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A brief history of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party

by Deshakeerthi Chandrasiri Weligamage (Ex. Director, State Printing Corporation)

I write this brief concept of the party on an occasion when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is commemorating its 52nd anniversary with the pure intention of outlining its national responsibilities.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has made history by making vast transitions in social developments during nearly two decades of being in power since its inception on September 2, 1951.

Although the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was formed under the leadership of late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike fifty two years ago at the Colombo Municipal Council hall, the main foetus behind it was the "Sinhala Maha Sabha".

It was the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, originator of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party who led the Sinhala Maha Sabha which was a political force by itself during the State Council period.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike

The Sinhala Maha Sabha was formed in 1934 when the Sinhala race was divided, without hopes and fallen to a low socially and economically. Mr. Bandaranaike realised this before anyone else and it resulted in all big and small factions joining hands towards the fight for freedom. The inaugural meeting was held at the Buddhist Centre in Pettah.

The intention of the Sinhala Maha Sabha which became popular during a short period was to unite the Sinhala race which was divided and later unite all races. Really this was not racialism. It was during a period when the Sinhalese, the main race, had to be united and organised before engaging the other races.

With his far sighted and efficient brain Mr. Bandaranaike understood that the Sinhala race which was divided into castes, creeds and religions had to be united as a race initially to build a Ceylonese nation. He kept the uniting of all races to the end as we thought that uniting them initially would be like giving alms to distant people when your own household was under starvation. Therefore he gave priority to uniting the Sinhala race.

Since the formation of the Sinhala Maha Sabha requests were made to various areas of the country to establish branches. The first branch was formed at Panumugama and during the first year spread to Senapura, Matara, Tangalle and Horana. Literates and poets held responsible posts of these branches. Sri Rupadeva Ananda Rajakaruna, the prominent poet of the Colombo era was a Vice President of the organization. Thudawe Panditha Gunawardena, J. P. Wickramathileke and D. W. Wickramarachchi also held posts. Ven. Kalukondayawe Pragnasekera Thera headed the religious section.

At the second convention literates V. T. Panditha Gunawardena, Munidasa Cumaranathunga and Ananda rajakaruna were elected as vice presidents and prominent novelist and literate W. A. de Silva was elected as a joint secretary. By this time Dudley Senanayake, A. P. Jayasuriya, Raja Hewawitharana, R. S. S. Gunawardene, E. W. Abeygunasekera, E. A. Nugawela, Prof. A. P. de Soyza, A. Ratnayake, D. M. Rajapakse, R. C. Kannangara, R. S. Thennakoon, Jayaweera Kuruppu, D. D. Athulathmudali, D. Wanigasekara, Siripala Samarakkody and J. L. Kothalawala, all members of the State Council, had obtained membership of the Sabha.

By the end of September 1944 the Soulbury Commission Report recommending a government with a Cabinet system for Sri Lanka was released.

On January 19, 1945 Mr. Bandaranaike presented an act "An Act to prepare a new constitution for Ceylon" to the State Council, as the Minister of Local Government, with the full consent of the board of ministers. After a lengthy debate it was passed without a vote on February 16, 1945. The State Council was informed by the State Secretary in charge of colonial affairs on July 17 that he could not advice the king to approve this act. Whilst holding the post of acting chief whip of the State Council Mr. Bandaranaike brought the following resolution on July 18 in protest and was approved by a majority of 24 votes.

"This council states its protest to Your Highness for the refusal to accept the act forwarded by the populace of Ceylon of their rights in deciding on the constitution of a government".

It also contained the ideas of Mr. Bandaranaike on national independence and was the first parliamentary constitution by a Sinhalese.

The United National Party was formed at a meeting held at "Palm Court", Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo on September 06, 1946 with the participation of Sinhala Maha Sabha, Lanka National Congress, and a few Muslim leaders in anticipation of the forthcoming first general election under the Soulbury government system. The new organisation was named United National Party. This was proposed by the member for Kankesanthurai T. Nadesan, and seconded by appointed member T. B. Jayah.

The name of D. S. Senanayake as President was proposed by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and seconded by George E. De Silva.

The Sinhala Maha Sabha after joining the United National Party contested the 1947 poll as U.N.P. candidates. The versatile politician, experienced administrator and explicit debater S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who contested the newly demarcated Attanagalla electorate won by 26,850 against his rival and became the Member of Parliament and was appointed the Minister of Health and Local Government.

Mr. Bandaranaike had to say this about the alignment of the Sinhala Maha Sabha with the United National Party, "When the alignment of the Sinhala Mahajana Sabha with the U.N.P. first surfaced most of the educated within and outside the Sinhala Sabha asked me not to join. This request was made from me as I would have become the Prime Minister with a majority of Members of Parliament to back me. Although it was my aspiration too I declined as it would have caused a problem to the well being of the country. Therefore I joined the United National Party.".

It is true that a stable government was formed by the U.N.P. with the assistance of independent members and the Tamil groups, but the ambitions of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike were not fulfilled.

Mr. Bandaranaike was accepted by all as the prominent person and in certain instances as the main individual who was instrumental in the formation of the United National Party. He even declined suggestions by leftist and independent members to form a new government under his premiership at the discussions held at "Yamuna", residence of H. Sri Nissanka, Q. C. Should he have accepted the decisions arrived at "Yamuna" he would have entered history as the first prime minister of independent Ceylon and not D. S. Senanayake.

On July 12, 1951 he made the historic sacrifice of resigning all posts held as a minister and of the party and joined the opposition. The Member of Parliament for Horana and Junior Minister of Cultural Affairs A. P. Jayasuriya, Balangoda M. P. Jayaweera Kurupu, M.P. Colombo North and Junior Minister of Justice George R. de Silva, M. P. for Beliatta, D. A. Rajapaksa and M.P. for Udugama D. S. Gunasekara followed suit and joined the opposition with their leader.

Mr. Bandaranaike who was the second in command of the United National Party had stated in the following manner why he resigned from all his portfolios and positions to come to the public only as the Member of Parliament for Attanagalle:

"When I helped in the formation of the United National Party, encouraged the Sinhala Maha Sabha to join it, agreed to be a member of this Cabinet, it was done with the intention of giving the stability to the government of the new era. I thought that the socialist ideas will be promoted step by step in the future and also the problems faced by the country will be solved simultaneously".

"I am aware that I will have to face severe hardships and problems in the future. But I can be satisfied that by this I will be doing a duty toward my countrymen".

"I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years out of which I have been a Minister for 15 years. I may have made mistakes during this period, but I think i would have done even a small service through the positions held by me".

"Now, i independently delegate my services to the country. I will doing duty towards the country in any capacity, may it be as Prime Minister in Parliament or outside as a normal citizen.

The Sri Lanka Freedom party was formed on September 2nd 1951 to make reformations in the economic, social and cultural fields which had to be done soon after obtaining of freedom but willingly neglected.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, D. S. Gunawardena, A. P. Jayasuriya, Jayaweera Kuruppu, H. Sri Nissanka, D. A. Rajapakse, George R. De Silva, Mrs. Thamara Kumari Ilangaratne who were members of Parliament and Senator Barnes Ratwatte were among of the first 44 signatories to the newspaper notice for the formation of the party.

The following office bearers were elected at the first meeting. Chairman - S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Jt. Secretaries - Bernard Aluvihare, Badiudeen Mohamed an S. Nagaraja, treasurer - George R. de Silva.

H. Sri Nissanka, then M.P. for Kurunegala proposed that the new political party should be named Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

After the formation of the party in the capital the first publicity campaign was held at Anuradhapura. Facing severe attacks of the U.N.P. from one side and the marxist organisations on the other, this infant party was able to form 51 branches. As the party activities widened the office functioning at the Bandaranaike residence at Rosmead Place was shifted to No. 21, Kotte Road, Rajagiriya. By March 1952 there were a secretary and 19 clerks employed full time at this office. The membership fee was Rs. 1.

This infant party had to face a general election just after 6 months after formation due to the sudden demise of Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. It was not anticipated but the S.L.F.P. was ready to face the challenge and fielded 48 candidates. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike won the Attanagalle seat by a historic 32,544 votes at this election which was held on 24, 25, 28 and 30 May, 1952.

The other S.L.F.P. members who retained their seats at the 1952 general election were S. D. Bandaranaike - Gampaha, H. B. Tenne-Dambulla, Bernard Aluvihare-Matale, C. A. S. Marrikkar - Kadugannawa, Henry Abeywickrama-Baddegama, D. A. Rajapakse-Beliatta, C. P. De Silva-Polonnaruwa and C. R. Beligammana-Mawanella former members H. Sri Nissanka, D. S. Gunasekara, Goerge R. De Silva, Jayaweera Kuruppu and Mrs. Thamara Kumari Illangaratne lost. The S.L.F.P. was only able to win 9 seats.

As symbols were not delegated to contesting parties even Mr. Bandaranaike contested under the elephant. At the subsequent by elections of Kandy and Aluthnuwara the S.L.F.P. was defeated, but S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike became the leader of the opposition.

The first anniversary convention of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was held on December 28, 1952.

A hartal was launched on August 12, 1953 against the raising of prices of rice, postal and railway fares. 13 people were killed in police firing of which 02 were from the Attanagalla electorate. J. R. Jayewardene, Minister of Finance and Dudley Senanayake, Prime Minister resigned their portfolios due to the hartal and Sir John Kotelawala assumed duties as Prime Minister.

The belief amongst the people that being against the U.N.P. was to hit your head against a rock was falsified by this. It also had a big effect on the S.L.F.P. victory of 1956.

It was during this period that a political organisation was formed with Sinhala Bhasha Peramuna, Revolutionary Sama Samaja Party and few independent members, under the leadership of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, named Mahajana Eksath Peramuna.

Sixty contestants were fielded by the M.E.P., at the 1956 general election and 51 were returned to Parliament. The leader of the M.E.P. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, was returned to Parliament once again with a historic majority of 41,997 votes, whereas the U.N.P. candidates received only 3019 votes.

Forty five contestants of the Sri Lanka Freedom party were fielded at the 1956 elections and only the contestants of Wellawatta-Galkissa, Kalutara, Mathurata, Talawakelle, Dodangaslanda and Horowpatana lost their seats.

Bernard Aluvihare a founder Jt. Secretary of the S.L.F.P. and H.D. Tenne, M.P. for Dambulla crossed over to the U.N.P, just before the elections.

With the vast majority obtained at the election, the era of the masses was inaugurated, making the Sinhala language the official language, accepting government dependence over private sector dependence, Paddy Lands Act, nationalising of private bus companies and formation of the Sri Lanka Transport Board, nationalization of the Colombo Port, establishing the Employees Provident Fund, making May 1st the World Workers' Day, a public holiday, revising the labour laws to the benefit of the employees, following a middle path in foreign policy and the Tamil language Special Provisions Act were realised.

The biggest setback faced by our party was the assassination of the people's Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike on September 25. 1956.

When Parliament was dissolved on December 3, 1959 the S.L.F.P. had regained its former identity and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna was the new party formed by Philip Gunawardena.

With the arrival of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike on the political scene at the request of the voters a revival of the party had begun.

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected the chairperson of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The S.L.F.P. which contested the general elections of July 1960 won 75 seats out of the 145 in Parliament.

She made history by being sworn in as the first female prime minister at the auspicious time of 1.40 p.m. on July 21, 1960.

The establishment of People's Bank, nationalisation of Bank of Ceylon, establishing the Insurance Corporation and nationalisation of petroleum companies, which were under foreign control, were giant steps taken by her towards socialism.

On June 5, 1968 the S.L.F.P. came to a mutual understanding with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, and the Communist Party to act as a united front and the agreement was signed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe at the S.L.F.P. headquarters. This paved the way for the massive victory of the United Front coalition in 1970.

At the general election of 1970 the S.L.F.P. coalition won the majority of seats and leader and president of the S.L.F.P. took oath for the second term as prime minister of Sri Lanka. Of the 21 members who took oaths on 31st May 17 were from the S.L.F.P.

Mrs. Bandaranaike was elected as the first chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, consisting of 86 member countries and bought credit to the country.

Employment opportunities in the Middle East were opened to Sri Lankans after this event.

We should specially mention that Sirimavo Bandaranaike protected the party in times of turmoil as a king cobra protects a gem. It was this attitude that brought victory in 1970 and 1974.

At the 1989 general election, the S.L.F.P. under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike secured 67 seats and she became the leader of the opposition.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was becoming feeble in health. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over the helm of the S.L.F.P. Since then she has efficiently contributed vastly towards the party leadership.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga contested the Western Provincial Council. From thence she rose to premiership and presidency within a very short period. At the 1994 elections she won by a majority of 1,993,992 votes.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has devoted all her time and energy to safeguard democracy and the rights of the people. She intends to take the party forward, keeping with Sinhalese culture and the heritage of the nation.

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