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Government Gazette

Strengthening the SLFP

GENERAL ELECTION: The party-system had entered the body politic of Sri Lanka after independence and the island’s first General Election in 1947, saw the emergence of the Untied National Party as the main political party in the island’s first Parliament.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party was formed prior to the island’s second General-Election in 1952 for the second Parliament.

The events led to its formation was the departure of the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike from the government.

Professor Howard Wiggins, a former American Ambassador in his book - “Dilemmas of a new Nation”, at pg. 119 states as follows; “The newest of the important parties prior to the 1956 elections, the SLFP was the personal creation of one-man and a few devoted followers.

When Bandaranaike crossed the floor in June 1951, he dissolved his Sinhala Maha Sabha which had voiced Buddhist and Sinhalese aspiration since its founding in 1937. In its stead he created the Sri Lanka Freedom party or the SLFP.

The UNP Government did not give sufficient expressions to the nearly won freedom to make it meaningful to the vast majority of the people. They gave the impression that a set of Brown Sahibs had replaced the white rulers of colonial times. This thinking gradually lead to the breakaway of Bandaranaike from the government.

The famous “Madampa Resolution” was submitted to the UNP government at that time by the Sinhala Maha Sabha of which Bandaranaike was the leader.

The resolutions was rejected on the basis that they were out-or-order. at this stage Bandaranaike decided to leave the UNP because he said he could not remain in the government under humiliating circumstances that do not accord with elementally self-respect”.

This passage which contains the conversation the author had with the late Duncan Alwis. Private Secretary to the late Bandaranaike is inserted herein. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike before July 12, 1951, had a private conference with D.S. Senanayake about the resolutions he was requested to amend them.

He promised to consider it and came home. The following morning he said he would resign and wanted me to write down the letter of resignation, to be sent to the Governor General. George R. de Silva visited him that morning and agreed that he should resign.” I took the letter and handed it to Lord Soulbury.”

He crossed the floor on budget-Day in 1951. Mr. D.A. Rajapaksa, MP for Beliatta walked out with him. This led to the formation of the SLFP.

Many names were suggested as the name of the new party. A popular name was Sri Lanka Socialist Front. Ultimately a name fancied by Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka freedom Party was selected.

Mr. Duncan Alwis says as follows “I can remember an astrologer Jayasinghe approved this name as this was good for S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike astrologically. The colour blue, the colour of Lord Vishnu was selected as the colour of the party. The party crest had sheaves paddy and the sun and the moon so that it would last forever according to mythology.”

A mass meeting was held on September 2, 1951 at the Town Hall under the Chairmanship of Bandaranaike.

The resolution to form the party was moved by Nissanka, MP/QC and seconded by Al Haj Badurdean Mohamed, Principal, Zahira College, Gampola.

The following office-bearers were elected temporary President S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Joint Secretaries- Bernard Aluvihare, Al Haj Mohamed Badurdean and S. Thangaraja: Treasurer, George R. de Silva. Thus the SLFP was formed which created the basis for much political, cultural and economic change in our country.

As the party was formed, with the sudden demise of D.S. Senanayake on 22.3.1952, the new Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake called for a General Election in May 1952. In a very short time the party faced a General Election.

However, the party was able to get nine MPs elected to the Parliament. The MPs elected were- C.P. de Silva (Polonnaruwa), C.A.S. Marikkar (Second Kadugannawa), C.R. Beligammana (Mawanella), Bernard Aluvihare (Matale), S.D. Bandaranaike (Gampaha), H. Abeywickrema (Baddegama), S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (Attanagalle), H.B. Thenne (Dambulla) and D.A. Rajapakse (Beliatta).

During the period 1952 - 1956 the party brnahces were strengthened and Bandaranaike toured the whole country holding public meetings. During this period on 29.5.55 shortly before 1956, the party faced a by-election and fared badly.

Aluth Nuwara by-election results

Edmund Dimbulana (UNP) 5,291

Daya Gunasekera (NLSSP) 2,177

C.B.W. Polgolla (SLFP) 954

K.B. Herath (CP) 504

Spoilt votes 243

Majority 3,114

Everybody thought that the SLFP was finished. At this time the UNP said Bandaranaike was the most pathetic political failure in Asia, but within one year, in 1956, came the landslide victory.

Historians will remember Bandaranaike for this great victory. With the cruel assassination of Bandaranaike in September 1959 by a group of traitors and conspirators, many thought the party would die.

After a short spell under the late C.P. de Silva as leader, his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over the leadership of the party. She became the first woman Prime Minister in the world.

In government, what the SLFP did for the country is contemporary Sri Lankan history is known to all.

As the time passed the party faced new challenges and Mrs. Bandaranaike’s daughter. Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike took over the leadership of the party and was the first Sri Lankan Woman Executive President to reign almost for twelve years.

During this period the party had to adjust to the new system of Parliamentary Elections which had given up the Westminster model. They had to woo new groups to face election to the Executive Presidency.

The party had by now got a reputation of being a family party of the Bandaranaikes’. This thinking was demolished after President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed duties as the Executive President of Sri Lanka. When he assumed duties as the new President said “I would like to make three important promises to you today.

Firstly, I shall certainly relinquish the party leadership the very moment I leave the Executive Presidency. Secondly, the SLFP will be made a well-entrenched political party in Sri Lanka.

Thirdly, the doors will be kept wide open to any diligent party worker to rise to any position in the party hierarchy”. Under his stewardship, the party faced the Local Government polls and had a resounding victory.

The party is being restructured so that the principals laid down by him are carried out to enable any members to rise to the top. Many attempts have been made to weaken and destroy the party from inception.

The defection of the late C.P. de Silva with a group in 1964. Later, another group left the party along with its General Secretary and thought they could destroy it, but they failed.

The current crisis created by the so called democratic group also seeks to weaken the party and its leadership. The party under its present leader who has the support of the membership can meet this challenge posed by them.

On the occasion of the 17th Convention of the party the members are behind its leader who has transformed the party to project the problems of the rural poor and to fight terrorism.

On the ethnic question, the party stands for a negotiated settlement, the first attempt of such a settlement was initiated by late Bandaranaike when he signed the Bandaranaike/Chelvanayagam Pact. The present leader stands for a negotiated settlement while militarily fighting terrorism and the forces that are trying to divide Sri Lanka.

Let us strengthen the party leader and the party at this Convention.

The writer is member, Central Committee of the SLFP.

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