A historical sketch of Presidential Elections
SRI LANKA will go to Presidential Polls on November 17 to elect the
next Executive Head of this country. This election is the 5th
Presidential election since the promulgation of the Constitution of the
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 1978.
With the introduction of the Sri Lanka Republic Constitution of 1972,
we had a President, a ceremonial head replacing the Governor General.
This was done 25 years after independence, with the people's mandate
received at the General Election of 1970, replacing the Soulbery
Constitution of 1947, our first Constitution, which declared Sri Lanka
an independent state.
With the new Republican Constitution, Sri Lanka became a Sovereign
State within the Commonwealth with no allegiance to the Crown.
Thus Governor General William Gopallawa went down in the history of
this country as the last Governor General showing allegiance to the
British Monarch and the first and last non-Executive President of this
With the new Constitution coming into force, life of the Parliament
was extended by two years and instead of holding the General Election in
1975 under the 1947 Constitution, the General Election was held in 1977,
proving that Parliament was supreme.
When the UNP came into power with a landslide in 1977, winning 5/6th
or almost 145 seats in the House of Parliament, JRJ, the leader of the
UNP went ahead with the introduction of the new Constitution which
created an Executive President elected by the people. Its term of Office
is limited to six years.
Junius Richard Jayewardene assumed the role of the Executive
Presidency vested with the Executive Powers by bringing amendments to
the existing Constitution.
He created history becoming the First Executive President of this
country. He rose from the role of Premier to President based on the
merit of the UNP victory at the Polls of 1977 without facing a
President Jayewardene, instead of going full term of his office,
decided to go for the First Presidential election before the end of the
first term of his Presidency in 1982.
The new Constitution has provision for a such course to call for a
Presidential election prior to the completion of one's term at the end
of the fourth year of Presidency.
Thus we had the first Presidential Election on 20.10.1982 and the
second, on 19.12.1988. At the second Presidential Election UNP Candidate
Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected but his term of office ended abruptly
with his assassination on May Day 1993.
This paved the way the Members of the Parliament to exercise their
powers as elected members, to elect a President for the balance period
of time and the then Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was elected
President by a unanimous vote in Parliament.
The third was held on 11.09.1994. While the election campaign was
reaching its peak, UNP Presidential Candidate Gamini Dissanayake was
assassinated along with a number of other leading figures in the UNP, in
a bomb blast at Grand Pass (Thotalanga).The assassination was allegedly
have been carried out by an LTTE woman suicide bomber.
Srima Dissanayake was announced as the Candidate of the UNP replacing
the assassinated Dissanayake, her husband. At this election Sri Lanka
witnessed a woman assuming the powers of Executive Presidency for the
Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the Candidate of
the People's Alliance was elected the first woman President of Sri
The fourth Presidential election was held 21.12.1999, before the
completion of the first term of President Kumaratunga and she
successfully won the Presidential election to continue for a second
According to the Provisions of the Constitution, Presidential
elections should be held at the end of six years, being the stipulated
term of office of an Executive President. There was speculation that the
current President could go till 2006 as her term ends in December 2006.
The UNP was of the view that President Kumaratunga's term should end
in December, 2005. A "Jana Bala Meheyuma" was organised by the UNP
calling for a Presidential election before the end of 2005.
There was a legal battle on this issue. The `Jathika Hela Urumaya'
went before Courts. The Supreme Court verdict was that country should go
for the Presidential Election this year itself. Thus the current
Presidential election will be the fifth, scheduled for November 17.
Let us look at how the parties have fared at the respective
Presidential Election 1982.10.20
At the first Presidential Election held on October 20, 1988 six
registered political parties fielded their respective candidates to
contest the Presidential election.
At the time SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike had lost her civic
rights and hence the SLFP fielded Land and Agricultural Minister Hector
Kobbekaduwa. At this election J.R.Jayawardene won the day.
How the candidates fared:
UNP - J.R. Jayewardene -34,50,811- 52.91 %
SLFP - H.S.R.B. Kobbekaduwa -25,48,438 - 39.70 %
JVP - Rohana Wijeweera - 2,73,428 - 4.19 %
TC - G.G. Ponnabalam (Kumar) - 1,73,934 - 2.76 %
LSSP - Dr. Colvin R.Silva - 58,531 -.80 %
NSSP - Vasudeva Nanayakkara - 17,005 - .17 %
Registered Voters = 81,45,015 and 81.06 per cent of the voters
(660,2617) cast their vote at the election: Valid votes 65,22,147 and
the rejected votes 80,470 (1.22%)
The Presidential Election 1988.12.19.
UNP - Ranasinghe Premadasa - 2,569,199 - 50.43 %
SLFP - Sirimavo Bandaranaike - 2,289,960 - 44.95 %
SLMP - Abeygunasekera Ossie - 235,719 - 4.63 %
Registered Voters = 93,86,223 (9,375,742 ) and 51,82,223 i.e. 55.32
per cent of the voters cast their votes at the election : Valid votes
51,86,223(50,94,778?).Rejected 91,445 (1.76 %)
The SLFP which contested the two Presidential elections in 1982 and
1988 under the "Hand" symbol opted to fight the third Presidential
election under the "Chair" symbol having tasted victory at the 1994
General election as a coalition party with several other parties.
Mrs. Bandaranaike although was the leader of the SLFP and was with
the promise that she would be the Presidential candidate allowed her
daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the then Prime Minister of
the People's Alliance to contest the Presidential election as the PA
Candidate. Since the 1994 General Election the SLFP has contested as
part of a coalition.
The Presidential Election 1994.11.09
PA - Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga - 4,709,205- 62.28 %
UNP - Mrs. Vajira Srimathi Dissanayake - 2,715,285 - 35.91 %
Ind II - Hudson Samarasinghe - 58,886-
Bhumi - Harischandra Wijetunga - 32,651-
Ind I - A.J.Ranasinghe - 22,752-
SLPF - Galappaththi Archchige Nihal - 22,749-
Registered Voters = 109,45,065(109,44,5015) and 77,13,232 i.e. 70.47
per cent of the voters cast their votes at the election : Valid votes
75,61,526. Rejected 1,51,706 (1.97 %)
At the third Presidential election the UNP Presidential candidate
Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated at Thotalanga (Grand Pass) alleged
to be by a member of the LTTE and the JVP supported independent
candidate Nihal Galapaththi withdrew from the contest with the promise
of PA candidate to abolish the executive presidency.
The assassination of UNP candidate, Gamini Dissanayake was a blow to
the UNP campaign. His unfortunate and untimely demise caused irreparable
loss to the UNP and Srima lacked the charisma necessary to turn the
trend towards her. She was an unknown figure and was no match for
Political analysts also say had the UNP put forward another candidate
like B.Sirisena Cooray, though there was no chance to win, the votes
would have been more than what they have received. So it was a one man
race at the end.
But with all that UNP had scored little over 200,000 votes than what
they had received at the 1988 Presidential Election. The 1988
Presidential Election was marked with a poor voter turn out because of
threats posed by the JVP and terror groups in the South.
The Presidential Election 21.12.1999
PA - Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga- 4,312,157
UNP - Ranil Wickremesinghe - 3,602,748
JVP - Nandana Gunatilleke - 344,173
Bhumi - Harischandra Wijetunga - 35,854
Indp - W.V.M. Ranjith - 27,052
LP - Rajiva Wijesinha - 25,085
LDA - Vasudeva Nanayakkara - 23,668
Indp - Tennyson Edirisuriya - 21,110
SLMK - Abdul Rasool - 17,359
PLSF - Kamal Karunadasa - 11,333
Indp - Hudson Samarasinghe - 7,184
Eagle - Ariyawansa Dissanayake - 4,039
Indp - Alwis Weerakkody Premawardhana - 3,283
Taking a closer look at the 1999 Presidential election one would see
that the PA had lost votes by 1999. The lost 397,048 votes and the UNP
which had received 2,715,283 - 35.91 % with the loss of Gamini
Dissanayake received 3,602,748 and it was an increase of 8,87,465 votes.
Perusing through one will see that at the 1988 election though
Premadasa won, it was the lowest of voter turn out due the prevailing
situation at the time. At the election the total turn out of the voters
were around 5,186,223.
In every other Presidential election though the UNP lost it increased
its voter base. The SLFP when contested alone as a single party lost the
Presidential election but won two elections after joining hands with
others. But it could not match its own record of 1994 at the 1999
The 13 contestants at the fifth Presidential Election on November 17,
2005 are as follows:
1. Wimal Geeganage - (SLNF)- Sri Lanka Jathika Peramuna (Cricket bat)
2. Wije Dias - (SSP) - Samajawadi Samanathmatha Party Socialist
Equality Party (Pair of Scissors)
3. Ranil Wickremesinghe -(UNP) - United National Party (Elephant)
4. Sirituna Jayasuriya - (ESP)- Eksath Samajawadi Party (Tri-shaw)
(United Socialist Party)
5. Chamil Jayaneththi - (NSS) - Nava Samasamaja Party - (Table) (New
6. P. Nelson Perera (SLPF)- Sri Lanka Progressive Front (Flower Vase)
7. Hewaheenipallege Shantha Dharmardwaja - (UNAF) United National
Alternative Front (Gate)
8. Victor Hettigoda de Silva Wijedasa - (ELPP) Eksath Lanka Podujana
9. Mahinda Rajapakse (UPFA)- United People's Freedom Alliance (Betel
10. Anura Sarath de Silva - (ULF) - United Lalith Front (Swan)
11. Achala Ashoka Suraweera - (JSP) - Jathika Sangwardhena Peramuna
12. Ajith Kumara Jayaweera Archchige - (DUA)-Democratic Unity
Alliance (Two Leaves)
13. Aruna de Soysa (Motor Car) - Ruhunu Janatha Party