Elections always drew the comical, banal,
tragic and often absurd aspects of politicking in this country
as elsewhere in the world, in this era that some people have a
penchant for calling the modern age. One finds interesting
incidents from the days of the State Council, when political
figures even when not electioneering were a different class of
people though they may have been drawn from various social or
In the early stages of universal franchise in
the 1940s each candidate was given a colour to be identified by
the voters. There were many ballot boxes inside a cubicle or
enclosure at a polling booth and each candidate’s ballot box was
of the colour given to the candidate. There was no marking of
the ballot paper and all a voter had to do was to put the ballot
paper into the box allocated to the candidate of his choice.
(However it is not known how a colour blind voter may have
About the candidates, I remember as a little
child that the old Ruwanwella seat was contested by Dr. N. M.
Perera and others during one such election. It was natural that
Dr. N. M. was given the red colour as his party was a
Marxist-Trotskyite party and one of his opponents was Mohandas
de Mel whose colour was yellow. In those good old days there was
no polythene and advertising had not become a public nuisance
and eyesore. Mohandas’s posters said yellow is the colour of the
holy robe and Mohandas will win with the blessings the holy
However the election was won by Dr. N. M. Perera
who went on to retain that seat for more than 30 more years and
was only defeated in 1977 in that unintelligent landslide
electoral victory, which was also to destroy all the old values
our people had protected for centuries past.
Another election that comes to mind is the
general election of 1947 for electing representatives to the
first independent parliament of this country which the British
had christened as Ceylon. In that election there were only two
major political parties, the UNP and the LSSP. Phillip
Gunawardena who was also the father of the left movement and Dr.
N. M. Perera were the main challengers to old D. S. Senanayake
who was to win that election and form the first elected
government after independence from the British. Dr. N. M. Perera
who led the LSSP became the Leader of the Opposition.
At that time there was only one Sinhala daily
news paper, the Dinamina and two English dailies The
Ceylon Daily News and Times of Ceylon but D. R.
Wijewardena who owned the Lake House was also a king maker who
worked behind the scene to get the people of his choice elected.
The LSSP and the CP called his newspapers ‘Bere
gedara pacha pattara’ (the conning newspapers of the Beira
House.) His group of newspapers without exception went on to
attack the left political parties and publish news and stories
slanted towards the UNP.
Of course the left political parties had their
own tabloid newspapers but these printed in letterpress in
smaller numbers could not compete with the Lake House newspapers
which carried on regardless of the noble ideals of free press or
private sector owned independent newspapers. Even among the UNP
the Wijewardenas had their own choice of press freedom. If S. W.
R. D. Bandaranaike addressed any meeting or was speaking at any
public event Wijewardena’s orders to his pressmen was simply
report--S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike also spoke! But of course
Bandaranaike was the Leader of the House in D. S. Senanayake’s
government and Minister of Local Government and Health.
One of the most colourful parliamentarians of
the first parliament was Somaweera Chandrasiri, the member for
the then Moratuwa electorate. He was a minor Sinhala poet, an
able speaker on the public platform and he edited and ran the
pro-LSSP newspaper Nidahasa, which was a weekly tabloid.
He was not a member of the LSSP but a sympathiser who was jailed
by the British during the Second World War for being opposed to
the war and the British Empire. However much the British tried
to suppress the LSSP Somaweera alone decided to live in Sri
Lanka while all the LSSP leaders Phillip Gunawadena, Dr. N. M.
Perera, and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who were jailed jumped jail
and fled to India. There they remained with the Indian Marxist
parties hiding them in that vast subcontinent untill they
returned after the war.
Now Somaweera Chandrasiri in disguise was going
from place to place to hide from the police who finally caught
him and put him in jail. However, he sent his nomination papers
from jail to contest the 1947 election for the Moratuwa
electorate and won that election with a large majority of votes.
He was released after he was elected MP, and was to hold the
record as "the man who came to parliament from jail". He was to
remain a member of parliament for decades to come and finally
joined the SLFP as member for the Kesbewa electorate, which was
a part of the old Moratuwa electorate.
In the next election of 1953 Lake House was
again to play its role behind the scene. That year Lake House
thought that the greatest threat to Dudley Senanayake was the
LSSP as the SLFP which was only two years old at the time was
not as strong as the LSSP which had by that time a firm hold on
the trade unions and the working class. The Lake House put up a
poster with the picture of a sthupa on fire. The words
under the picture in Sinahala were "Buddhagama Sama Samaja
ginnen beraganivu" (Save Buddhism from the LSSP Flames!)
Though Lake House and other lesser beings said
that the LSSP was a political party with a revolutionary agenda
they were quite mistaken. The LSSP leaders of the time were
either sons of landlords or rich businessmen who had the wealth
to send their sons for education to the UK or USA. These young
gentlemen who revolted against the colour bar and other
snobbishness of the elites of the West were naturally attracted
to the then "Third Innternational", the communist movement of
Europe at the time. They came back with an intellectual
enchantment with Marxist theory and were known to split hairs
over such out of this world ideals like, the "Permanent
Revolution" or the "World Revolution" which were profound but
totally impractical theories propounded by such idealists as
Some of the critics of the LSSP and CP at the
time used to call these left political leaders "Revolutionaries
of the beer mug" meaning they discussed the revolution of the
proletariat only over a beer in their mansions or at one of the
high society clubs. So the fear that Lake House or any other
antagonist had of the left leaders of this country at that time
was only a figment of their imagination, not based on realities.
For the left leaders among whom were some professional lawyers,
doctors and academics would have been the last persons to have
even dreamt of an armed revolution against "The Capitalist
State" of their times.
There were other interesting politicians like
Wijeyananda Dahanayake the member from Galle who first entered
the then State Council from the Bibile electorate who was better
known at the time as the "The Hawk from Bibile".
Fondly called Daha by his colleagues and
admirers he used to swoop down on corruption or blunders
committed by government officials or legislators. At the time he
was the single member of the opposition and unlike today the
opposition benches were behind the government benches in the
Seated right in front of Daha was Francis
Molamure who was later to be knighted by the British Crown and
become the first speaker of parliament. Daha while criticising
the government of the day in the State Council said in his
speech "Some donkeys seated in the backbenches of the
government". Francis Molamure who was annoyed got up and
queried, "Who are the donkeys?". Daha replied: "If you take a
mirror you could see who the donkey is."
Francis Molamure was not to be put off with
Daha’s rejoinder. He said "I need not take a mirror but I could
see the donkey if I turn back," he said referring to the single
member Opposition who was Daha. But Daha’s repartee stunned the
whole House when he said, "Unfortunately Sir, if you do that you
will see your own tail!"
Dahanayake was not merely a member of
parliament, a minister and later the caretaker prime minister.
He was an institution. When he contested the Galle electorate in
1947 after representing the Bibile electorate earlier he was to
face one of the richest men of his times, Thomas Amarasuriya.
Amarasuriya with his lavish spending on the election campaign
posed a real challenge to Dahanayake who was only a member of
the upper middleclass family. But he was not deterred by all the
money. In his speeches he told the voters of Galle:
"I have brought before you a huge tree which has
currency notes as all its leaves. I am going to shake the
branches of that tree and all of you collect the currency notes
that will fall. You can take all that money but you know whom to
vote for." Of course Wijeyananda Dahanayake won that election
defeating Amarasuriya and remained the member for Galle for
decades to come till he finally retired from politics at an old
Unfortunately in this era we will not see the
likes of Wijeyananda Dahanayke, N. M. Perera, S. W. R. D.
Bandaranaike or Dudley Senanayake. Today’s politicians some of
whom have connections with criminal gangs or drug smugglers are
a far cry from the politicians and statesmen of yesteryear. The
one thing that cannot escape any student of politics is that
those politicians did not enter parliament to amass ill gotten
wealth but were people who had made their contribution to the
country even in some small way.