By Kamal Nissanka –
Delegates of 10 political parties will assemble in Colombo on the 8th of March 2012 as members of Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) to appoint their new Chairman for the next two years. As at present, Liberal Party of Sri Lanka holds the chairmanship. Sam Rainsy Party, major opposition in Cambodia will take the chairmanship of CALD for next two years.
According to CALD publication “A DECADE OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY IN ASIA”, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats is a regional political organization that was born in 1993. The initial idea of forming a regional political organization for Asian region was taken place in 1990 where some members of democratic political parties of Asia were invited to a conference in Sintra, a picturesque coastal city in Portugal.
During this period there was increasing agitation for democratic reform in Asia. Just few years before a bloodless “peoples Power’ revolution toppled a military backed dictatorship in Philippines. This had apparently inspired the citizens of other countries in the region which was pockmarked with authoritarian regimes to speak up as well. More and more people who had been oppressed for decades were suddenly rediscovering their voices. Some regimes responded to this with brutality but there were also those who had begun to relax their grip, allowing a small yet significant breathing space for democratic initiatives.
For the next few years concept papers flew across the region as the proponents of the proposed organization exchanged thoughts on how to go about setting it up.
Thus on October 15th 1993 a preparatory meeting was finally organized in Taipei. The host Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would become one of founding members of the new group along with Democratic Party of Thailand, the Democratic Party of South Korea, the Liberal Party of Philippines, and the Party Gerakan Rakyat of Malaysia. By end of 1993 the group had its first general assembly in Bangkok graced by Thailand Prime Minister His Excellency Mr. Chuan Leekpai and South Korean opposition leader Mr. Kim Dae Jung.
Liberal Party of Sri Lanka under the leadership of Dr Chanaka Amaratunhga joined the CALD in 1995. By now National Council of Union of Burma (NCUB), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Civil Will Party of Mongolia and Sam Rainsy Party of Cambodia are full members of this regional political party association. Apart from that CALD has given observing member status to Democratic Party of Japan and associate membership to Liberal Forum in Pakistan. CALD secretariat is located in Manila and it’s headed by secretary general and his team of officials.
In its manifesto CALD has noted that Asia is one of the fast growing regions in the world and that it is also a home for a significant part of population. It has also realized that economies of Asian countries have structurally transformed more and more to open and free market, their political and social development has correspondingly moved along more democratic patterns. CALD is also aware that diversity of cultures, religions and ethnicities already has had foundation for tolerant, pluralistic and liberal societies with numerous liberal minded groups and political parties having emerged throughout the region. It also believes that pure western models do not fit perfectly into Asian political cultures.
CALD member parties are sometimes engage in electoral campaign when the respective political parties face elections in their respective countries. Further CALD member parties are given an opportunity to send an intern to European parliament every year .CALD has extended its organizational network and now it has formed its Youth wing and women’s Wing. CALD holds number seminars and workshops in relation with emerging issues and thus enhance the understanding of the member parties. CALD also has worked in partnership with Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE).CALD is a full member of Liberal I International (LI) composed of most of all the Liberal Parties in the world exceeding hundred.
Out of the member parties as at present Liberal Party of Philippines is in power headed by His Excellency President Benigno Aquino. Thailand Democratic Party is now in opposition but prior to the last election it was the governing party in Thailand. Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan was in power from 1996 – 2004 and in the recently held Presidential election its candidate lost the presidential race by a small margin. Sam Rainsy Party of Cambodia has to face immense hardships from the present government in Cambodia and it s leader Mr. Sam Rainsy is in exile at present owing to political suppression of the governing party of Hun Sen. Party Gerakan Rakyat of Malaysia is a partner in the alliance government in Malaysia. Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is the major opposition in Indonesia.
Singapore Democratic Party is at present facing lots of hardship in Singapore owing to the suppression launched by the present Singapore government. It’s leader Dr Chee Soon Juan has been convicted on false charges and the court has impounded lots of fines to make him bankrupt. National Council of Union of Burma is doing hard work to end the military rule in Burma. Many of its activists are still in the prisons. Civil Will Party of Mongolia joined the group few months ago and it has one seat in the Mongolian parliament. Governing party of Japan, Democratic Party is an observer party and they represent the CALD regularly.
During the three day stay at Galle Face Hotel, delegates will participate at a workshop on the theme “Populism and Democracy”. On the final day, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Leader of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, current Chairman of CALD will hand over the chairmanship to Mr. Sam Rainsy of Cambodia.
*Writer is the Secretary General of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka