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United National Party [UNP]

J. R. JayewardeneUNP 04 Feb 1978 02 Jan 1989
Ranasinghe PremadasaUNP 02 Jan 1989 01 May 1993
D. B. Wijetunga UNP07 May 1993 12 Nov 1994

United National Party [UNP]The United National Party was launched on the 6th of September 1946 but its roots date back to 1912 where the Non-alcoholic Movement was launched to carry out the fight against British Imperialists to liberate the country. Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero, Venerable Migettuwaththe Gunananda Thero, Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisingha Harischandra, F.R. Senanayaka, D.S. Senanayake and Sir D.B. Jayathilaka were the founders of the Non-alcoholic movement.

At a time the locals were driven towards the consumption of alcohol following influence from Imperialists, these leaders took the initiative to enlighten the people about the consequences of the use of alcohol and also reiterated the value of an independent country. However once several leaders of this movement were arrested by the British, a need of a national movement to fight against them to free the country was felt more by the leaders of the movement.

Accordingly in 1918 the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya was instated and intellectuals from all races joined the movement. The movement was launched under the patronage of father of Former President J.R. Jayawardana, Late E.W. Jayawardana and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Mohommad Markan Markar, Sir James Peiris and E.W Perera were also a part of it.

Due to the struggles carried out by this movement, the State Administrative Council was established in 1931 according to recommendations made by the Donomor Commission, but it had a negative influence on the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya. That is because of the emergence of other political movements like the Samasamaja Party and Sooriyamal Movement. However, by then several young leaders of the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya felt the need for a new political movement and D.S. Senanayaka, Dudley Senanayaka, J.R. Jayawardana and Albert.F.Peiris gave it the necessary backing.

The United National Party [UNP] was established in 1946 by prominent nationalist leaders such as Don Stephen Senanayake, who became the country's first prime minister, and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who broke with Senanayake in 1951, establishing the SLFP. The UNP, originally a collection of disparate and jealous factions, was organized to compete in the first general elections in 1947 against leftist parties on the platform of communal harmony, parliamentary democracy, and anticommunism.

Between 1946 and the early 1970s, the UNP was organized around power personalities and politically influential families rather than a consistent ideology or a strong party organization. In its early years it was known as the "uncle-nephew party" because of the blood ties between its major leaders. When the first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, died in March 1952, he was succeeded by his son, Dudley.

In September 1953, Sir John Kotelawala, Dudley Senanayake's uncle, assumed the leadership of the UNP government and remained in power until April 1956. In the March 1965 general election, Dudley Senanayake again became prime minister at the head of a UNP government. In 1970 leadership of the party passed to a distant relative, Junius Richard (J.R.) Jayewardene. A prominent activist in the preindependence Ceylon National Congress who was elected to the colonial era legislature in 1943, Jayewardene departed from the personality-dominated UNP status quo. Instead, he established a strong party organization and recruited members of the younger generation, traditionally attracted to the leftist parties, to fill UNF party ranks.

In keeping both with the privileged background of its leadership and the need to provide the electorate with a clearcut alternative to the leftist orientation of the SLFP and other groups, the UNP has remained, since independence, a party of the moderate right. Despite the constitutional adoption of the term "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka" as the country's formal name, the ruling party's policies under Jayewardene have included comprehensive economic liberalization designed to stimulate growth of a market economy, encouragement of foreign investment, a partial dismantling of the country's elaborate welfare state institutions, and closer and friendlier relations with the United States and other Western countries.

Because the UNP's popular support was firmly anchored in the Sinhalese-majority regions of central, southern, and western Sri Lanka, it had to compromise with rising grass-roots sentiment against the Tamil minority as ethnic polarities intensified during the 1980s. Historically, however, it was less closely identified with Sinhalese chauvinism than its major rival, the SLFP.

There were a number of dramatic changes in the party and national politics during the period of 1993 to 1994. President Ranasinghe Premadasa fell victim to a suicide bomber on the 1st of May 1993, bringing about a huge loss to the party and country. Thereafter Prime Minister D.B. Wijethunga was appointed as the President and also as the party leader. During his tenure the party that was divided was once again brought together as Gamini Dissanayaka and son of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaka, Anura Bandaranayaka joined the UNP.

The gradual deterioration of United National Party commenced with the impeachment motion which intensified with the subsequent Presidential election in 1994. The UNP lost the 1994 General election by just one seat, and then Opposition Leader Gamini Dissanayaka contested at the Presidential election but several top level leaders including him were killed by brutal terrorists. Finally the UNP, which had ruled the country for 17 years, was defeated by a single majority vote in the house under the new leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga and at the subsequent Presidential election she comprehensively defeated the UNP candidate and became the President of Sri Lanka.

Amidst such setbacks Ranil Wickremesinghe became the leader of the party in 1994 and carried out party reorganizing work to make the party the single largest political movement. Ranil Wickremesinghe managed to form a government in 2001 with the able assistance of a breakaway group of six other members including the then General Secretary of SLFP S.B. Dissanayake. But he was unable to consolidate and continue in power since President Kumaranatunge was influenced and instigated by JVP and Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriaarachchi to dissolve the government. Ranil Wickremesinghe submitted an affidavit commanding the support of 131 members in the parliament but President Kumaranatunge used her prerogative and dissolved the government. UNP was defeated at the 2004 general election and since then the public support to the party had been dwindling at every successive election.

The United National Front (UNF) governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe won an 18 February 2003 no-confidence vote with ease. The vote in Parliament was 126-84 in favor of the government. Parliament has 225 members, with 113 votes needed for a majority. Fourteen members were absent from the 18 February 2003 vote and the Speaker, per tradition, did not vote. In addition to the support of United National Party (UNP) MP's, all of the parties in the governing coalition voted with the UNF, including the tea estate Ceylon Worker's Congress (CWC) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The UNF also enjoyed the support of MP's from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a grouping that was not technically part of the governing coalition, but tends to vote with it.

In winning the 18 February 2003 motion by a margin of 42 votes, the government actually increased its margin of victory from the last no-confidence motion held in August 2002. In that vote, the government won by 127-92, a margin of 35 seats.

The big loser in the 2004 election was undeniably the UNP, which did miserably in almost every area of the country. Twelve former UNP ministers and deputy ministers were defeated, for example. (Well-known former UNP minister Milinda Moragoda will return to Parliament and former minister G.L. Peiris is highly likely to, however.) Even in its long-standing stronghold of Colombo District, the UNP lost a great deal of ground. The UNP appears to have been most hurt by the perception that the cost of living had risen markedly since the party had taken power in 2001 and it was not doing enough to improve the situation. The UPFA and the JHU also made effective hay out of the claim that many members of the UNP were corrupt.

The defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe in the 17 November 2005 presidential election marks the United National Party's (UNP) thirteenth loss in fourteen electoral contests (at the local, provincial and national levels) under Wickremesinghe's leadership. With so many losses in such a comparatively short time, some UNP stalwarts were reassessing Wickremesinghe's suitability as leader of Sri Lanka's oldest democratic party.

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