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Leftist Movement and the Catholic Community
Setback for Leftists at Negombo Municipal Elections


Santiago Fernando

Although at the 1947 Election, Santiago Fernando the LSSP candidate lost Negombo by a slender majority, it was evident that the Samasamaja Movement had taken root in the area. Besides the Leftist parties got the support of many Catholics in places like Moratuwa, Wadduwa, Maggona, Paiyagala and Colombo where they were found in abundance.

Santiago Fernando continued to be a member of the Negombo Urban Council after failing in his bid to enter Parliament. In 1948, he got an appointment as a teacher in Kahahena Buddhist School in Waga. This allowed him to come to Negombo only at weekends. Nevertheless he was able to continue to serve people in Negombo with distinction.

In 1947, C. M. Fernando became the Chairman of the Negombo U.C. Although he was a devout Catholic, he worked in close collaboration with the rebels in the Church like Fr. Marcelleine Jayakody and Warnakulasuriya Santiago Fernando. When both were elected as the members of the Negombo U.C. in 1943, C. M. Fernando found a close allay in Santiago Fernando. Now as the Chairman, C. M. Fernando gave his full support to Santiago Fernando. As such Santiago Fernando could render a yeoman’s service through the Negombo U.C.

When Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) got Independence, C. M. Fernando was the Chairman of the U.C. Negombo. Duke of Glocestor who came to Sri Lanka as the representative of King George VI for Independence celebrations, he toured Negombo as well. On that occasion the Chairman and members of the UC Negombo welcomed him with a grand reception. Although Santiago Fernando did not participate in the reception, he took part in the distribution of presents to the poor to mark the Independence by the Negombo U.C.

C. M. Fernando was a lawyer who was close to S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, then Minister of Health and Local Government. On the suggestion of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, C .M. Fernando relinquished the post of Chairman, U.C. Negombo to become the Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission. As a result of the resignation of C. M. Fernando, Kundnnnawila Ward he represented became vacant and a by-election for the ward was held in July 1949.

At this by-election A. N. D. A. Abeysinghe, son-in-law of Mudliyar A. E. Rajapakse who earlier represented Negombo in the State Council contested Kundawila, backed the UNP. Although Mudliyar A. E. Rajapakse was a devout Catholic, A. N. D. A. Abeysinghe was an ardent Buddhist. Accordingly Fredie Mathes who was earlier a member of the ward contested him as an Independent. The LSSP put forward D. J. Witharana.

He was a bakery owner and an enthusiastic supporter of the LSSP in Negombo from the beginning. He was considered as an outsider because he came from Matara, and was not that popular in the ward. The real fight was between A. N. D. A. Abeysinghe and Freddie Mathes. At the end A. N. D. A. Abeysinghe won by an overwhelming majority. The LSSP candidate D. J. Witharana, polled only 77 votes and lost even his deposit.

In 1950, the Negombo Urban Council was raised to the status of a Municipality. The elections for the new Negombo Municipal Council was held in December 1949. At this time the LSSP and the BLP (Bolshevik Leninist Party) were at loggerheads. The Communist Party supported the BLP headed by Colvin R, de Silva. In Negombo M. C. Elections, the LSSP sought to increase its representation in the Council. It decided to nominate Santiago Fernando to contest Kudapaduwa ward he represented earlier and D. B. Waidyasekera to contest Hunupitiya.

When Dr. Hector Fernando learned that Santiago Fernando, the sitting member was not contesting Hunupitiya, he decided to contest it. The LSSP pointed out that Hunupitiya was a ward won by it and it had the right to contest it. They also emphasised the fact that earlier Dr. Hector Fernando lost Hunupitiya by over 200 votes and in 1943, Waidyasekera lost it only by 100 odd votes. They suggested that Dr. Hector Fernando could contest Kundanwila ward, The LSSP was blamed for not allowing the BSP to contest. The LSSP refused to withdraw D. B. Waidyasekera.

In 1949 when China became a Communist country, the Catholic Church went into jitters. It feared that Communism would spread in Asia. The Catholic Church passed many strictures against Marxists. It forbade the Catholics from joining or supporting Marxist parties. Marxists were denied Church recognition, sacraments and burials.

At this time, the leader of the LSSP in Negombo Santiago Fernando was at the height of his popularity. The veteran journalist D. F. Kariyakarawana once remarked "Santiago Fernando" shook the whole of Negombo". However with the prohibition imposed by the Catholic Church on Marxists, many Catholics could no longer support him. Once they summoned him and said. "We would make you all powerful in Negombo. Please leave the LSSP". Santiago Fernando never succumbed to political expediency or gain. He stood by the LSSP.

Now Santiago Fernando found himself to be an outcast in his own country. The campaign of the LSSP in some Catholic areas was sabotaged and meetings were stoned. Some Catholics slammed their doors at the sight of Santiago Fernando. Once, a LSSP meeting organised by Santiago Fernando in Ja-Ela was stoned and sabotaged. Santiago Fernando who was injured had to take refuge in a relative’s house.

It was in this background that Santiago Fernando contested Kudapaduwa ward as the LSSP nominee in 1949 Negombo M. C. Elections. He was pitched against Marku Sebastian Fernando, a rich philanthropist who contested the ward with the support of the UNP. Hunupitiya was contested by the UNP backing by D. W. W. Jayamanne, the elder brother of the famous film magnate B. N. W. Jayamanne and comedian Eddie Jyamanne. His rivals were Dr. Hector Fernando of the BSP and D. B. Waidyasekera of the LSSP.

Marku Sebastian Fernando was a popular figure in Kudapaduwa and he spent a lot of money for his campaign. On account of the strictures of the Catholic Church even close relatives of Santiato Fernando were reluctant to support him openly. The Tamil teachers of Kudapaduwa who played a leading role for the victory of Santiago Fernando in 1943, deserted him this time. Santiago Fernando who won Kudapaduwa with an overwhelming majority in 1943, lost to Marku Sebastian Fernando with a bigger majority.

The situation in Hunupitiya was different. There, the main contest was between D. W. W. Jayamanne and Dr. Hector Fernando. All the relatives of Dr. Hector Fernando wholeheartedly came to his assistance. He got the support of the Communist Party as well. Unlike the fisherfolk in Kudapaduwa, progressive Catholics in Hunupitiya defied the Catholic Church and voted for Dr. Hector Fernando.

D. W. W. Jayamanne had a well organised campaign with film artists in the forefront. He got the backing of the Catholic Church as well. Ultimately after a close fight D. W. W. Jayamanne was able to defeat. Dr. Hector Fernando by 82 votes. The LSSP candidate D. B. Waidyasekera got 228 votes and if not for him Dr. Hector Fernando of the BSP would have easily won Hunupitiya.

In 1949 Negombo M. C. elections, not a single leftist was elected. Since then personal rivalries began to dominate politics in Negombo. The members began to look after the personal needs of voters. At times, religious and caste issues too began raise their heads.

Although Negombo Municipal elections was a set back to the Leftists, they had some progress in the Andiambalamaa V. C. that belonged to the then Negombo electorate. There Cecil de Silva from the CP won Kurana-Katunayake ward and Luts Silva of the LSSP won Madawala, Kurana-Katunayake. Kurana-Katunayake had Catholics and Methodists in equal numbers and Madawala was a Buddhist ward.

In 1950 when Philip Gunawardena left the LSSP, Santiago Fernando too followed him. All the other LSSPers in Negombo remained united within the LSSP fold and Santiago Fernando was isolated. Nevertheless Santiago Fernando was not disheartened. He helped Philip Gunawardena to organise the VLSSP and recruited new members for the party from Negombo. Now Santiago Fernando became the leader of the VLSSP in Negombo.

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