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I referred some weeks back to the games being played by various individuals and institutions in Colombo with regard to the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, the political foundation of the German Free Democratic Party. This is a member of Liberal International, though its Liberalism is generally more concerned with free market economics, and does not have the same commitment to social equity as say the British Liberal Party. Still, there are enough people in the FDP, and also in the FNS, who understand our commitment in Sri Lanka to a more Gladstonian version of Liberalism, though sadly they have been in comparative short supply in dealings with South Asia.

I suppose this is understandable in that South Asia tended, at the time the FNS established itself here, to be committed to social equity from a more socialist standpoint, and it was free markets that needed nurturing. However this led to at least some personnel neglecting other aspects of Liberalism, as with the official who said he saw nothing wrong with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s assertion that democracy could be delayed, as in South Korea and other East Asian countries, until development had reached a satisfactory level.

This mindset has contributed to a generally hostile attitude to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, though there have been honourable exceptions, including the Regional Director who encouraged my conducting workshops on Liberalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sadly he was soon sent away from Delhi, though he has since contributed immeasurably to Liberalism in South East Asia, where the command model of an open economy held sway, and it was necessary for Liberal parties to argue for the restoration of democracy and social equity.

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Dr Chee Soon Juan – Singapore Democratic Party

Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha – Chairman, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats at the award to Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democrat Party – 2011 Liberal International Prize for Freedom

Dr Chee, Members of the Singapore Democrat Party, the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and Liberal International – and indeed anyone else, if there be anyone here who does not belong to any of these concentric circles. The one person I know does not belong to our extended family is Jee Say Tan, and of course he does not belong to the Singapore Democrat Party in the same way as no President of Singapore has belonged to the People’s Action Party. Having known him for longer than I have known anyone else in this room, 38 years in fact, having welcomed him as a freshman to University College in Oxford, I can only say how delighted I am that, as in those distant days, he has refused to conform.

Dr Chee I have known for a mere decade and a half, when he was setting out on his then very lonely struggle to liberalise Singaporean politics. As you know he suffered for this more than those who had engaged in oppositional politics in the period immediately preceding. At the time Singapore got its independence of course harsh measures were the norm, the Singapore government like its British predecessor jailing anyone who was even remotely committed to leftist politics.

The reason Dr Chee was treated so badly however was because he took on the Singapore regime on its own terms. Indeed he could have been a favoured son of that regime had he not believed that freedom is not only about economic freedom but also about political and social freedom. From a Liberal standpoint, asserting the importance of all freedoms, he exposed the pretensions of the People’s Action Party.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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