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Chanaka Amaratunga

Text of a Lecture delivered on 18th January 2011 to mark the 24th anniversary of the founding of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka and the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Council for Liberal Democracy

Thirty years ago, Chanaka Amaratunga proposed the establishment of a Council for Liberal Democracy. I was not enthused by the idea, because it struck me as yet another stratagem of President J R Jayewardene, in his cynical destruction of liberalism as well as democracy.

Chanaka was in those days a devoted member of the United National Party, and he told me that the President had encouraged the setting up of the CLD. His view was that Jayewardene was a liberal democrat at heart, but this was not true of all members of his government; the CLD would be an instrument to encourage liberal thinking which would assist Jayewardene to overcome contrary views.

I thought this piffle, since Jayewardene seemed to me a consummate hypocrite. I had the previous year seen the enormity of his viciousness, when he stripped Mrs Bandaranaike of her Civic Rights. I had also noted his ruthless tinkering with his own Constitution, as when most recently he had tried to have a second member for the Kalawana seat.

That story will bear retelling, for I realized recently, listening to the Opposition in Parliament, old warhorses from the 1977 Parliament such as Ranil Wickremesinghe and John Amaratunga inveighing against the appointment of Senior Ministers, how much even of recent history has been forgotten. And it is also possible that I misjudged J R Jayewardene, in that it was precisely 30 years ago, about the time that Chanaka mooted the idea of a Council for Liberal Democracy, that Jayewardene retreated from a nasty initiative, for the only time in his period of power.

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Rajiva Wijesinha


March 2023
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