D.S. Senanayake (1946-1952) [b.1884 – d.1952]
Education – St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia
Represented – Minuwangoda, Gampaha District
Known popularly as the “father of the nation“. Don Stephen Senanayake lead the independence movement of Ceylon. Born to a rich class family in Botale, Mirigama. D.S. worked in the Surveyor General’s Department before becoming the Superintendent of his father’s estate.
He was the founding leader of the UNP and Ceylon’s first Prime Minister. Before that he was an MP for along time and held many portfolios. D.S. is remembered for his effort to win independence to Sri Lanka and for the effort he took in developing agriculture at a time where there were little/no settlements north of Dambulla. He undertook these projects with his son Dudley amidst criticism from Socialist leaders who now preach of “agricultural economies”. D.S. was also responsible for most of the pioneer hydro power & irrigation projects like Inginiyagala, Gal-Oya & Udawalawa. D.S. Senanayake passed away in March of 1952 due to falling from horseback. He was the Prime Minister at that time as well. His name will be etched in the heart and mind of all Sri Lankans for a long time to come as a leader who dreamt and created a country of multiraces and multireligions to live in harmony.
Dudley Senanayake (1952-1953 & 1957-1973) [b.1911 – d.1973]
Education – St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, University of Cambridge
Represented – Dedigama, Kegalle District
The eldest son of D.S. Senanayake. Dudley studied Natural Science (Biology, Chemistry & Physics) at Cambridge University before becoming a barrister. He was also a founding member of the UNP and represented Dedigama electorate in parliament. He was the agriculture minister of his father’s cabinet and lead the famous “Waga Sangramaya”. Dudley controversially became the Prime Minister of Ceylon after his father’s death but he resigned a year later and quit politics because of the 1953 Hartal. Dudley also still holds the record of being the youngest Prime Minister in Sri Lankan history. After UNP’s resounding loss in 1957 he reentered UNP politics due to the popular demand and won the 1960 election narrowly to become PM again but that lasted few months due to instability. Dudley again became PM in 1965 and kept that post till 1970 where the Lankan economy grew rapidly. After his loss in 1970 Dudley was sidelined to the leadership role only. He’s the first Sri Lankan to have held PM post on 3 separate occasions. He died on a Sinhala new year day in 1973.
General Sir John Kotelawala (1953-1957) [b. 1897 – d.1980]
Education – Royal College, Colombo, University of Cambridge
Represented – Dodangaslanda, Kurunegala District
Son of a popular police officer (also John Kotelawala) he belonged to a high society family that was also related to the Senanayakes. Despite that Kotelawala family went through a lot of trouble after Sir John’s father commited suicide, when young John was only 11 years old. He studied at Royal College until he was expelled for 1915 riot activities demanding independence. Thereafter John learnt agriculture at Cambridge University before returning to Ceylon to join the military. He served 23 years in the military and retired as a colonel. John held various ministries including the Transport ministry which at that time was one of the best. He was instrumental in creating Sri Lanka’s first aerodrome in Ratmalana (the land was donated from his property) and was also a SPL qualified pilot. He was the Speaker of the house before becoming the Prime Minister & UNP leader in 1953 due to Dudley’s resignation, Kotelawala was expecting this post when D.S. perished but he has to wait one more year. He was instrumental in gaining United Nations membership for our nation and expanding foreign relations. Sir John Kotelawala lost the election in 1956 due to SLFP’s strong pro-Sinhala movement and the leftist sentiments of Samasamaja & Communist Parties. After that Kotelawala, who was popular for his loose tongue and his sudden outbursts retired from politics. Later he donated his estate in Kandawala, Ratmalana to build the Kotelawala Defense University to train future soldiers for Sri Lanka. He was later promoted to General for his service to Sri Lanka, by J.R. Jayewardene. Sir John Kotelawala was fluent in the three languages of Sinhala, English and French.
J R Jayewardene (1973-1989) [b.1906 – d.1996]
Education – Royal College, Colombo, Law College, Colombo
Represented – Kelaniya, Gampaha District and Colombo-West, Colombo District
One of the political masterminds of Sri Lanka, JR was also born into a high class family. A lawyer by profession, JR was the first Finance minister of Ceylon. He was a key member of the UNP until he became leader and was considered for the leadership on a number of occassions. In 1970 JR became the Opposition Leader by mounting pressure against Dudley and JR assumed leadership of the part in 1973 after Dudley’s death. JR is attributed with taking the UNP into the masses and making it the true people’s party. In 1977 he lead the UNP to a sweeping 5/6 majority victory in parliament. This is a world record in democratic parliamentary elections. He was appointed Prime Minister in 1977 and became the President in 1978 after the constitution change. He was criticized for holding a referendum to keep the UNP in power and his decision to withhold the civil rights of SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, both of these acts were against the party policies. In 1982 he was re-elected president over Hector Kobbekaduwa. JR had to face the terrorist movement in north which began due to years of negligence by previous governments and Indian support. Despite all that JR strengthened the military by leaps and bounds, it proved a wise move because the JVP started a revolution in 1988 in the south of Sri Lanka too. JR had to face two terrorist cults at the two ends of the country in his latter days. JR introduced the free market economy to Sri Lanka which led to fast development and entrance of new technology. He was influential in the Mahaweli, Colombo port and other such development projects of that era. JR will forever be remembered as a one of the few Sri Lankan leaders who never feared to mould new leadership into the party & Sri Lanka. He worked on developing a number of future Sri Lankan leaders like Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, all of whom died before JR. Ranil Wickremasinghe and Gamini Athukorale were other key figures who were nurtured by JR. JR was influential in signing the Indo-Lanka accord with Rajiv Gandhi since it was obvious that India would continue to put their finger into Sri Lanka and help terrorism otherwise. His ploy of making the IPKF fight and crush LTTE was workin well when he left the presidency.
Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-1993) [b.1924 – d.1993]
Education – St. Joseph’s College, Colombo
Represented – Colombo Central, Colombo District
Ranasinghe Premadasa was the first commoner to become head of state in Sri Lanka. A son of a small businessman from Galle and a maid from Horana, Premadasa started politics from the “Gam Sabha” level and climbed the ladder to the top due to his commitment, hard work and his speaking skills. Premadasa entered parliament in 1965 and held key positions under Dudley’s leadership. He was one of the few UNPers to retain his parliamentary seat in 1970. During the leadership feud between Dudley & JR, Premadasa openly supported JR. He was a key figure in the landslide UNP victory of 1977 and was duely apointed Prime Minister in 1978. He was one of the most active Prime Ministers under an executive president. He created such plans as “Gam Udawa” and “Janasaviya”. He was determined to see all Sri Lankans lead a happy life with their own homes. He was also a very hardcore art lover who worked for the welfare of artists in Sri Lanka. Premadasa was a stubborn politician who wanted his will to become a reality. In 1988 Presidential election Premadasa won after trailing to Mrs. Bandaranaike. His “Meh kawda? Monawada karanne?” publicity campaign and the hard work of Gamini Dissanayake & Lalith Athulathmudali ensured his victory. He took rein in a country which had 2 terrorist problems in north and south. Premadasa, despite his success as a people’s president made a rash decision in appointing D.B. Wijetunga as his Prime Minister over the highly qualified Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. Premadasa sidelined these two figures in the party fearing that they’ll someday be a threat to him due to their wiseness and education. This lead to Gamini and Lalith been ejected from the UNP by Premadasa which led them to form the Democratic United National Front (DUNF), they alsoch also went ahead with a failed impeachment attempt on Premadasa while UNP MPs. Meanwhile Premadasa also made the IPKF leave Sri Lanka to win popularity among the Tamil & socialist populations. He also sponsored the LTTE to destroy the India backed EPRLF forces and tried very hard to earn peace with the LTTE through dialogue. These attempts failed and war broke out. He was assasinated on the May Day commemoration of 1993, exactly 7 days after the assasination of Lalith Athulathmudali. A LTTE suicide bomber named Babu was responsible for the attack that killed Premadasa who is still the hero of common Sri Lankan people.
D.B. Wijetunga (1993-1994) [b.1916 – d.2008]
Education – St. Andrew’s College, Gampola
Represented – Udunuwara, Mahanuwara District
Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was a very simple rural farmer from Pilimathalawa. He started his life as a Cooperative Inspector, later he became the private secretary of then Food & Cooperative minister A. Rathnayake. In 1965 he got into parliament from his first attempt only to lose his seat in the 1970 election. He returned to parliament again in 1977 and became a cabinet minister. D.B. was very popular because of his simple ways, he’s known to be a very content person who seldom expresses anger while being a humble public servant who knew each individual in his electorate by his/her first name. D.B. did a silent service for the rural people of Sri Lanka during the JR era. Surprisingly D.B. was chosen for the Prime Minister post in 1989 by Premadasa over the highly qualified duo of Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. D.B. was the also the finance minister of the Premadasa presidency and as usual oversaw most of the rural issues. D.B. was hoisted into the presidency after the sudden demise of Premadasa. Then Leader of the House Ranil Wickremasinghe oversaw his transition into the presidency. D.B. was somewhat blunt because of his rural upbringing and had several difficulties moving about with the international community which misinterpreted some of his comments. One of his first duties was to reunite the UNP with its fellows in the DUNF. His close friendship with Gamini Dissanayake was influential in the success of the remerger. D.B. went ahead with Premadasa’s “Gam Udawa” and other projects with less party like atmosphere. On the war front D.B. was intent on crushing the LTTE and led a gruesome war effort in which the Eastern Province was totally cleared of the LTTE. In 1994 UNP lost the government after 17 years in front of the political machine of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who instated an Obama like hope among the people of Sri Lanka. UNP gave the reins of a country with a growing economy which was devoid of LTTE in most areas including the East, Pooneryn, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu to the PA as a result. D.B. first considered running for presidency in 1994 but decided against it. During the few months D.B. was working with Chandrika he was very corperative and democratic. D.B. went back to his humble residence in Pilimathalawa after Chandrika became president and lived a happy and simple life till his death in 2008.
Gamini Dissanayake (Designated/Unofficial Leader 1994) [b.1942 – d.1994]
Education – Trinity College, Kandy, University of Peradeniya, University of Cambridge
Represented – Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya, Nuwara Eliya Dist. & Mahanuwara Dist.
Gamini was born to a high class family in the hill country. His father was a deputy minister in the SLFP government of S W R D Bandaranaike. After a shining school career, Gamini became a lawyer while studying at the University of Peradeniya. Despite his father being an SLFPer Gamini chose the UNP for politics since his principles disagreed with those of the SLFP. Even when Premadasa expelled him from the UNP, Gamini turned down invitations to join the SLFP citing policy differences. But today one of his sons are in the SLFP government. It’s a good thing Gamini isn’t alive to see this. Thankfully his younger son has returned to the party which Gamini treated as his political home.
He first ran for election in 1970 in the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate and was one of the few UNPers to win that election. The youthful Gamini became the prodigy of the party. His popularity increased when he lost his seat due to an election petition but again returned to parliament in the bi-election. After the historic win in 1977, JR, who highly regarded Gamini, gave him the largest development project in Sri Lankan history, the Mahaweli Project. To make matters worse he was supposed to finish that project within 6 years, but the original plan when the project was conceived was to take 30 years. Gamini worked hard and realized this goal. Even today almost half of the electricity consumption is generated from the power stations Gamini helped build like Victoria, Kotmale, Randenigala & Rantembe. A vast majority of the rice we produce also comes from Mahaweli Regions which Gamini nourished. He also colonized the lands east of Polonnaruwa and north of Mahiyangana. This hindered the rapid progression of the LTTE towards Polonnaruwa & Kandy through the wilderness. Gamini was an influential figure in the Indo-Lanka pact and was one of the key contributors of Premadasa’s election turnaround of 1988. Gamini was expecting the Prime Minister slot in return from Premadasa but he was denied that opportunity as Premadasa feared Gamini will become a threat to Premadasa’s unitary control of the nation. Under Premadasa Gamini was Plantations minister for one year where he kept on working for the welfare of Sri Lanka. In 1990 Gamini Dissanayake decided to resign from his cabinet minister post amidst the leg pullings of the Premadasa camp. Gamini who was already a President’s Counsel left to Cambridge to read for a MPhil. During that time fellow UNPers Lalith Athulathmudali and G.M. Premachandra who were sick of the Premadasa dictatorship began an impeachment move to which Gamini also became a part of. In 1991 several UNP MPs including Gamini, Lalith, G.M. and some others like Lakshman Seneviratne, Premaratne Gunasekera, Chandra Gankanda and Samaraweera Weerawanni were expelled from the UNP. Instead of betraying their principles to join the SLFP created a new party called the Democratic United National Front (DUNF), or the Rajaliya pakshaya. Gamini became the deputy leader of the party. In 1993 he contested as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the DUNF for Central Province from Mahanuwara district. After the death of Lalith, Gamini became the leader of the DUNF and decided to remerge with the UNP after President D.B.s invitation. G.M. Premachandra and some others although didn’t follow Gamini to the UNP until sometime. In 1993 Gamini became a National List MP for the UNP and contested the 1994 Parliamentary election from Mahanuwara district winning with a record number of preferential votes. In the vote for the opposition leader position against Ranil Wickremasinghe, Gamini won slightly to become the Oppositions Leader and the next in line for the UNP throne. Gamini became the Presidential Candidate and designate leader of the UNP after D.B. declined to run for election in 1994. He was put against a tough task to win the presidency from the popular Chandrika Kumaratunga. Despite trailing significantly in the begining Gamini closed down the gap day-by-day. Many pundits expected him to become the next president when he was assasinated by an LTTE suicided bomber in a packed Thotalanga rally with some security lapses. Other UNP top men like G.M. Premachandra, Ozzie Abeygunasekara, Weerasinghe Mallimaracchi and etc also died of this bombing. Gamini was strongly against the LTTE but a pro-devolutionist who was popular and respected among the Tamil community. Gamini was also the key figure behind gaining Test status for Sri Lanka. He led the movement to Test status and was influential in the fast development of cricket in Sri Lanka. He would’ve been a proud man to see Sri Lanka win the world cup. Sadly the LTTE took away that opportunity from this great leader.
Ranil Wickremasinghe (1994-present) [b.1949 – ]
Education – Royal College, Colombo, University of Colombo
Represented – Biyagama, Gampaha District and Colombo District
Ranil is another of the politicians coming from a high class family. His father was a renowned journalist and his maternal grandfather was the famous D.R. Wijayawardena who founded the Lake House Newspaper group. Ranil’s family have been the chief supporters of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara and Gangarama Vihara, Seemamalakaya for generations. Ranil was a star student at the Royal College and was a classmate of Anura Bandaranaike and Dinesh Gunewardena. While his two friends whose parents were involved in “Socialist” politics send those kids to Britain and USA respectively for higher education Ranil went to the Law Faculty of University of Colombo, despite first being attracted by socialist politics like his father, Ranil began UNP student politics as a university student. After graduating he joined the UNP legal machinery before being selected as the UNP chief organizer for Kelaniya. He was assigned to Biyagama when the Kelaniya electorate was divided into two. In 1977 Ranil entered parliament on his first attempt. Ranil was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister in 1977 and became the youngest cabinet minister of Sri Lanka in 1978 when he became the Minister of Youth Affairs. Ranil is a very humble person who seldom speaks of the deeds he has done. Many people believe he’s achieved little as a politician. That is a wrong judgement. Ranil was the founder of the National Youth Council, he created systems to give jobs to the youth as well as vocational training. The SLFP and many other parties who oppose Ranil hold their meetings at the Maharagama Youth Council Complex which was also built during Ranil’s period according to his own vision. Ranil also spearheaded the formation of several military brigades and their training as the Youth Minister. Ranil did a lot of work for the development of Sport during the 80s both as Youth Minister and Education minister. As education minister Ranil solved most of the wage and promotion disputes of teachers and education administrators. Ranil also changed the old education system by introducing new developments and technology to the syllabus. He was also influential in forming the National Institute of Education to do research on education. Then Ranil became the Minister of Industry Development. At the same time he became the Leader of the House. As Industry Development minister Ranil’s first job was to create the Biyagama Export Process Zone. He was also the founder of the Karmanthapura ideology that has gone a long way in creating many job opportunities. Ranil also spearheaded the construction of 200 factories in rural areas under Premadasa. He was the person who introduced Internet & Mobile Communication to Sri Lanka amid the criticization of many. He had become the focus of cartoonist when he said that in several year even those who climb coconut trees will have mobile phones. Isn’t that a reality today? Ranil had such a vision to see the importance of mobile communication & internet as early as 1991. During the split of the UNP into two and the impeachment of Premadasa, Ranil tried very hard to convince his fellow intellectuals Gamini and Lalith not to leave the UNP and had tried to soften Premadasa’s approach. Ranil was one of the key figures who came to the rescue of Premadasa during the impeachment. After the death of Premadasa Ranil could easily have become President because D.B. was not highly regarded by many. But instead he chose to make sure that D.B. became President, this lead to his appointment as Prime Minister. With the loss of 1994, Ranil showing his humbleness vacated the Temple Trees within 24 hours to give way to the PA. He eventually lost the Opposition Leader vote to Gamini Dissanayake but accepted the result of the party. Ranil was appointed the leader of the UNP after Gamini was killed in the same Thotalanga meeting that he addressed and left several hours before the blast. Ranil being the gentleman politician bided his time and was on his way to the Presidency in 1999. But he eventually lost due to many mud-slingings and the sympathy vote as a result of the bomb blast that took one eye of Chandrika. Ranil was often branded as a Tiger by the LTTE and JVP and Ranil and the UNP was unable to prove otherwise. Despite losing the 2000 General Election Ranil led UNP to victory in 2001 after a very succesful Jana Bala Meheyuma. Ranil had to sign a CFA with LTTE due to the economic situation of the then war ravaged country which was in a recession. Only a fraction of North and East was under government control too. Ranil quickly started rebuilding the economy while carrying on with his efforts to corner LTTE into giving up Eelam. During his time he secretly strengthened the army and engineered a breakup in the LTTE with his confidant MP Ali Zahir Moulana which led to Karuna Amman leaving the LTTE. But sadly his powers were clipped in 2003 and the government was dissolved. PA which made a broader alliance with JVP defeated Ranil in 2004. Ranil ran against Mahinda in the 2005 General election and lost by the slimmest margin in Sri Lankan history. Ranil’s poor charisma, his Tiger label and government media’s accusations lost him votes in the south. But the LTTE answered the SLFPs tiger label by forcing a boycott of election in it’s areas of control. It was clear from the Tamil vote in government areas how the other Tamils would’ve voted. Eventually LTTE claimed that Ranil was a Sly Fox and till today they believe their decision to defeat Ranil in 2005 was the right decision. Ranil holds the record of the highest amount of Preference (Manapa) votes in Sri Lankan history in one election (415,686 in 2001) as well as the aggregate of all such elections. Despite being an honest and incorrupt politician with an unblemished record, Ranil has failed to win popular support and earn his rightful place. His marketability and leadership has been questioned regularly. But this unsung hero has a lot to give to Sri Lanka.
H Niles Perera© April, 2009