September 5, 2012, 8:17 pm
United National Party
– Then and now
by Walter Wijenayake
The United National Party, which some termed as the United Noble Party, celebrates its 66th anniversary today, September 6, 2012.
The party was founded by the Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake on September 6, 1946, to contest the General Elections for the House of Representatives, for which purpose he resigned from the Ceylon National Congress.
At the time, youngsters such as his son Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayewardena had decided to propose that members of the Communist Party, led by Dr. S. A. Wickremesinghe, should be made party members.
D. S. Senanayake was radical in much of his thinking, but did not see in Communism, in any of its manifestations, a panacea for the problems of Sri Lanka, and hence did not agree with the proposal of the ‘young-guns’, such as his son Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayewardene.
All the ministers and a majority of the members of the State Council just dissolved, joined the UNP, which was formed as a non-communal party to deal with public questions on non-communal lines.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who had claimed that his Sinhala ‘Maha Sabha’ was the largest group in the retiring State Council, was elected a Vice-President of the party and his supporters, like himself, fought the election under the UNP umbrella. The Muslim League joined the UNP, as did Tamil representatives in the second State Council.
The left parties – The Lanka Sama Samaja Party, led by Dr. N. M. Perera and the Communist Party, led by Dr. S. A. Wickremesinghe, opposed the United National Party.
Polling for the election of members to the House of Representatives began in August 1947. The UNP fielded 98 candidates and gained 42 seats, in a chamber of 101.
The Governor, Sir Henry Moore, invited D. S. Senanayake on September 24, 1947 to form the first Cabinet of Ministers of the island.
A. F. Molamure (late Sir Francis Molamure, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, at the first meeting of the House on October 14, 1947. The first UNP government consisted of the following ministers:
1. D. S. Senanayake – Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and External Affairs.
2. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike – Minister of Health and Local Government and Leader of the House.
3. J. R. Jayewardene – Minister of Finance.
4. John Lionel Kotelawala – Minister of Transport and Works.
5. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke – Minister of Home Affairs.
6. George E. De Silva – Minister of Industries, industrial Research and Fisheries.
7. C. Sunderalingam – Minister of Commerce and Trade.
8. Dudley Senanayake – Minister of Agriculture and Lands.
9. T. B. Jayah – Minister of Labour and Social Services.
10. E. A. Nugawela – Minister of Education.
11. A. Ratnayake – Minister of Food and Co-operative Undertakings.
12. L. A. Rajapakse – Minister of Justice.
13. C. Sittampalam – Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
14. R. S. Gunawardena – Minister without Portfolio and Chief Government Whip.
Had the UNP under D. S. Senanayake at the General Election held in 1947, gained an overall majority if not a landslide, Sri Lanka would have set up a new constitution for the welfare of the whole nation.
In a dramatic turn of events, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike resigned from the Cabinet of Ministers on July 12, 1951 and founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which the architect was the celebrated lawyer, M. Sri Nissanka K. C., MP for Kurunegala.
The UNP, from its inception, had been identified as the party of capitalists. It had derived much of its support from rich land owners and flourishing businessmen, though its mass backing came from the common man.
Since the rout of the party in 1956, a great many ‘last nails’ have been periodically driven into the UNP coffin, but surprisingly, this party has been re-incarnated again and again.
When the MP for Gampaha, together with his thugs and followers took up a horizontal position at Imbulgoda on the Colombo – Kandy Road, to prevent UNPers, led by J. R. Jayewardene from marching to Kandy to protest against the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Pact, people witnessed a courageous and heroic incident, as UNPers facing hindrances and thuggery on the way, reached Kandy successfully in the second half of the first decade of the last century.
After the demise of D. S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala held the post of Prime Minister successfully, in turn.
The period between 1970 and 1977 was a very hard period for the party. Dudley Senanayake resigned from the post of Prime Minister on May 28, 1970. At this juncture, no one could have predicted what the future of the UNP would be. He died four years after the 1970 General Election.
J. R. Jayewardene, who assumed the leadership of the party, organised two Sinhala, one English and one Tamil journal to publicise the views and activities of the party.
At the General Election held on July 21, 1977, the UNP came into power with a five sixth majority in Parliament.
At this election, all the left political strongmen, together with most others were unseated and subsequently driven to the political wilderness.
After completing the second term of J. R. Jayewardene as the first Executive President of the country, he retired from politics and Ranasinghe Premadasa succeeded him.
When Premadasa died in a bomb attack, D. B. Wijetunge became President. At the General Election held in 1994, Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge came into power. Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Leader of the Opposition.
He became the Prime Minister in 2001, but it was only till 2004.
The UNP is responsible for the massive irrigation projects that opened up in the dry zone which was then a jungle. It can also claim to have initiated and completed most of the work of the Mahaweli Diversion Scheme. The initiation of large scale foreign investment in Sri Lanka too could be attributed to the UNP.
The Greater Colombo Economic Zone, set up by the J. R. Jayewardene Government, set the stage for the influx of foreign investment.
However, it has been a pathetic performance by the UNP under the existing leadership and the time has come for the leadership to realise the shortcomings and mistakes made in the past and effect remedial measures.
The decline of the ‘Grand Old’ party - the UNP - and the quality of its existing membership, sad to say, leaves much to be desired.
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Last Updated Jun 19 2013 | 12:00 pm