cherish.