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by Walter Wijenayake

The late Ranasinghe Premadasa, the second Executive President of the Democratic Socialists Republic of Sri Lanka and the Head of the armed forces, was assassinated on my May 01, 1993, by a suicide bomber strapped with explosives, during the United National Party May Day procession in Colombo North.

His 20th death anniversary falls today.

He was born at No. 12, Dias Place in the Keselwatta Ward, San Sebestian’s Hill, Colombo 12 on June 23, 1924, to the Buddhist family of Richard Ranasinghe of Hegalla, Kosgoda in the Galle District and Mrs. Ratuwita Jayasinghe Arachchige Ensina Hamine of Ratuwita in Horana in the Kalutara District.

He received his primary education at Harvard Girls’ School, Dam Street, Colombo, post primary education at St. Lorenz’s College, Skinner’s Road South (Now Sri Sangaraja Mawatha, Maradana) and his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. While attending school, he attended the Hewavitharana Daham Pasala. He completed his education at St. Joseph’s College, during the Le Goc era. He satisfied all the requirements for registering at the University of London for higher studies.

However, he gave up this opportunity to engage in higher studies and chose path of social service for the welfare of the poor and down- trodden.

He, the architect of the Sri Sucharitha Movement, was the full time organizer of the community development project of the area in 1939.

These youth who enrolled in his development movement refrained from taking liquor and avoided smoking and gambling. Premadasa too was a teetotaler.

Allying with late A. E. Goonesinghe, the founder leader of the Ceylon Labour Movement, he commenced his political life. He had several ups and downs in that era. He had been the Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council while functioning as a member of San Sebastian’s Ward.

Joining hands with late Dudley Senanayake, he joined the UNP and contested Dr. N.M. Perera unsuccessfully in the Ruwanwella constituency at the general election held in 1956.

After his first failure to enter Parliament, he, in the process of reorganising the UNP, visited every nook and corner of the country, while also being the secretary of the Religious Affairs Committee of the Buddhist Council appointed by the government to organize the 2500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.

The following year he joined the protest march to Kandy on October 03, which had been organized by the late J.R. Jayewardene (later President). This march was disrupted at Imbulgoda by some thugs led by a powerful politician of the area.

He was elected the third Member of Parliament for Colombo Central in the Dudley Senanayake government at the general election held in March 1960, but failed in the July general election. Later he was elected Member for the Cinnamon Gardens Ward in the Colombo Municipal Council. It was at this time that he married Hema Wickramatunge, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wickramatunge Arachchige Charles Appuhamy of Bandarawela, on June 23, 1964. The son, Sajith, and daughter, Dulanjali, were born to this couple.

He was elected second Member of Parliament at the general election held in 1965 for the same seat and was appointed Chief Government Whip besides being appointed Parliamentary Secretary of Local Government. Later he was raised to the position of Minister of Local Government.

In the following general election held in 1970, he was elected first MP for Colombo Central and sat in the Opposition with late J.R. Jayewardene, the Leader of the Opposition. Premadasa was once again appointed Chief Opposition Whip. Further, he was elected chairman of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Inter- Parliamentary Association held in Australia. In the meantime, he held membership of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the constitution of 1972.

In 1975 he published his first novel Ranmini Muthu followed by Pemwathiya, a collection of poems and songs, Rasa kavi Sithuvili and his outlook on society and politics titled Pera Maga Lakunu were published 1976. Jeevana Kandulu was published in 1977.

Premadasa was elected first MP for Colombo Central in 1977 and became the Leader of the House and the Minister of Local Government. In addition he became the Deputy Leader of the UNP. When J.R. Jayewardene became the first Executive President of the country, Minister Premadasa became the Prime Minister on February 23, 1978.

He was elected second Executive President of the country when late J. R. Jayewardene stepped down. He led the UNP to victory at the general election held in 1989. He survived the attempted impeachment by some of his party men together with opposition Members of Parliament.

When he assumed duties as President, the country was in a bad shape with an insurgency in the South and the presence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the North and East. So, he first set about overcoming the two major problems in a very competent and matter of fact way. Then, he concentrated on building the economy, in which exercise too he was successful as seen by the improved position of the country’s economy during his tenure.

However, Premadasa’s greatest achievements were in the field of housing, poverty alleviation and the upliftment of the down- trodden. He was the architect of many innovative development schemes, such as, the Gam Udawa, Presidential Mobile Service, 200 Garment Factories programme and so on.

Premadasa proposed at the United Nations Organisation in New York to declare an year as International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The proposal was unanimously accepted at the 37th session of the United Nations General Assembly and 1987 was declared the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.

He launched the Gam Udawa scheme all over the country. He is the eminent founder of the Janasviya, now the Samurdhi scheme.

Premadasa was simple and straight. To his simplicity he added sincerity. There was no concealed ulterior motive or meaning behind his words. What he meant, he did mean, and he never went back on them. When he agreed, he stuck to his agreement through thick and thin.

May he attain the supreme Bliss of Nirvana.

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