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Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) at 68

10 June 2020

By Srimal   Fernando

In Sri Lanka over the past several decades the United National  Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)  has been dominating  in most elections . However on the national political stage, the  test bed for political change happened  in 1951 ,  soon after tendering his resignation SWRD Bandaranaike crossed the floor in Parliament to the opposition bench. Out of this development grew the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that we recognize today.

SWRD Bandaranaike

Looking back at Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from now the increasing tide of SLFP blue wave began when the masses started recognizing the  SLFP policies compared to the centre right  UNP  policies.  In 1956 the SLFP backed leftist government took over the reins of government. Hence SWRD Bandaranaike was appointed the fourth Prime Minister, of Ceylon.  The foreign policy is one area where Bandaranaike’s years office been quite successful.  Unfortunate assassination of SWRD Bandaranaike in 1959 led to changes in Sri Lanka’s  political  directions. However the Sri Lankan voters expectations about Sirimavo Bandaranaike rose within no time after the assassination of her husband.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

 Mrs  Bandaranaike became the first ever woman Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (formally known as Ceylon) and the world. Mrs Bandaranaike later lost power during the short-lived SLFP government in 1960s . In the summer of 1970, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) , the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and also the Communist Party (CP) was sweeping electorates in a general election by winning 115 seats out of 151. In essence, Sirimavo’s administration presented far-reaching constitutional and socio-economic reforms that were suitable for a small island nation.  In fact Mrs. Bandaranaike handled the transfer of island nation becoming a republic under a new constitution . Moreover , Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a trustworthy friend of Mrs. Bandaranaike. Perhaps it could be held that it was the foreign policy strategy of Mrs. Bandaranaike in the 1970s that fortified the old bonds between the two nations.  Furthermore Mrs. Bandaranaike was a giant among Non-Alignment leaders. In the summer of 1976 at the fifth Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall(BMICH) in Colombo, Mrs. Bandaranaike stated, “The non-aligned countries should fight against injustice, intolerance, inequality, old concept of empire and intervention.”

On the domestic political scenario, the opposition leader J.R. Jayewardene and his deputy Ranasinghe Premadasa had been outspoken critics of Sirimavo Bandaranaike policies. When she lost 1977 general elections, it was extremely a difficult situation for Mrs. Bandaranaike and for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) coalition partners who had developed a remarkable sense for socialist political culture within the multicultural society in  Sri Lanka. Seven years later Mrs. Bandaranaike had lost her civic rights, the party hierarchy nominated veteran SLFP stalwart Hector Kobbekaduwa for the forthcoming referendum. The Referendum results did not reflect the true situation. Then while the    atmosphere began to change in the island country after the eruption of ethnic conflict and signing of the Indo-Lanka accord. This scenario caused strong anti-United National Party (UNP) regime change feeling.  In a closely fought presidential election in 1988, the SLFP leader Mrs. Bandaranaike lost to UNP presidential candidate Mr. Premadasa. There were no immediate solutions to the crisis in Sri Lanka under Premadasa’s presidency.  Hence  in  the South, due to the JVP uprising and the Tamil tiger (LTTE) attacks in Northern and Eastern provinces, conditions inside the Island nation was going from bad to worse. At the same time, the crisis in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)  came to surface and the party was divided into several wings.  Thus, the time had come for SLFP party unity for doing away with the seventeen years United National Party (UNP) rule. Mrs. Bandaranaike was convinced that it was time for a new generation of party leadership.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

A long and difficult election journey for uncountable numbers of Sri Lankan politicians and for party supporters of Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) had proceeded in June 1994. That year was a turning point in Sri Lanka’s politics as well as for the SLFP led by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) the daughter of two Sri Lankan Prime Ministers. Kumaratunga won the presidential elections by 62.28 percent and where the People’s Alliance (PA), a coalition with SLFP won electorates winning the race in 159 constituencies out of the 160. Immediately, after her swearing in as President, Kumaratunga seized the initiative and formed a coalition government with leftist parties led by the People’s Alliance (PA). Mrs Kumaratunga thus became the Chairperson of the SLFP

President Kumaratunga  took a much more flexible approach during her tenure from 1995 to 2005. During her decade-long tenure, Sri Lanka’s per capita income almost doubled from $ 655 in 1994 to $ 1,242 in 2005 to reach the level of a lower middle income economy. Further, during the same period unemployment was almost halved from 13.1% to 7.2%. Sri Lanka also became a beneficiary of the EU’s GSP plus scheme in 2005 which provided exporters duty-free and quota-free access to the EU countries. In addition, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India was signed and enforced during her term.

During the December 1999 presidential election, an unanticipated event played a critical role for the first time since 1994 with a bomb blast and assassination attempt on the former president by the Tamil Tigers. The Presidential election process was severally damaged in the final stages of People’s Alliance (PA) election campaign even before a new President was sworn in. Few days later, amidst emotional support Kumaratunga won the second term. In late years, Mrs. Bandaranaike was a prime minister for a short time from when her daughter Mrs. Kumaratunga was president

Mahinda Rajapaksa

In 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ran against rival Ranil Wickremesinghe to win a tightly-fought presidential election. Seen as a strong nationalist, he was instrumental in defeating the LTTE in 2009, bringing to an end the nearly three-decade-long civil war in the country. He easily won re-election in 2010. In the post-war period Rajapaksa commenced massive development projects such as the Colombo Port City project, the Southern Expressway and the construction of the port and airport in his home town Hambantota. These investments contributed towards achieving an average economic growth rate of 6.8%.

Nonetheless, during his tenure, relations with India were on the decline and Rajapaksa had to face challenges from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for alleged war crimes during the civil war while also losing the GSP plus facility secured during the previous regime.  In 2001, former president’s popularity continued to sour. The UNP leadership under Premier Ranil Wickramsinghe came into power in 2001. President Kumaratunga could not escape the association with the new Prime Minister Wickramsinghe’s UNP government from 2001 to 2003. For the first time in Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary history, sharing power between two opposing parties was therefore an unfamiliar experience. During this period, a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE with the facilitation of the Norwegians. Three years later, realignment with PA- Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) formed the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2004. In the general election of April 2004, the former president’s party regained power and Mahinda Rajapaksha was appointed as Prime Minister

Maithripala Sirisena

In 2015 Maithripala Sirisena became the sixth Executive President of Sri Lanka defeating incumbent Rajapaksa in a surprise election victory. Sirisena who was a Minister and general secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) unexpectedly defected from Rajapaksa’s Government to contest the presidential election as the Opposition’s common candidate. Sirisena as President formed a Coalition Government with the UNP appointing its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
Yet, the resulting coalition faced many problems with the President and Prime Minister having opposing views on running the country

If one is to analyzes the   leaders  the SLFP had produced so far, were only the starting points that  adjusted  the well-being of the rural masses and  socio  -economic  policies of  Sri Lanka  SLFP has come long way since 1951 . A stable party system in Sri Lanka is a crucial element in consolidating democracy. Moreover the SLFP must produce simple solutions to common mans problems that is affecting the stability of the nation .    SLFP must take steps to  unify the five forces: the clergy; teachers; physicians; farmers and the working class and strengthen voter base especially in rural areas. By implementing far-sighted homegrown solutions will create the necessary preconditions for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)  to secure a stronger foothold on the island nations voter base.

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.




February/March 2020

















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