20th death anniversary of Dr. Chanaka Amaratunga
A life of novel thinking
The 20th death anniversary of Dr. Chanaka Amaratunga, founder-leader
of the Liberal Party fell on August 1. It was twenty years ago on that
fatal day that Chanaka succumbed to an accident. He was full of novel
ideas and actions.
When Chanaka founded the Liberal Party with Asitha Perera and Dr.
Rohan Edirisinha as members of the Council of Liberal Democracy (CLD)
another prominent member Dr. Rajiva Wijesinghe opposed the idea of
forming a political party and yet he accepted the post of president on
his return from abroad.
Chanaka’s death in 1996 created a great leadership vacuum in the
Liberal Party. The unanimous successor was Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha and he
was by that time lecturer in the Sabaragamuwa University. Rajiva was
never a full timer in politics as Chanaka but was fascinated by liberal
ideas and views.
In 1993, when Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake formed the
Democratic United National Front (DUNF), Chanaka’s leanings were towards
President R. Premadasa and that decision resulted in three prominent
members of the party leaving. They were Dr. Rohan Edirisinha, Dr.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Tissa Jayathilake.
The party formed an umbrella alliance with the United National Party
under President R. Premadasa and Sirisena Cooray in 1993. With the
assassination of President Premadasa, political hopes for the Liberals
through the UNP were shattered and in 1994 the party under Chanaka
smoothly formed an alliance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC)
under A.H.M. Ashraff. This alliance worked out but for many reasons
Chanaka was not nominated to Parliament on the SLMC national list and
instead Asitha Perera became the first Liberal Party parliamentarian
through the SLMC.
Chanaka was unhappy and was frustrated, he finally felt that his
ambitions for him and the party had failed and in the subsequent
national committee meeting he resigned from the leadership, yet, we did
not have any choice but to appoint him once again as leader.
Chanaka held the post of leader and secretary general and with his
death, the president of the party Dr. Rajiva held the post of leader and
president. The secretary general was Alex Weerarathna. He resigned from
the party in a short time and Harim Pieris became the secretary general.
Kamal Nissanka was elected deputy secretary general. From 1996-1999 we
faced a few provincial council elections and took the party out of
Our major political event after the death of Chanaka, was the 1999
election of a president, where Dr. Rajiva was placed sixth. Harim Pieris
resigned and Kamal Nissanka was elected as the secretary general.
The Liberal Party formed an unofficial alliance with Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 and secretary general was the frontline
political activist on behalf of the party.
A gentleman politician
Yet another gentleman politician U.B. Wijekoon who adorned the
political arena of yesteryear passed away last month, leaving a void
which cannot be filled in our political field. Mr. Wijekoon, U.B. to his
close friends and relations, hailed from Welimada from the Uva province.
He entered the Peradeniya University from Welimada Central. He displayed
his leadership qualities and acumen to serve from his school days as a
student leader devoting his time and energy for the welfare of his
student colleagues as well as undergraduates of his university batch.
Having graduated, he entered the Administrative Service starting his
career as a D.R.O. or Divisional Secretary and served in Vauniya,
Anuradhapura and Kurunegala. In the 1970s, he served as Divisional
Secretary in Dambadeniya Hatpattu. While serving in Dambadeniya that he
fell victim to political revenge under the SLFP regime and was destined
to end his career in public service and was forced to join the then
opposition U.N.P. The late President J.R. Jayewardene chose him as a
suitable candidate from Sathkorale to ensure his sixth polls victory in
From then on, he started his political career which spanned over four
decades. He was not from Dambadeniya and did not own even an inch of
land there. He said it was his duty to pave the way for a person born
and bred there. What a lofty, magnanimous and exemplary leader! Will
such thoughts ever occur to politicians these days?
U.B. was the Divisional Secretary, MP and a Minister who served the
Coconut Triangle, which had the best and highest yielding coconut
plantations but he never used his office to acquire wealth. He chose a
plot of land from a middle class housing scheme in Pallekelle to build
his house to live in retirement. I say this since I know politicians and
high officials connected to them who have doled out properties vested
under the Land Reform Law in their names.
The quality of the man was such that in his biography the A.G.A at
the time says that U.B. as the area MP never interfered into his duties.
Once U.B. was driving back to Colombo by himself. On the way a police
constable stopped the vehicle and requested a lift from U.B. not knowing
who he was and he obliged. It was much later that the constable realised
who the man was, when a fellow constable saluted the ‘driver’ of the
During his retirement, he spent time as a freelance journalist. I
remember the article written by him where he said, a separate hell will
be created for politicians. On the last occasion I met him he told me he
had undergone an operation and that he had got it done at the Teaching
Hospital without any cost to the taxpayer. Our politicians get the
attention at private nursing homes and even abroad at the tax payer’s
U.B. did not wish to be cremated or buried but that his corpse be
handed over to the Medical Faculty for medical students to use it. His
wish was carried out. With the passing away of U.B. Wijekoon we have
come to the end of an era where leaders lived by example. May he attain
the supreme bliss of Nirvana.