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Sri Lanka Freedom Party [SLFP]

Chandrika Bandaranaike KumaratungaSLFP12 Nov 1994 19 Nov 2005
Mahinda RajapaksaSLFP19 Nov 2005 to Jan 2016

Sri Lanka Freedom Party [SLFP]In 1951 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike led his faction, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, out of the ruling UNP and established the SLFP. Though S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike came from the highest social elite of the country, he was able to identify himself with the people in an astonishing way; the liberal political ideas which he imbibed as a student helped him to immediately identify himself with the aspirations of the masses, and the speech which he delivered in March, 1925 amply demonstrated his desire to work for the benefit of the common man. Within a year after his arrival from Oxford from where he was able to assess the nature of the nationalist struggle against imperialism, Bandaranaike, though young in age, formed a political party called the Progressive Nationalist Party. This party, calling itself progressive and nationalist, placed a program which, for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, advocated devolution of power as a form of strengthening representative democratic institutions in the country.

Though he came to be associated with the main political organisation of the period, the Ceylon National Congress whose elitist and reformist strategies remained unacceptable to him, he formed his own political organisation, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, which, in fact, was the precursor to the SLFP, in order to place his own ideas on politics of the country before the people. Bandaranaike had organized the Sinhala Maha Sabha in 1937 in order to promote Sinhalese culture and community interests. The Working Committee of the United National Party rejected the proposals agreed upon during the Sinhala Mahasabha Meeting in Madampe in 1951. The Chairman of the Sinhala Mahasabha was Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. On July 11, 1951, Mr. Bandaranaike reminded about these proposals to Mr. Dudley Senanayake who was the leader of the UNP.

Yet, Mr. Dudley Senanayake did not accept the proposals of the Sinhala Mahasabha. Therefore, Mr. Bandaranaike decided to leave the UNP. This was not a preplanned conspiracy to leave the UNP. Some Members of Parliament were among those who comprised the Sinhala Mahasabha. Even the MPs who voted for the proposals did not leave with Mr. Bandaranaike. Not even the friends and relations of Mr. Bandaranaike accompanied him.

In 1952, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party contested for the elections first time after its establishment in September 1951. Eight among the then Members of Parliament contested under the Party. They were S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike from Attanagalla, George R. De Silva from Colombo North, D.S. Gunasekara from Udugama, Thamara K. Ilangaratna from Kandy, A.P. Jayasooriya from Horana, Jayaweera Kuruppu from Balangoda, H. Sri Nissanka from Kurunegala and D.A. Rajapaksa from Beliatta. Among them, only two persons were able to enter parliament in 1952. They were the founder of the Party Mr. Bandaranaike and D.A. Rajapaksa of Beliatta.

During 1956 election the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) united and defeated the United National Party (UNP) for the first time in the history of this country. Since then the UNP and SLFP came to power in turn, in alternative elections.

Since the 1950s, SLFP platforms reflected the earlier organization's emphasis on appealing to the sentiments of the Sinhalese masses in rural areas. To this basis has been added the anti-establishment appeal of non-revolutionary socialism. On the sensitive issue of language, the party originally espoused the use of both Sinhala and Tamil as national languages, but in the mid-1950s it adopted a "Sinhala only" policy. As the champion of the Buddhist religion, the SLFP has customarily relied upon the socially and politically influential Buddhist clergy, the sangha, to carry its message to the Sinhalese villages.

Another important constituency was the Sinhalese middle class, whose members have resented alleged Tamil domination of the professions, commerce, and the civil service since the British colonial era. In contrast to the free market orientation of the UNP, the SLFP's policies have included economic selfsufficiency , nationalization of major enterprises, creation of a comprehensive welfare state, redistribution of wealth, and a nonaligned foreign policy that favored close ties with socialist countries. It has, however, refused to embrace Marxism as its guiding ideology.

Like the UNP, the SLFP was a "family party." S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. After a brief and somewhat chaotic interregnum, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was chosen as party leader. In the July 1960 general election, the party won 75 out of 151 parliamentary seats, and in a coalition with Marxist parties, Mrs. Banaranaike became the world's first democratically elected female head of government.

The 1970 United Front, which registered yet another massive election victory under the main leadership of the SLFP, represented "a further advance in the direction of dismantling the Capitalist State and its colonial legacy", and its common program, consisting of radical policies, wanted certain fundamental changes implemented to transform the economy, and they were reflected in agriculture, industry, finance and trade. Such policies helped the local entrepreneur classes and it was in association with the SLFP policy on local industries that the local industrial class began to emerge and they were provided with various incentives to establish industries.

Private investment was give considerable importance and the State was to foster this process. Land reform legislation and the take over of plantations, including the agrarian laws which included the historic Paddy Lands Act, all these represented vital changes adopted to rectify certain injustices; this, in particular, applied to the oppressed Kandyan peasantry. The Principles of State Policy, incorporated in the 1972 Constitution, went well beyond the common programme of 1970 and masses came to enjoy various economic and political benefits.

In 1977 six members of the SLFP left the party and formed a new group, the People's Democratic Party (PDP--Mahajana Prajathanthra). A second group, the Sri Lanka People's Party (SLMP--Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya), was formed in 1984 by a daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunge, and her husband Vijay Kumaratunge. They claimed that the original SLFP, under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike's son, Anura, was excessively right wing and had become an instrument of the Jayewardene government.

Mrs. Banaranaike was obliged to step down from party leadership after her civil rights were taken away in October 1980 on charges of corruption and abuse of power, she resumed leadership of the SLFP following a government pardon granted on January 1, 1986. Although Sirimavo Bandaranaike reentered politics and assumed a leadership position within the SLFP after her 1986 pardon, Anura Bandaranaike remained leader of the parliamentary opposition. Neither the PDP nor the SLPP had representation in Parliament in 1988.

During the late 1980s, the SLFP and the breakaway SLPP remained split on the sensitive issue of negotiations with Tamil separatists. The former opposed the granting of significant concessions to the militants while the latter joined the UNP in supporting them. In 1986 Sirimavo Bandaranaike and politically active members of the Buddhist leadership established the Movement for Defense of the Nation in order to campaign against proposed grants of regional autonomy to the Tamils.

Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga displayed a commendable capacity in the management of the 1994 Peoples Alliance Coalition led by the SLFP for six years. The SLFP, therefore, was compelled to make policy adjustments to break-away from the State centred policies in the context of the emerging global economic scenario where private enterprise came to be recognise as the engine of growth. The United National Front (UNF) governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe won an 18 February 2003 no-confidence vote with ease. The setback in Parliament was bad news for the Opposition. Working together, President Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (PA) party and the radical Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party had moved the no-confidence motion on the basis that Defense Minister Tilak Marapana was mismanaging the security forces. In doing so, PA and JVP MP's took the floor of Parliament on 18 February 2003 spouting hot invective toward the GSL's peace initiative, charging that the government was letting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) push it around. The effort clearly did not work: the PA/JVP failed to wrench away any governing coalition partners, including the SLMC, despite the fact that the Muslim party has been lukewarm toward the peace process. In addition, according to contacts, PA/JVP anti-peace process comments pushed the Tamil parties to vote with the GSL, overcoming any TNA doubts about the government sparked by recent tensions in the north and east.

Despite the defeat, there was every indication that President Kumaratunga would continue to work with the JVP toward forming an alliance. A number of meetings have been held between Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and JVP leaders. The SLFP is the primary constituent element of the PA. The two sides had reportedly been working on a document outlining a political program for a PA/JVP alliance. In a 18 February 2003 press report, Anura Bandaranaike, a senior PA MP and the president's brother, asserted that the alliance could be finalized and announced in the March timeframe. Queried about these reports, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, a Muslim MP aligned with the PA, told us that the president has not yet briefed PA members about the possibility of an alliance and he did not think any such grouping would be finalized soon.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, a former Foreign Minister who was close to Kumaratunga, was quoted as confirming that the PA was working closely with the JVP, stating: "These alliances are taking place all the time. All governments do this. All oppositions do that...In that context, the JVP and the SLFP are talking, seeking to overthrow the government in a legitimate parliamentary exercise. Obviously, the bottom line is no violence."

The PA had traditionally been quite strong in the mainly Sinhalese Buddhist south of the country. The PA, however, seemed disorganized in the Southern Province, with one of its leading MP's from the area announcing that he would not support his party if provincial elections were called.

Over the course of her two terms as President, Kumaratunga succeeded in moving the SLFP -- which owed its first national victory at the polls in 1956 to her father's decision to appeal to Sinhalese chauvinism line by making Sinhala the national language -- to the center of the Sri Lankan political spectrum. Her mother, who succeeded her husband as Prime Minister after his assassination in 1959, further encouraged Sinhalese nationalism by giving Buddhism special status in the 1972 Constitution and by adopting a quota system (skewed in favor of the Sinhalese) for education and employment. Despite Kumaratunga's personal differences with Opposition Leader and United National Party (UNP) presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, there was virtually no daylight between the two party leaders on approaches to the ethnic conflict, with both endorsing some kind of devolution of power within a federal system as a key element to a peaceful resolution.

President Kumaratunga had deliberately and consistently sidelined PM Mahinda Rajapakse on important issues, which many attributed to the long-standing rivalry between the two founding families of the SLFP and Kumaratunga's fears that Rajapakse may try to usurp the party leadership to pass on to his own family. But with her son too young and her brother too foolish to head the party's presidential ticket, Kumaratunga had little choice but to appoint Rajapakse -- however grudgingly -- as presidential candidate.

With his 2005 electoral pacts with the Marxist/nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Buddhist nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapakse appears to be trying to steer his party away from the political center favored by incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga and back to its rural Sinhalese nationalist roots. This apparent policy shift was starkest in Rajapakse's approach to the peace process, reflected in the pacts' insistence on a "unitary" state and rejection of devolution of power as an element of a negotiated solution to the ethnic conflict.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which was armed with the Bandaranaike vision in the previous era.

embarked on a journey from 2005 to make Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia. A period such as the Mahinda Rajapaksa era which has won the Presidential elections, the Parliamentary elections and secured power of all Provincial Councils as well as the rule of a majority of the Local Councils with a strong peoples mandate with a democratic framework, had not yet been recorded. By 2012 it was the single strongest party, having 117 seats in the Sri Lanka Parliament. An era like today in which the party is so strong had not been recorded in its 60-year history.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:24 ZULU