Junius R. Jayawardene (1978-1988)
The UNP gained a landslide victory, winning 140 seats out of 168. Mr. J.R. Jayewardene became the Prime Minister in 1977. The heavy defeat of the SLFP paved the way for the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, with 17 seats in Parliament, to become the Leader of the Opposition. The new government introduced a new constitution in 1978. Mr. J.R. Jayewardene became the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, with wide executive powers. Mr. R. Premadasa was appointed Prime Minister.
The proportional representation system, which was introduced with the new constitution, led to a situation where no party was likely to gain a two thirds majority in the future, which would prevent a change in the constitution. In 1982, the Government extended the life of the existing Parliament for another six years by holding a Referendum.
The first presidential election since promulgation of the 1978 Constitution occurred on October 20, 1982. The 1982 Presidential election became a novel experience for Sri Lankan voters as they got the opportunity to elect their Head of State directly through their vote. The re-election bid of J. R. Jayewardene became comparatively an easy one. The deeply divided SLFP, deprived of its most popular leader, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, put up Hector Kobbekaduwa, an obscure candidate who had served as minister of agriculture in a SLFP government. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had been deprived of her civic rights after controversial recommendations were made by a Presidential Inquiry. Kobbekaduwa was seen as a weak candidate and Mrs. Bandaranaike could not even canvass for him because her civic rights were taken away by the Jayewardene regime. Furthermore, the former leftist allies LSSP and CP fielded their own candidates and JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam also entered the fray cutting into opposition vote bank.
Six candidates participated. On the elections date an 81.06 percent voter turnout was reported as polls were conducted in 6,985 polling stations countrywide. A total of 6,602,617 voters cast their votes. Despite many predictions that J. R. Jayewardene would lose the election, he managed to secure 3,450,811 votes, which was equivalent to 52.91 percent of the total valid votes. He was thus eligible to continue his second term of Presidency for another six years. Jayewardene was able to secure majority votes in almost all the districts except for the Jaffna district where Hector Kobbekaduwa had a clear lead.
SLFP candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa was able to secure 25,48,438 votes, 39.1 percent of the vote. The four other candidates, who together won only 8.1 percent of the vote, represented the JVP, LSSP, NSSP, and the Tamil Congress.
Civil riots broke out in 1983, immediately after the killing of 13 soldiers by terrorists in Jaffna and several businesses owned by the Tamil community were affected. The ethnic conflict which had complicated the problems of governance since independence, took a serious turn. Militant took over the cause of the Tamil speaking people from more moderate Tamil leaders. The resulting armed conflict and acts of terrorism became a serious threat to maintaining peace and stability in the country.
The Government signed an Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987 to solve the ethnic conflict. The Indian Army arrived as a Peace Keeping Force to enforce the accord in the North and the East.
There was a complete turnaround in economic policy in 1977 as the previous policies had led to economic stagnation. Open and liberalised economic policies were introduced. Private sector led development was emphasised. Several policy changes were made to create an environment conducive to foreign and local investment, with the objective of promoting export led growth. Government activity was largely limited to development of economic and social infrastructure and maintaining social welfare.
Trade and exchange controls and licensing were removed progressively. Efficient markets were promoted. Privatisation of government enterprises commenced. There was a shift from import substitution to export led growth. The Greater Colombo Economic Commission, was established to facilitate export oriented enterprises and to administer Export Processing Zones.
An extensive housing development program was initiated to meet housing shortages in urban and rural areas. Food subsidies were curtailed and targeted through a Food Stamps Scheme extended to the poor. The system of rice rationing was abolished. The Floor Price Scheme and the Fertiliser Subsidy Scheme were withdrawn. New welfare schemes, such as free school books and the Mahapola Scholarship Programme, were introduced. The rural credit programme expanded with the introduction of the New Comprehensive Rural Credit Scheme and several other medium and long-term credit schemes aimed at small farmers and the self-employed.
Measures were taken to improve infrastructure facilities. The Mahaweli River Diversion Scheme was accelerated. new reservoirs and power stations were created at Kotmale, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe and Ulhitiya. Several Trans Basin Canals diverted water to the Dry Zone.
In 1981, Sri Lanka pioneered the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC) to promote the possibility of economic, scientific and technical co-operation in the Indian Ocean. It was also intended to be a forum for sharing scientific and technological capabilities between the developed and developing countries.
The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) formed in 1985, is the first group for regional co-operation among South Asian countries. It included Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Economic co-operation is stressed in the SAARC and the emergence of the South Asian Preferential Tariff Agreement (SAPTA) and the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) are major outcomes. Sri Lanka showed keen interest int he areas of free trade, technology and provision of services.
A civil insurrection took place in 1988/89, led by the JVP which had gone underground since its proscription in July 1983. The Government was able to control the insurgent activities. The 1988 general elections and presidential elections were held at the height of the JVP activities. Mr. R. Premadasa won the Presidential Election.
During the mid-1980s, the powers vested by the Constitution in the chief executive, the unprecedented majority that the UNP won in the July 1977 election, the 1982 postponement of a new general election until 1989, and a strong tradition of party discipline provided Jayewardene virtually unchallenged control over Parliament.
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