By Kamal Nissanka –
Nineteenth death anniversary of Dr Chanaka Amaratunga, founder leader of the Liberal Party(Sri Lanka) falls on 1st of August , 2015. Chanaka founded the Liberal Party (LP) on the 19 of January 1987. To understand the mission and the vision of the party it is noteworthy to pay attention to the first two articles of the Liberal Party constitution
Article 1 of the Liberal Party constitution is as follows:
“The Liberal Party shall be a Sri Lankan political party dedicated to the preservation, promotion and development of Liberalism and to the maintenance of Sri Lanka as a liberal democracy”
Article 2 of the Liberal Party constitution is as follows:
“The ideology of the Liberal Party shall be Liberalism as it is understood in political philosophy and as defined in the Liberal Manifesto of 1947 and The Liberal Declaration of Oxford 1967”
Chanaka thus formed the first non-left political party in Sri Lanka which is endowed with an ideology and political philosophy.
Accordingly, one major area of activity of the party is to propagate liberalism and liberal democratic political agenda within and outside Sri Lanka. However being a political party registered under the Commissioner of Elections it has to face elections of its own or through an alliance.
Though Chanaka formed the Liberal Party as a reaction to the authoritarian politics began with the introduction of the 2nd Republic constitution after 1978, he did not have a profound strategy to popularize the party at the grass root level. In the beginning the only functioning organization was the national committee composed of 13 members of whom most are Colombo based upper middle class intellectuals.
The party faced the 1st provincial council election of 1988 and Chanaka Amaratunga, Asitha Perera, Rajiva Wijesinha and Kamal Nissanka were the leading candidates for Colombo district in the said election and two seats were won from Gampaha district owing to the support of Mr. Anura Bandaranaike and Mr. Reggie Ranatunga in the absence of SLFP in the run up to election.
During this period Chanaka was involved in eight party discussions under Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to face the United National Party (UNP) as an alliance. If I remember correctly Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP), Eksath Lanka Janatha Pakshaya( ELJP) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress(SLMC) broke away from the alliance discussions at one stage and the Liberal Party remained in and joined the Democratic People’s Alliance under SLFP and Chanaka was a national list nominee in the SLFP list. However the SLFP was unable to win the necessary seats to form a government and it remained in the opposition. Chanaka was not nominated as a member of parliament.
The new government under President Premadasa initiated all-party conference to address some of the major issues in the country. Liberal Party was a regular participant in the all party conference. In 1991 Liberals invited Mr. Premadasa as the chief guest for the tenth anniversary of Council of Liberal Democracy(CLD) a think tank founded by Chanaka.
Understanding with President Premadasa thrived and the Liberal Party was able to formulate a Memorandum of Understanding with United National Party aiming at next election. However as President Premadasa was assassinated by LTTE the new leadership of the UNP did not accommodate the Liberal Party for the 1994 general election and the Liberal Party was looking for an alternative alliance.
Just prior to the nominations LP was able to form an alliance with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC )and according to the understanding LP has to fund the SLMC campaign in the east for in return SLMC agreed to offer the first national list seat it obtained. In fact SLMC got one national list seat in the 1994 general election and Chandrika government was heavily depending on that national list slot as Mr A.H.M Ashroff, leader of the SLMC by that time had agreed to be a partner in the People’s Alliance. In the said SLMC national list not only Chanaka’s name but names of few other Liberal Party members were also included. One such was Mr.Asitha Perera, then Senior Vice President of the Liberal Party.
As the government was hanging on the fence hunting for members this seat became so much vital and Prime Minister Chandrika interfered and requested Mr. Ashroff not to name Chanaka but to name another member of the Liberal Party and her preference was for Mr. Asitha Perera and he was finally appointed by SLMC for Liberal Party.
This issue became the hot topic in the LP national committee. However Asitha came to a meeting of the national committee agreed that after one month he would resign from the seat and it would be offered to Chanaka. Eventually Asitha did not resign from the seat and he secretly got the membership of the SLMC..
After the parliamentary election, nominations were called for 1994 presidential election and by that time Chanaka was getting closer to Gamini Dissaanayake and assisted by contributing to draft his manifesto. During the campaign Gamini was assassinated by the LTTE and Chandrika won the election satisfactorily and formed a new government.
Dr Chanaka Amaratunga died under tragic circumstances on 1st of August 1996. The Liberal Party being sick of alliance politics thought that it should face next elections of its own and except in Puttalam all other districts were contested in 2000 general election. However the candidates of those lists were not regular members of the party and party was not in a position to gather considerable number of votes in the said election.
In the absence of alliances LP contested few districts in 2001 and 2004 g0eneral elections.
At the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections Liberal Party supported Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa candidacy and in the following general election one of our party members was given a parliamentary seat.
In alliance politics, it is vital to form a memorandum of understanding or an electoral agreement to safeguard rights of parties. Even if there are profound agreements other unseen political factors may contribute in selection of national seat slots.
The party’s latest experience is that though we had a national list MP for the last five years, the party as a whole has not achieved anything tangible to improve its membership, physical resources or funds. The member who was representing the seat had done nothing to improve the image of the party.
However under the present electoral system even a major party is not in a sound position to get an absolute majority in parliament as there are different social forces within the society and their assistance is a must to form a government.
Though the UNP was reluctant to admit this fact earlier I think present leadership of the UNP has realized the validity of different social and political forces in making governments.
In alliance politics, parliamentary representatives of a small party should not betray its own good policies just in order to hang on power.
*Kamal Nissanka – Secretary General, The Liberal Party