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Chanaka Amaratunga 1958 - 1996

Introduction by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the seminar to launch  ‘The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka: History, Philosophy, Presentation’  in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka

Thirty years ago, to paraphrase the article Chanaka Amaratunga wrote to celebrate Liberalism Ten Years After, a political movement committed to the promotion of liberal values and the defence of the liberal democratic process was launched in Sri Lanka. This was the Council for Liberal Democracy, an explicit Liberalism being thought necessary because of the evolving political authoritarianism in Sri Lanka since 1970. A decisive event was the deprivation of the

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916 - 2000) world's first female head of government

civic rights of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Then the Referendum of December 1982 postponed elections for six years, which confirmed the necessity in Sri Lankan public affairs of Liberal values, a necessity made more urgent by the communal riots of July 1983.

All these events and the growing authoritarianism of President J R Jayewardene led CLD activists to conclude that an ideological party of principle, committed to the prom­otion of Liberalism, needed to be formed – though I should mention that I was the only one at the time to disagree, since I thought we were more suited to being a think-tank than a party. Anyway, on 19th January 1987 the Liberal Party was formed and was recognized the following year. In 1986 The Liberal Review was founded as the first political journal committed to Liberalism. The Liberal Party’s Sinhala newspaperLiberal Nidahasa took liberal politics, even if to a limited degree, to those outside the English speaking urbanized class. Seminars both in Sinhala and in English, publications in both languages and the public statements and positions of the Liberal Party, introduced a distinctly novel politics to this country.

Liberals was not then inactive but if the progress of Liberalism is to be judged by the degree to which it is part of the political establishment, it cannot make many claims. The Liberal party has had minimal representation in Parliament and its membership is limited. But it would be misleading to judge its contribution by the level of its involvement in the political mainstream.

The real contribution of Liberalism lies in the realm of ideas. I need only draw your attention to the news today that the Cabinet Spokesman has mentioned the commitment of the government to introducing a second chamber. This was advocated by us a quarter of a century ago, and was condemned by all other parties at the time. But because we have made the case consistently and thoughtfully, taking into account objections but showing how beneficial such an institution should be, the idea has now won general acceptance, and indeed was part of the manifesto of the President in 2010.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2012
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