By Kamal Nissanka –
In 2005 Liberal Party decided to support Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa candidacy in the Presidential Election though there were dissenting views in the party against that decision. The relationship continued till 2010 Presidential election and Liberal Party was also considered as an alliance party though there was no formal agreement with the UPFA. In 2010 over 30 political parties rallied under Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa and he won the presidential election comfortably. The Liberal Party initiated some talks with the heavyweights of UPFA and was able to include one of its members as a national list candidate from UPFA national list. With election victory the leader of the UPFA Mr Mahinda Rajapakse offered the Liberal Party a national list seat.
To our dismay the first policy decision by Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa after the parliamentary election victory was to introduce the 18th amendment to the constitution to revoke the 17th amendment and while doing so made provisions the incumbent president to contest future presidential election erasing the two term limitation. Few of us in the Liberal Party were against 18th amendment but a real and a genuine debate against the 18th amendment was not taken place in the party that had continuously stood for democratic reforms. As the party under Dr Chanaka Amaratunga (leader since 1987-1996) had always agitated against these types of draconian legislation, in 2010 the party’s inactivity and subordination under Rajapaksa administration resulted in losing its integrity as a party of principles.
Impeachment of Chief Justice
The next incident that the Liberal Party could not support Rajapaksa policy was the impeachment against the chief justice. The Liberal Party initially did not accept and approve the appointment of Ms Shirani Bandaranayake as a superior court judge as it was against the seniority basis and the appointment was widely regarded as political. However during the course of time she performed well in the Supreme Court. When Rajapaksa administration wanted her to act according to the whims fancies of executive she refused to work accordingly. Thereafter the impeachment was brought against her in late 2012. On behalf of the Liberal Party impeachment was condemned and criticized with a series of articles by me. The then leader who was also a member of parliament was in a difficulty as the party stance was clear and he abstained from voting the impeachment motion.
Ban of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom
Another incident that affected the relationship with the Rajapaksa administration was the ban on Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom known as FNS in 2013. FNS is a German Foundation affiliated to Free Democratic Party of Germany. This organization had been doing activities in Sri Lanka since 1974.The major objectives of the organization is to promote liberal democracy, free market economy , human rights and small and medium enterprise as a model for economic development. The initial charge against the FNS was that it funded a seminar or workshop that was organized for UNP parliamentarians and it was alleged by Rajapaksa administration that FNS was funding UNP to topple the government. Further the government authorities made various orders against the FNS representative in Sri Lanka including travel restrictions. At the time leader of the party was a government member and the national organizer was working under a government ministry.
This event had a far reaching influence in the Liberal party. When Dr Chanaka Amaratunga was the leader he was able to negotiate with FNS to receive funds to the Liberal Party think tank the Council of Liberal Democracy (CLD) to conduct a series of workshops to promote the ideas of constitutional reforms. Further it funded for various seminars that promoted liberal democratic values and views. FNS is a worldwide organization and closely associated with many liberal and democratic parties in the world where they are in power or in major oppositions. However since 2004, FNS has been doing some promotional activities on democracy and good governance through various non-governmental organizations affiliated to UNP parliamentarians as well as for government parliamentarians. Since 2005 and especially after 2010 as the United National Party had been in the opposition for a long time it had agitated against some of the unjust policies of Rajapaksa administration and more fully stood for political reforms. FNS might have thought that UNP as a more moderate political party and had assisted its affiliated organizations to popularize democratic ideas and views.
Incidentally, The Liberal Party is a member of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) which has 10 political parties in the group based in Manila, Philippines. This organization was mainly funded by FNS.CALD conducts periodical workshops and party also sends representatives to these seminars. FNS funded the lodging, and air tickets for these seminars. With the ban of FNS in Sri Lanka, FNS in Manila stopped funding the Sri Lankan representatives of the Liberal Party who had to participate in these seminars . However during the critical hour the Liberal Party should have criticized and condemned the Rajapaksa policy to ban FNS in Sri Lanka. The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka under the then leadership did not criticize and condemn the unwisely act of Rajapaksa administration to ban FNS. (Now under this government FNS is in Sri Lanka and it has started its activities to promote liberal democracy.)
These three policy decisions of Rajapaksa administration were highly criticized by me as the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General Mr Ananda Stephen within the party and since 2010. A difference in opinion evolved in the party that paved way its Secretary and Deputy Secretary General to join with forces of civil society in search of critical politics and later a common candidate to fight Rajapaksa familial rule. The Liberal Party took a decision to support Mr. Maithripala Sirisena candidacy at the end of 2014. If Dr Chanaka Amaratunga had lived he would have definitely condemned the above mentioned three reactionary policy decisions of Rajapaksa administration and its notion of familial rule.
*This article was written in memory of Dr Chanaka Amaratunga whose birthday falls on 19th of April