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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 country.

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 Presidential Election.

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 first time.

Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the Candidate of the People's Alliance was elected the first woman President of Sri Lanka.

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 term.

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 elections.

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 Chandrika.

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 election.

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 Left Front)

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 Party (Cup)

9. Mahinda Rajapakse (UPFA)- United People's Freedom Alliance (Betel Leaf)

10. Anura Sarath de Silva - (ULF) - United Lalith Front (Swan)

11. Achala Ashoka Suraweera - (JSP) - Jathika Sangwardhena Peramuna (Coconut)

12. Ajith Kumara Jayaweera Archchige - (DUA)-Democratic Unity Alliance (Two Leaves)

13. Aruna de Soysa (Motor Car) - Ruhunu Janatha Party

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