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61st Independence Day

Heads that ruled…

“Social upheavals have at least one advantage,” writes E R Sarachchandra for an anthology of Sinhalese literature, “they provide rich material for literature.” The late professor seems exact in his analysis since post-independence politics is plump with upheavals offering a host of rich material for literature.

To have the white lords driven away home was a mistaken prophesy back then. The whites of course said Bye, but their spirits stayed on - at least in the country’s politics. What D S Senanayaka had enjoyed as the first premier under a dominion was not what Sirimavo Bandaranaika had in her third official term.

Republic of Sri Lanka

What was Ceylon in 1948 became Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka towards 1972 and that explains the difference between dominion and republic; Lanka had the British monarch as its head of state and it became a republic with a self-governing constitution in 1972.

Things geared up towards the open of 1978 when the President became significant with more powers than the premier ever had. Before the1978 power-shift premier had been heading the government, hence was the highest political authority.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayaka enjoyed three terms in office. Politics was windfalls for widow Bandaranaike, but she marked her position down history: being the world’s first woman Prime Minister and the first ruler of republican Sri Lanka. With the J R Jayewardene charter stirring up Sri Lankan history with open economy policy and full-powered executive presidency, the premiership was confined to a ceremonial rank. Exceptions were, nevertheless, unforeseen till 2002 when the President and the Prime Minister of the majority camp were from two different parties. The Constitution had to be reworked and rethought.

Mrs. B was not the only one to come to power following her husband’s death. Dudley Senanayaka became premier subsequent to his father’s death, Wijayananda Dahanayaka following S W R D Bandaranaike’s and D B Wijetunga following Ranasinghe Premadasa’s.

Mirigama representative Don Stephen Senanayake knew his onions thanks to his experience in pre-Independence State Council. Senanayaka had balanced diplomatic relations with Britain. He refused knighthood but maintained good links with Britain. Dudley Senanayaka is well respected for his frank politics who stressed on nationalist economy. The landmark of Sir John Kotalawala - famously nicknamed as Bandung Donkey for his political faux pas in Indonesia - is his introduction of country to the United Nations. Despite his Oxford credentials Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike is ironically famous for nationalistic movements. His tenure is well remembered along the political corridors for his drastic changes and for being the first high-up political victim of daylight murder. His successor Wijeyananda Dahanayaka was not too lucky to remain in office for long. Junius Richard Jayewardene moved to a presidency with executive powers before long. Ranasinghe Premadasa should be the very first one from a modest family to reach premiership, which was naturally followed by executive presidency. As in Dahanayaka’s becoming acting Prime Minister D B Wijetunga became acting President following the death of President Premadasa. He is well known for his simple attitudes as both premier and president. Ranil Wickramasinghe is the youngest cabinet minister who held the premier post twice - first following Wijetunga’s ascension into presidency and second going along election triumph. The second tenure was short-lived as the President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament.

Chandrika Kumaratunga’s victory was inevitable as she brought hope as the daughter of two Prime Ministers. Just like J R Jayewardene she did not want to be happy with the premiership, and aimed at being the world’s fourth woman President, which was no hurdle in the least.

Mahinda Rajapakse won a hard battle for premiership over a few other opponents. He was the unanimous choice of the party first for the opposition leadership, second for the premiership and later for the presidency. Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka is well known for his patriotic attitudes along with anti-terror campaign.

Family links

Family links are commonplace in the premier lineage. The turn of events seem all the same. Governor General Lord Soulbury had chosen Dudley Senanayake as his father’s successor over his cousin Sir John Kotalawela, who - quite a paradox - succeeded him as the third premier.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike entered the scene following her husband’s death setting the stage for their daughter.

Ranil Wickramasinghe first entered cabinet as the nephew of President J R Jayewardene.

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