A Look at Sri Lankan Minister Athulathmudali’s Legacy
By Srimal Fernando
7 May 2020
The Western Provincial Council (WPC) elections of May 1993 was expected to produce an outright majority for Lalith Athulathmudali, led Democratic United National Front (DUNF) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led opposition alliance. On 23rd April 1993 one month before the Western Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka the Former Minister for National Security and the Leader of the Sri Lankan opposition Democratic United National Front (DUNF) Athulathmudali, was assassinated for political reasons while campaigning in Colombo. However, within one year of his demise, the United National Party (UNP) lost power at the 1994 general election after 17 years.
Photo: Minister Lalith Athulathmudali
Minister for National Security
Athulathmudali an eminent Sri Lankan lawyer and a Oxford Union President entered parliament from Ratmalana electorate in 1977. At the general election, held on 1977 the United National Party (UNP) led by J. R. Jayewardene secured a resounding victory over Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The United National Party (UNP) alone secured 140 of the 168 seats in the Sri Lankan Parliament . In 1977 Lalit Athulathmudali the new Minister of Trade and Shipping accelerated the much needed modernization for the island nations shipping industry . Economic growth almost doubled in Jayewardene’s first year in office with a GDP growth rate of 8.2% in 1978 compared to 4.2% in the previous year. However the situation in Sri Lanka became more complicated in 1983 when the Tamil rebel groups intensified their separatist campaign in North and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Athulathmudali’s being appointed by President J. R. Jayewardene as the Minister of National Security also prompted new hopes for the Sri Lankan armed forces fighting with Tamil separatist terrorist groups . The late Ministers contribution to National security can be measured by looking back at some key historical events . First, during his tenure the Sri Lankan army increased the numbers to over 25,000 . . Secondly the strong defense capabilities enabled the Sri Lankan forces to launch “Operation Liberation of Vadamarachi” in the Jaffna peninsula . This operation in Sri Lanka’s North was met with stiff resistance from Tamil separatist forces. At that time the on going unrest in the North and Eastern provinces was a source of concern for India. Thirdly devolution of powers as per the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 that led to Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) involvement in the counter-insurgency operation in Sri Lanka to demiltraise the Tamil insurgent groups in these two provinces were notable challenging moments for Athulathmudali and the nation For whatever reasons the Minister of National Security was confident that the national problem on the civil war will be solved. Late Minister Athulathmudali had once said “If you are weak in the face of terrorism, you stand no chance “. Furthermore Jayewardene ‘s Presidential tenure re framed Athulathmudali,’s approach towards embracing popular politics aiming at common mans aspirations during later stages of his political career.
Minister of Education and Higher Education
However, Ranasinghe Premadasa succeeded President Jayawardena in 1989 .Furthermore President Premadasa made Athulathmudali, Minister of Agriculture food and Cooperative. During the 1989 general election Athulathmudali, obtained the highest number of preferential votes in Sri Lanka with 235,447 votes. Also President Premadasa took away Athulathmudali,’s previous portfolio of National Security and appointed him as Minister of Education and Higher Education. In his tenure as the Minister of Education and Higher Education, he introduced many reforms, including the Mahapola Scholarship awarded annually to over 15000 meritorious students entering undergraduate programs.
Leader Of Democratic United National Front (DUNF)
On the other hand, Sri Lankan politics took a different turn in 1991 when the power struggle within the United National Party (UNP) intensified . Unfortunately Athulathmudali was removed from the Ministerialship. Onetime political ally of Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, and a large group of UNP dissidents joined hands with the opposition. They moved a impeachment motion against President Premadasa in 1991 . Following a failed impeachment motion against then President, Athulathmudali , Gamini Dissanayake and the newly formed Democratic United National Front (DUNF) party supporters sought to strength its ties with Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led opposition alliances . The Democratic United National Front (DUNF) led by Athulathmudali became the third force in Sri Lankan politics.
27th Death Anniversary
On the occasion of the late Minister Athulathmudali’s twenty seventh-death anniversary, the charismatic visionary leaders legacy is remembered with profound respect. Nevertheless, at one time in history the exemplary policies implemented by Athulathmudali were instrumental in bringing about the stability to the South Asian nation.
(Srimal Fernando is a Doctoral Fellow at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and Advisor / Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. He is the winner of the 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ award in South Africa, and has been the recipient of GCA Media Award for 2016.In the field of politics, and Policy affairs, Fernando is a specialist, with over ten years of first hand experience in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The views expressed are personal)