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The Liberal Party began as a think-tank called the ‘Council for Liberal Democracy’, the first institution to criticize the all embracing statism of the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods. In espousing free economic policies together with wide-ranging political freedoms, the Council, and then the Party, opposed both the authoritarian crony capitalism of the United National Party and the socialism of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Both major parties are now in theory in favour of wide freedoms, but to ensure that these are understood and entrenched there is still need of coherent Liberal activism.

 
Political Principles and their Practice 19 – Soulbury Constitution

Chapter 7 of my book on this subject dealt with the Donoughmore Constitution and its workings. The State Council it had set up achieved a lot but by the forties the Sri Lankan political leadership wanted more. Since, unlike in India, there had been loyal service to the British war effort by Ceylonese political elite, as represented by the Board of Ministers, a commission led by Lord Soulbury was sent to Ceylon to commence discussions on self-government during the war. The ensuring achievement of Independence and the power of the Prime Minister under the Soulbury Constitution was the subject of Chapter 8.


It was D S Senanayake who during the Second World War presided over the negotiations towards independence. Though initially only a larger measure of self-government was being considered by the commission, the logic of history and the imminent independence of India prompted Britain to agree to the request for independence.

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A Reform Agenda 25 – Local Consultation and Empowerment

I was asked recently in an interview to mention seven areas of priority for the new Parliament. I began with Education and Reconciliation which have long been priorities for me. But then I also noted some other areas in which structural change was essential.


One of these was providing greater autonomy to the regions and local bodies with regard to decision making. But I did not by this mean a return to the old debate about devolution and sharing power between the Centre and Provincial governments. My stress was on more power to local bodies, and I also thought it vital to develop better consultation mechanisms.

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A Reform Agenda 26 – Holistic Student Centred Education

I make no apologies for returning to Education in what will be the last article in this series. I have discussed over half a year some of the reforms this country needs, motivated by the fact that the existing government did not seem interested in the structural changes we had hoped for. But in addition to such structural changes, we need to move effectively on educational reform to empower our coming generations so as to face the challenges of the 21st century.

 

Soon we shall have a new government, and we will know if the changes foreshadowed in the manifesto of the President will become reality. I was happy that the manifesto of his party fleshed out some of the ideas we had put together last year in formulating his earlier manifesto. But I hope that whoever is Minister of Education – and indeed whoever is Minister of Higher Education too, if the portfolios are not combined - will understand the need for radical changes.

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Good Governance 25 – Dispute Resolution without Confrontation

I had intended, in what was to be the last article in this series, to look at the question of external security, and how to work towards bipartisan consensus in the conduct of international relations, so that the nation as a whole is strengthened. At present, on the contrary, we seem, while pursuing partisan political agendas, to allow ourselves to become the playthings of other countries.

 

Instead of that however, in what will be the last article in this series, I will look at what seems an even more vital issue in the context of the events of last week, namely the question of internal party democracy. That question has been raised by others too previously, but the dismissal by the President of two party secretaries off his own bat has highlighted the problem of intra-party decision making.

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