Dr Chanaka Amaratunga was born on the 19th of April 1958. He had his early education at St Thomas’ Prep school, Kollupitiya and later at St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. .Chanaka was an alumnus of Oxford University and London School of Economics. His area of learning and reading was Political Science and International Relations, yet he had an interest for History, English Drama and Literature.
One of the major political events that had taken place in year 1980 was the deprivation of civil rights of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranayake, then leader of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and parliamentary opposition. Early liberals including Chanaka were conscious of this unjustifiable use of power by J.R Jayawardene administration and it generated a number of discussions among themselves culminating the formation of Council for Liberal Democracy (CLD) in March 1981.
Chanaka initially identified himself politically with United National Party (UNP) and at the time of deprivation of civil rights of Ms. Banda¾íike he had been placed in New York as a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the United Nations and it is believed that Chanaka had written to Mr. J.R.Jayawardene expressing his opposition to the deprivation of civil rights of Ms Bandaranaíike. However turning point of his political life was the announcement by UNP government after the 1982 Presidential election that instead of having a parliamentary election by August 1983 it would seek to extend the life of parliament elected in 1977 for six years beyond the term for which it was elected. Mr. Jayawardene was planning a referendum to postpone the general election that was due in 1983. Chanaka broke ranks with UNP and canvassed against the ill-fated referendum with his CLD colleagues.
The main themes of the CLD by those times were promotion of the liberty of the individual, human rights and constitutional reforms. The need to promote market economy and to provide an intellectual basis for a world view that is opposed to socialist world view that was prevalent among many Sri Lankan intellectuals was also given priority.
After the referendum CLD under Chanaka developed a political stand against constitutional manipulation and authoritarianism and after July 1983 a serious effort was made to formulate a policy to resolve the national question. The CLD canvassed for opposition candidates of 18 bye- elections held in May 1983 and Kundasale and Minneriya bye- elections in 1984.
In 1986 Chanaka returned to Sri Lanka and at CLD committee meetings the idea to form a political party based on liberal ideology was extensively discussed and the culmination was the formation of Liberal Party on the 19th of January 1987.
Since the inception of the Liberal Party the agitation for constitutional reforms had been a main theme as discussed earlier. During the latter part of nineteen eighties no organization or political party were interested much on the political reforms and I think one reason was that the rule under emergency regulations was the norm after 1983 July riots proscribing some political parties and suppression of TULF by constitutional manipulations.
Liberal Party seminars, discussions, workshops were mainly conducted in five star environment’s and many political intellectuals and party leaders were assembled to speak on reforms. Chanaka was instrumental in preparing the election manifesto of Democratic Peoples Alliance led by Mrs. Sirimava Bandaranayake and he was nominated through the national list of SLFP alliance. However the alliance was unable to win the elections and as there were limited places for the national list he was deprived of electing to the parliament in 1988.
After the election the Liberal Party again launched its constitutional reform movement and the movement of the Liberal Party persisted until his untimely death in 1996.
The idea of independent commission first initiated by Dr.Chanaka Amaratunga at the all party conference convened by President R. Premadasa in 1990’s and later United National Party and Janatha Vimukthi Pramuna(JVP) in opposition guided the amendment in parliament as the 17th amendment to constitution under Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga presidency.
The 18th amendment introduced in 2010 that increased the authority of the President of the republic is a reactionary piece of legislation which resulted in breaking the foundations of rule of law making the country towards a failed state. After 2010 the political parties in parliament were much silence on constitutional reforms while the ruling class was overjoyed by the war victory, much needed reconciliation efforts were ignored resulting an unfavorable international situation.
I recollect a debate between Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha and Dr Chanaka Amaratunga in 1995 on the national question scheduled at Deans Road, Colombo 10 ,organized by Rev Tissa Balasooriya and I found that Ven Sobitha as a personality was keen on reforms. After nearly 8 years of that debate Ven Maduluwaewe Sobitha Thero spear headed the constitutional reform movement in Sri Lanka. Chanaka’s constitutional reform movement was restricted to the upper middle class with English speaking backgrounds and Ven Sobitha’s constitutional reform movement is rather a practical movement with an attempt to enter into power equation in a different way. Ven Sobitha Thero was able to bring his movement into Sinhala speaking intellectuals of middle and lower middle classes and popularized on the presidential election platform of the common candidate. Search of the common candidate was also a component part of the constitutional reform movement. .
All admit that constitutional and electoral reforms became the main theme of the 2015 presidential election campaign. Mr Lal Kantha, central committee member of the JVP addressing a meeting of” Puravesi Balaya” at Kurunegala in late December elaborating hundred days program of Presidential candidate Mr.Maitheepala Sirisena explained that out of 100 days program even if the President could implement the formation of independent commissions and electoral reforms that would be sufficient by the mandate to be given to him.
If Chanaka had lived up to present he would have unhesitatingly opposed the 18th amendment and definitely would support the 19th amendment as clarified by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
With regard to electoral reforms his stand was that the German mixed system would be the best for Sri Lanka. It is common knowledge that a mandate is given to President Maithreepala Sirisena in 2015 for constitutional reforms. The essence of the mandate is to make the independent commissions, re introducing the two term presidency with a mixed system of elections.
However during the 2015 presidential election campaign two views whether to abolish executive presidency or to reform the presidency were prevailed. Chanaka maintained that Westminster model as witnessed in United Kingdom is more fully successful as there is a monarchy in UK as head of state. Sri Lanka, in the absence of monarchy and as a republic, should maintain an elected presidency as head of state as in USA and France. According to Chanaka the error made by Mr J.R.Jayawardene was that he created an executive presidency in vesting both executive powers as in USA & France and ceremonial & hereditary powers of the British monarchy on the 1978 presidency.
Liberal Party of Sri Lanka
15th April, 2015