Long journey to presidency: Part V
By D.C. Ranatunga
For the first time, voters went to the polls to elect a president on 20 October 1982 following the decision by President J.R. Jayewardene to call for an election after being in office for four years (from February 1978). In accordance with an amendment passed in Parliament to establish an executive presidency, Prime Minister JRJ had become the first Executive President.
President Premadasa after taking oaths at Sri Dalada Maligawa
It was a new experience for the voters. The new features included:
While voting for the candidate of their choice, voters also indicated their second and third preferences. Where no candidate would receive an absolute majority, the second and third preferences would determine the winner.
The ballot paper was different from the one used at the general election. Instead of the usual ‘X’, the voter had to mark ‘1’ to indicate the candidate of his/her choice against the name and symbol of the candidate. Figures ‘2’ and ‘3’ had to be used to indicate the preferences against the names of the selected candidates.
The names of the candidates appeared in Sinhala, Tamil and English in the way each candidate had given his name in the nomination paper.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga takes oaths
The names were arranged according to the Sinhala alphabet in the order of the surnames. Where there was no surname, the ‘ge’ name was used. In case of neither, it was based on the order of their other names.
Nominations of six candidates (out of nine) were accepted. Four of them – J.R. Jayewardene (UNP), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Nava LSSP), G.G. Ponnambalam Jr. (Tamil Congress) and Rohana Wijeweera (JVP) – were party leaders.
SLFP Leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike could not contest since she was deprived of her civic rights for seven years (from October 1980) following the recommendations of a Presidential Commission which found her guilty of misuse and abuse of power during her tenure as Prime Minister. Former Minister of Agriculture and Lands Hector Kobbekaduwa was the SLFP candidate. The LSSP number two, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, was the party candidate.
Cohabitation begins – Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Prime Minister
- Date of election: 20 October 1982
- J.R. Jayewardene UNP – 3,450,811 (52.91%)
- H.S.R.B. Kobbekaduwa – SLFP 2,548,438 (30.07)
- Rohana Wijeweera JVP – 273,428 (4.19)
- G.G. Ponnambalam – TC 73,934 (2.67)
- Dr. Colvin R. de Silva – LSSP 58,531 (0.90)
- Vasudeva Nanayakkara – NLSSP 17,005 (0.26)
- Number of valid votes – 6,522,147
- Number of votes equal to one half – 3,261,073
- Number of polling stations – 6,985
- Number of registered electors – 8,145,015
- Total polled – 6,602,617
President Mahinda Rajapaksa takes oaths in 2005
The largest Opposition party in Parliament, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) boycotted the presidential election and called upon their supporters to abstain from voting. However, 218,003 voters of the Jaffna District turned up at the polls. 87,263 of those votes went to the TC candidate while SLFP got 77,300 and UNP 44,780.
A significant feature was that 21 of the 22 districts voted for JRJ. The only exception was Jaffna.
JRJ took the oath of office on 4 February 1983 at the Galle Face Green, as he had done in 1978. Ranasinghe Premadasa continued as Prime Minister.
A national referendum was conducted on 22 December and the mandate of the people was obtained to extend the life of Parliament for a further six years. It was the first and the only national referendum held in Sri Lanka to date.
The ‘Black July’ incidents began on 23 July 1983, causing deaths and heavy destruction to property. This marked the beginning of an insurgency against the Government by the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which continued until 2009.
1988 election amidst unrest
Only three candidates contested the 1988 presidential election. They were R. Premadasa, the incumbent Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the SLFP Leader who was eligible to contest her civic rights having been restored in October 1986, and Ossie Abeygunasekera, Leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP).
The build-up to the election was characterised by a high degree of tension and crisis along with widespread fears that the election would not be held at all. With the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in July 1987 with the expectation that it would end the north-east conflict, the challenge to the Government extended to the Southern Province and took a violent form, resulting in the partial paralysis of State machinery. In addition, there were major upheavals, work stoppages and large-scale demonstrations.
The election was held but the voter turnout was almost half the registered electors.
- Date of poll: 19 December1988
- Ranasinghe Premadasa – UNP 2,569,199 (50.43%)
- Sirimavo Bandaranaike – SLFP 2,289,960
- Osvin Abeygunasekara – SLMP 235,719
- Number of valid votes – 5,094,778
- Number of votes equal to one half – 2,547,389
- Number of registered electors – 9,375,742
The Elections Commissioner commented that in 50 polling stations in the Moneragala District, there was total obstruction to the conduct of the poll. “One had to be abandoned due to constant attack. Two officers on duty died of gunshot injuries and blasts along with two drivers. Several Police security men also died consequent to attacks,” he reported.
The rate of voting varied from 79.96% in the Nuwara Eliya electoral district to 17.01% in Monaragala.
President Premasada took his oath of office on 2 January 1989 at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. On May Day 1993, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber of the LTTE when he was directing the UNP May Day procession at Armour Street, Grandpass.
He is well remembered for two programs he initiated. One was the Gam Udawa, the village reawakening program under which houses, roads and bridges were constructed and health, education and other facilities were provided. The other was Janasaviya, the poverty alleviation program introduced in 1989. It was a welfare scheme for families living below the poverty line, which also encouraged livelihood and small-scale enterprises.
An accelerated program to divest public sector ventures to the private sector was also launched, popularly known as the ‘peoplisation’ program. The garment industry, which had become a leading export-oriented activity, was further expanded with the setting up of another 200 garment factories. Special incentives were given to open these in rural areas.
Following the assassination of the President, in keeping with Section 40(1c) of the Constitution, Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga became the acting President on the same day. As per Section 40 (1a) he was unanimously elected President by Parliament on 7 May “to hold office only for the unexpired period of the term of office of the President vacating office”.
The Minister of Industries, Science and Technology Ranil Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister.
President Wijetunga was in office for 18 months before he called for a fresh election. Meanwhile, for three months after the August 1995 general election, he experienced the first period of cohabitation when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was Prime Minister heading a People’s Alliance (PA)/SLFP administration. She was the nominee for the presidency.
With President Wijetunga showing no interest in contesting, the UNP selected Gamini Dissanayake, who was serving as Leader of the Opposition, as the party nominee.
On Nomination Day, 7 October 1994, the two of them and four others handed in nominations. Two were independents.
The election was fixed for 9 November 1994.
Two weeks prior to the election, on 24 October, UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake was killed while addressing a rally at Grandpass by a female LTTE suicide bomber. His wife, Srimathi (Srima), was selected as the substitute candidate.
Although the Sri Lanka Progressive Front (SLPF) candidate Nihal Galappaththi withdrew, calling upon voters to vote for a candidate committed to abolish the executive presidential system, his name appeared in the ballot paper and any votes cast in his favour were going to be counted as a vote for him. (He was the last with 22,749 votes – 0.39% of votes cast).
First woman president
- Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – PA 4,709,205 (62.28%)
- Vajira Srimathi Dissanayake – UNP 2,715,285 (35.91)
- Hudson Samarasinghe – Ind2 58,886 (0.78)
- Dr. Harischandra Wijaythunga – MBP* 32,651 (0.43)
- A.J. Ranasinghe – Ind1 22,752 (0.30)
- Galappaththi Arachchige Nihal – SDLPF 22,749 (0.30)
- *Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Bhumioutra Pakshaya
- Number of valid votes – 7,561,526
- Number of votes equal to one half – 3,780,763
- Number of polling stations – 9,580
- Number of registered electors – 10,945,065
- Total polled – 77,132,324
Just as her mother was the first woman Prime Minister, daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected as the first woman President.
After five years, she decided to seek a mandate and called for a presidential election.
On Nomination Day, 15 November 1999, 13 candidates – the highest number hitherto – handed in nominations from 10 parties. The other three were independents. The final result, however, showed that the contest was between the two main candidates – incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Leader of the Opposition, UNP’s Ranil Wickremesinghe.
President Kumaratunga survived an assassination attempt at the final election rally held at the Colombo Town Hall grounds when a LTTE suicide bomber attacked her. She escaped death but lost one eye.
At the election held on 21 December 1999, she got a clear mandate from the people to continue in office securing 51.12% of the votes polled.
- Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – PA 4,312,157 (51.12%)
- Ranil Wickremesinghe – UNP 3,602,748 (42.71)
- M.D. Nandana Gunathilaka – JVP 344,173 (4.08)
- Harischandra Wijayatunga – SMBP 35,854 (0.43)
- W.V.M. Ranjith – Ind 27,052 (0.32)
- Rajiva Wijesinha – Liberal P 25,085 (0.30)
- Vasudeva Nanayakkara – Left & Democratic All 23,668 (0.28)
- Tennyson Edirisuriya – Ind 21,119 (0.25)
- Abdul Rasool – Sri Lanka Muslim Kachchi 17,359 (0.21)
- Kamal Karunadasa – People’s Lib Solidarity Front 11,333 (0.13)
- Hudson Samarasinghe – Ind 7,184 (0.09)
- Ariyawansa Dissanayaka – Dem United National Front 4,039 (0.05)
- Alwis Permawardhana – People’s Freedom Front 3,983 (0.05)
- Number of valid votes – 8,435,754
- Number of votes equal to one half – 4,217,877
- Number of polling stations – 9,912
- Number of registered electors – 11,779,200
- Total polled – 8,635,290
Throughout her presidency (1994-December 2004), she functioned as Finance Minister as well. She created history by becoming the first President to present the Annual Budget in Parliament on 14 February 2000.
With the escalation of terrorism, many strategic locations, including the Central Bank, came under attack by the LTTE. The Central Bank attack was on 31 January 1996.
The Public Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC), established in 1996 to facilitate privatisation, embarked on a program with the privatisation of State plantation companies, a number of industrial enterprises, development banks, Sri Lanka Telecom, Air Lanka, insurance, bunkering and several others. Private sector participation was seen in telecommunications, power generation and port operations.
The general election held in October 2000 saw Ratnasiri Wickremanayake being sworn in as Prime Minister (in place of Sirimavo Bandaranaike who resigned due to ill health. She had succeeded Chandrika BK when she became President.
The latter part of 2001 noted a steep economic downturn due to a severe drought, and an LTTE attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport which made a huge dent in tourism, airline and shipping industries, affecting both exports and imports. Coupled with the crossover of eight Government MPs to the Opposition, Parliament was dissolved and a general election was called in December 2001 – the second to be held within a short space of 14 months.
The UNP formed an alliance and contested as the United National Front (UNF) and secured more seats than the SLFP-led People’s Alliance. Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister and a cohabitation regime began.
A Ceasefire Agreement was signed in December 2001 between the Government and the LTTE with Norwegian facilitation. However, an early election was held in April 2004 consequent to an early dissolution of Parliament. A coalition made up of the SLFP and the JVP called the United People’s Freedom Front (UPFA) formed a new Government in which Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Prime Minister.
A sharp departure in economic policy was witnessed with the new Government announcing its policy stance to stop privatisation and embark on an economic program that was pro-growth and pro-poor called ‘Rata Perata,’ which placed emphasis on supporting SMEs and alleviation of poverty.
On 26 December 2004, Sri Lanka was affected by a massive tsunami which resulted in over 40,000 deaths and displaced nearly 1.5 million people in the southern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. It was the worst recorded natural disaster to date. However, the recovery program initiated by the Government, assisted by multilateral and bilateral donors and donor countries, brought about a rapid recovery.
A controversy on the term of office of President Kumaratunga when it was argued that she could go on until 2006 since she had been sworn in for a second time towards the end of 2000 was settled when the Supreme Court ruled the next presidential election should be held before 22 November 2005.
Nominations were called on 7 October and the election fixed for 17 November 2005. Thirteen candidates submitted nominations. All were from recognised parties, most of which were hardly known. The tussle was between the candidates of the two main parties – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.
- Mahinda Rajapaksa – UPFA 4,887,152 (50.29%)
- Ranil Wickremesinghe – UNP 4,706,366 (48.43)
- Siritunga Jayasuriya – 35,425 (0.36)
- Achala Ashoka Suraweera – 31,238 (0.32)
- Victor Hettigoda – 14,458 (0.15)
- Chamil Jayaneththi – 9,296 (0.10)
- Aruna de Zoysa – 7,685 (0.08)
- Wimal Geeganage – 6,639 (0.07)
- Anura de Silva – 6,357 (0.07)
- Ajith Kumara Jayaweera Arachchige – 5,082 (0.05)
- Wije Dias – 3,500 (0.04)
- P. Nelson Perera – 2,525 (0.03)
- H. Shantha Dharmadwaja – 1,316 (0.01)
- Number of valid votes – 9,717,039
- Number of valid voted equal to one half – 4,858,519.5
- Number of polling stations – 10,748
- Number of registered electors – 13,327,160
- Total polled – 9,826,778
President Mahinda Rajapaksa took the oath of office on 19 November 2005. He was also Minister of Finance and National Planning. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was sworn in as Prime Minister.
President Rajapaksa’s election manifesto, ‘Mahinda Chinthana: Vision of the Future’ formed the basis of his administration. It outlined an alternative development strategy since policy strategies of several successive governments had been able to bring about only a moderate annual average growth of less than 5% while also failing to filter related benefits to many segments of society.
A 10-Year Horizon Development Framework 2006-2016 was put forward in 2006 with the ‘Mahinda Chinthana: Vision for a New Sri Lanka’. This spelt out a strategy aimed at elevating the country to a middle income economy status.
It proposed ways through which a stable society could be built, ensuring quality living for its people with access to electricity, water, education and health facilities. It spelt out ways through which the economy could be consolidated having integrated with the global economy whilst being competitive internationally.
The rise in oil prices and other volatilities in the global financial markets as well as vagaries of weather like drought and floods from time to time, adversely affected the economy. Above all, the protracted conflict with the LTTE also caused a tremendous cost on the economy.
Repeated efforts to engage the LTTE in peace talks towards a negotiated peace settlement failed due to the LTTE having rebuffed various opportunities given. Meanwhile the LTTE destroyed key economic nerve centres, sacred places of worship, villages, schools, etc., causing massive destruction of property and human life.
With the continuous terror attacks affecting civilians in the north and east, the Government was compelled to launch a humanitarian operation to liberate the people in these parts from the clutches of the LTTE terror.
Under the leadership of President Rajapaksa, terrorism was completely defeated in May 2009, ending 26 years of war against the LTTE.
Seeking a mandate from the people for a second term, President Rajapaksa called for a presidential election on 23 November 2009 for a January 2010 poll, ahead of the completion of his term of office.
Twenty-two candidates handed in nominations on 17 December 2009. Among them were five independents.
The Opposition parties decided to field General Sarath Fonseka, the former Army Commander, as the common candidate. The UNP decided to support the common candidate without nominating a candidate from the party. The SLMC and JVP too supported General Fonseka.
The number of registered voters had increased to 14,088,500, an increase by 1,327,160.
The contest was once again between the two main candidates, Mahinda Rajapaksa (UPFA) and Sarath Fonseka (Democratic National Front).
Mahinda Rajapaksa 6,015,934 (57.88%)
Sarath Fonseka – 4,173,185 (40.15%)
Mohomad Cassim Mohomad Ismail – 39,226 (0.38%)
Achala Ashoka Suraweera – 26,266 (0.25%)
Channa Janaka Sugathsiri Gamage – 23,290 (0.22%)
W.V. Mahiman Ranjith – 18,747 (0.18%)
Panagoda Don Prince Soloman Anura Liyanage – 14,220 (0.14%)
Sarath Manamendra – 9,684 (0.09%)
M.K. Sivajilingam – 9,662 (0.09%)
Ukkubanda Wijekoon – 9,381 (0.09%)
Lal Perera – 9,353 (0.09%)
Sirithunga Jayasuriya – 8,352 (0.08%)
Vickramabahu Karunaratna – 7,055 (0.07%)
Idroos Mohomad Ilyas – 6,131 (0.06%)
Wije Dias – 4,195 (0.04%)
Sanath Pinnaduwa – 3,523 (0.03%)
Mohamed Musthaffa – 3,134 (0.03%)
Battaramulle Seelarathana Thero – 2,770 (0.03%)
Senaratna de Silva – 2,620 (0.03%)
Aruna de Zoysa – 2,618 (0.03%)
Upali Sarath Kongahage – 2,260 (0.02%)
Muthu Bandara Theminimulla – 2,007 (0.02%)
Valid votes – 10,393,613 (99.03%)
Rejected votes – 101,838 (0.97%)
Total polled – 10,495,451 (73.49%)
President Rajapaksa was elected for a second term. Senior SLFPer D.M. Jayaratne was appointed Prime Minister.
“Following the end of the war in mid-2009 development activities were accelerated. Increased public investment was channelled towards power generation and distribution, irrigation and water supply, port and airport facilities and the national highway network, feeder roads, drinking water and community facilities and livelihood activities to create enabling infrastructure support to facilitate the enterprise development and [promote private investments, to steer Sri Lanka towards becoming a middle income country,” states the Ministry of Finance and Planning publication – ‘A Nation’s Journey’ (2013).