Mangala Samaraweera: A liberal without a political home

Mangala Samaraweera was a political misfit in Sri Lankan politics. He was a man of honesty and integrity among many crooks. He was a liberal who believed in freedom and democracy when most of his colleagues on both his side as well as the Opposition were driven by narrow ethnic, racial and religious considerations. He never found a political home in Sri Lanka. It did not come as a surprise when he did not contest the last election.

Mangala changed his party affiliation when he felt the occasion demanded it. His motive for changing sides was not to remain in power for personal gain.  He worked with President Chandrika Kumaratunga to seek a lasting solution to the ethnic problem but failed. He tried again, this time, with the Yahapalana government. On this occasion he mobilised western support in Geneva through the UNHRC. It proved to be a very controversial strategy that provoked strong opposition from Sinhala nationalist forces. They criticised Mangala’s move as a betrayal of Sinhala Buddhist (70% of the population) rights and interests and a total betrayal of national sovereignty to western powers.

We can argue the case for both sides. The fact was that Mangala’s ‘liberal’ thinking was way outside the mainstream of our political culture. His motives may have been sincere. But his thinking and the solution to the ethnic problem he offered were unrealistic for the times and doomed to failure.

Maybe one day politicians will revisit Mangala’s thoughts and even adopt some of them. If that happens it will be the greatest tribute that Sri Lanka would pay to Mangala Samaraweera, a rare gem of a politician of integrity and honesty.


Dr. S W R de A Samarasinghe

Thank you

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