Saga of crossovers, expulsions, resignations,
terminations, death and by-elections in Sri Lanka

by Dr. Wimal Wickramasinghe

Since political crossovers have now become the order of the day, prompted by various factors which we shall enumerate later, we shall begin this comprehensive article with its notable origin in Sri Lanka, followed by a series of expulsions, by-elections, resignations and termination or rather forfeiture of the seats in Parliament due to a plethora of reasons. The political crossover apparently began with S W R D Bandaranaike, who was Minister of Health and Local Government and Leader of the House under D. S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of post-Independent Sri Lanka. SWRD entered politics in 1936 was elected to the second State Council and functioned as Minister of Local Government. DS was senior to him, entering into politics in 1931 as Member of the State Council and Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

First Crossover

SWRD resigned from the portfolio on July 12, 1951, joined the Opposition and later formed his own political party called Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Though he was second in command in the UNP, he sensed justifiably that the mantle of premiership was being contemplated by DS to be passed on after him to his son, Dudley Senanayake, who entered politics in 1947, thus becoming Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

There could be two explanations to the decision made by SWRD. One was the tendency of the family tree seeping into politics or rather governance of public affairs for the first time in Sri Lanka. This was in fact made easier by the sudden death of DS on March 22, 1952, leaving Lord Soulbury, the second Governor of Sri Lanka, to translate the wishes of DS into practice and appoint Dudley as successor with effect from March 28, 1952. It had been the practice in British parliamentary affairs to heed the wishes of the outgoing Prime Minister in the appointment of his successor.

Yet, Dudley, a gentleman in politics, too, knew the ramifications of the issue as both SWRD and Sir John Kotelawala (who was Minister of Transport and Works in the second State Council in 1936 and was made Minister of Transport Works and Leader of the House later under Dudley) was senior to him, and therefore, he sought a fresh mandate within two months from the people after dissolving the Parliament. He emerged victorious and became Prime Minister again in June 1952, the SLFP, together with the LSSP, winning eight seats each at the second General Election of 1952.

The second explanation was that though SWRD became a Minister in 1936 and was Leader of the House in 1947, the contemplation that he would be sidelined made him resign from both his portfolio and the UNP. Being frustrated over the issue, SWRD did so on a matter of principle though he took a calculated risk in politics. Nevertheless, consequent upon the resignation of Dudley, on October 12, 1953, Sir John Kotelawala became Prime Minister on October 14, 1953 until April 11, 1956, when the UNP lost the General Elections in 1956, reducing the number of seats to bare eight. Though Sir John was elected again as MP for Dodangaslanda in 1956, he did not contest the seat from March 1960 onwards.

New Government in 1956

SWRD, fighting the third general elections in 1956 under a new political party called MEP (an alliance with other small political parties headed by Philip Gunawardena, W Dahanayake, etc.), became Prime Minister on April 12, 1956. In the process thereafter, Philip Gunawardena resigned from his ministerial portfolio and crossed over to the Opposition. After the assassination of SWRD on September 26, 1959, W Dahanayake became Prime Minister on September 26, 1959, but the person next in command, C. P. de Silva, who was Leader of the House at this material time, was away from Sri Lanka; he continued to be Leader of the House under Dahanayake. The notable features in the Dahanayake Cabinet were the resignations (D. A. Rajapakse, M. P. M. Musthapa, Charles Percivel de Silva and C. Wijesinghe), removals (Wimala Wijewardena, T. B. Ilangaratna, A. P. Jayasuriya, M. P. de Soyza, P. B. G. Kalugalla, Maiththripala Senanayake, C. A. S. Marikar, R. G. Senanayake, Henry Abeywickrema, M. B. W. Mediwaka and J. C. W. Munasinghe), resignations (Stanley de Soyza) and fresh appointments to the Cabinet (M. P. M. Mustapa, Stanley de Soyza, Razeek Fareed, M. I. M. Kariyappar, R. E. Jayatilleka and Leyard Jayasundara).

First Woman Prime Minister

At the March 1960 elections, Dudley wrested power and became Prime Minister on March 21, 1960 for a little more than three months as his government lost the vote on the Throne Speech in Parliament on April 22, 1960. At the next elections in July 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became Prime Minister on July 21, 1960. There was a constitutional requirement that the Prime Minister or any other Minister should be a member of either Parliament or Senate within three months of the appointment. Therefore, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was appointed to the Senate.

The crossovers orchestrated due to graft and other reasons brought the downfall of the SLFP government in late 1964, Sirimavo continuing to be Prime Minister until March 25, 1965. Dudley became Prime Minister for the third time on March 25, 1965, after the March 1965 general elections, with Philip Gunawardena, C. P. de Silva, W. Dahanayake and I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla crossing over to the Dudley government with ministerial posts. Having got a landslide victory, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became Prime Minister again in May 1970 (and until July 23, 1977), with the leftist die-hards like Dr N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, Leslie Gunawardena and Peter Keuneman crossing over to the government and getting ministerial portfolios. But the first three were removed from the Cabinet on September 2, 1975 and their political careers ended after the July 1977 general elections.

Mega Government

There was a five-sixth majority of the UNP in Parliament at the general election of July 21, 1977 that secured 139 for the UNP and only 8 seats for the SLFP in a Parliament of 168. Thereafter, the UNP won another seat at the 2-member Pottuvil by-election on September 12, 1977 which could not be held on the day of general elections owing to the death of one of the contestants. Two other developments took place immediately afterwards, one being R P Wijesiri (2nd MP for Harispattuwa) who was the only successful independent candidate winning a seat (out of 295 independent candidates), first joining the SLFP (making it 9 in Parliament) and later joining the UNP, making it 141 and 8 for the SLFP. This number became 142 when C. Rajadurai resigned from the TULF and joined the UNP becoming the Minister of Regional Development and Hindu Cultural Affairs.

J. R. Jayewerdene became Prime Minister from July 23, 1977 to February 3, 1978, and with the passing of a new Constitution in 1978, he was sworn in as first Elected Executive President of Sri Lanka on February 4, 1978, making wild crossovers virtually impossible, only M D H Jayawardena (Kaduwela Electorate resigning from his portfolio in November 1979 and Gamini Jayasuriya (Homagama Electorate) thereafter. The first Presidential Election was held on October 20, 1982 and JR won it with a 52.91 per cent of the total votes cast and continued in that capacity until February 1989. Other presidential candidates at the first presidential election were Dr Colvin R de Silva (LSSP), H S R B Kobbekaduwa (SLFP), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (NSSP), G G Ponnambalam (ACTU) and Rohana Wijeweera (JVP).


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