Setback for Leftists at the March 1960 election
The general election on March 19, 1960 was held under the new
Elections Act passed during the 1956-59 regime. The number of members to
be elected to the House of Representatives were increased to 151.
Holding the elections for all the electorates on a single day, allowing
the leaders of political parties to address through the Government Radio
were other significant innovations under the new system. However, the
election propaganda of 21 parties on the fray confused the voters.
The leading parties that contested the 1960 March election were UNP,
SLFP, LSSP, MEP, LPP, CP and the Federal Party. All these parties except
the CP and the Federal Party aimed at power to form the Government.The
UNP with Dudley Senanayake again as the leader got the support of most
of the rich and capitalists. They expected that as people were fed up
with turmoil in the country and the wave of strikes in the 1956-59
regime they would put them back to power again. Unlike kin the 1956
elections there was no unity among the anti-UNP forces and they were
banking on that as well.
The SLFP was led by C.P. de Silva and it sought power to carry
forward the Bandaranaike policies that brought about the common man's
The MEP led by Philip Gunawardena had formed an alliance with the
Dharma Samaja Party of L.H. Meththananda and it asked for power to
implement progressive policies initiated by Philip Gunawardena and
William de Silva in the 1956-59 Government.
There were changes in the election manifesto of the LSSP specially
pertaining to the languages issue and citizenship rights.
The new manifesto instead of parity declared that Tamil should be
made an official language while maintaining the rightful place given to
Sinhala. Instead of granting citizenship rights to all who desired to be
permanent citizens, the position was changed to negotiate with India to
grant citizenship to those whose permanent home is in this country and
proposed to repatriate all illegal immigrants.
Prof. Y. Ranjith Amarasinghe opines that these changes were effected
to win over the Sinhala national elements dissatisfied with the SLFP.
The LPP of W. Dahanayake got the support of some powerful Catholics
who were traditional supporters of the UNP. Some of them contested the
election from the LPP. W. Dahanayake dreamed to come into power by
gaining slots from both the UNP and the SLFP. Catholics like Stanley de
Zoysa backed by Sidney de Zoysa played a prominent role in the campaign
of the LPP.
At the beginning of 1960 March election campaign the main fight
appeared to be between the UNP and the MEP. Because of the progressive
measures implemented by Philip Gunawardena and William de Silva when
they were Ministers, they were very popular. Many powerful candidates
contested from the MEP at March 1960.
The intellectuals like Dr. L.D.S. Weerawardena, Dr. A.V. de S.
Indraratne, Dr. Ananda Meegama, Dr. Siri Gunasinghe, Dr. M.B. Ariyapala,
Dr. Sugathapala de Silva, all university lecturers supported the MEP,
and even Dr. E.R. Sarathchandra was said to have sympathised with it.
Besides Prof. W.S. Karunaratne the best orator that lived in Sri Lanka
who contested the Kandy seat from the MEP was crowd puller for the MEP
Unprecedented crowds attended the MEP meetings to listen to popular
speakers like Philip Gunawardena, Prof. W.S. Karunaratne, L.H.
Meththananda, Reggie Perera, Nimal Karunatilleke, Dr. K.H.M. Sumathipala
and T.U. de Silva. It appeared as if Philip Gunawardena and the MEP was
getting a massive support similar to that of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and
the SLFP at the 1956 general election.
As a result Philip Gunawardena became the target of attack of all the
other political parties. The UNP branded Philip as a wolf in sheep's
clothing a Marxist in a different garb. The LSSP called him a
communalist who spread racial and religious hatred. The national
newspapers made him a bugbear who would resort to anything.
However, the MEP was forging ahead overcoming all the obstacles and
the criticism. D.A. Rajapaksa, the father of the President Mahinda
Rajapaksa who crossed over to the Opposition following S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike in 1951 also contested 1960 March election from the MEP and
he was a special attraction to the party. The Communist Party realising
the trends in the country made a declaration that it would support the
MEP to form the Government.
In this background the leaders of the SLFP realised that the things
were not at all rosy for the party. They invited Mrs. Sirimavo
Bandaranaike to lead the election campaign. When she came to the scene,
she addressed SLFP rallies wearing white and lamented over the death of
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The masses were emotionally swayed by her and
many who were with the MEP re-grouped towards the SLFP for the sake of
At the end, the UNP which contested 127 seats, polled 909043 votes
and won 50 seats. The SLFP that contested 108 seats came a close second
to win 46 seats getting 647175 votes. The LSSP contesting 101 seats
could get only 10 seats and it polled 325286 votes. The MEP which
contested only 89 seats also won 10 and it polled 324332 votes. The
Federal Party contested 19 seats and could win 15 after polling 176444
votes. The CP contested 53 seats but could win only 3 seats, poling
147612 votes. The LPP contested 101 seats, but could get only 4 seats
polling only 135138 votes.
The SLFP gaining support to win 46 seats led to a setback of the
Leftists parties. It was the MEP that was affected most by the revival
of the SLFP. At the beginning of the election campaign the MEP was in
the forefront and was the main challenge to the UNP. According to some
political analysts the MEP was on the verge of coming into power but the
swing to the SLFP caused by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike's appearance in
the campaign spoilt its chances.
Nevertheless the MEP was formed just few months before the 1960 March
general election and it had no time to get well organised. It managed to
win 10 seats and come second in about 15 seats. Thereby it forged ahead
as a national party and became a force to reckon with.
The worst defeat was suffered by the LSSP. It entered the fray with
the hope of forming the next government. It was clear that it was the
SLFP and not the LSSP that the electors chose as the viable alternative
to the UNP. The LSSP was pushed down to share the 4th place with the MEP,
a political party formed hardly an year before. This defeat was greatly
influential to change the future course of the party.
The LPP which contested 101 seats was routed. It could win only 4
seats and its leader W. Dahanayake himself lost Galle. Even the 4 LPP
members who won, later joined other parties. That was almost the end of
The Governor General Sir Oliver Gunatillake called Dudley Senanayake,
the leader of the UNP that got the largest number of seats to form the
government. The UNP did not have a sufficient majority to carry on.
At this stage Philip Gunawardena suggested to form a national
government for some time. But it was not accepted by other opposition
parties. The government lost the debate on the Throne Speech.
The MEP decided to refrain from voting but 3 members of the MEP,
Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, George Rajapaksa and Roy Rajapaksa defied the
party decision and voted for the common amendment of the Opposition.
When the government was defeated C.P. de Silva the leader of the SLFP
with the support of other opposition parties could form a government.
But the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister Dudley
Senanayake dissolved Parliament.
For the general election that was fixed for July 18, 1960, the LSSP
and the CP entered into a common front with the SLFP with a no-contest
pact. The University lecturers and the undergraduates attached to the
MEP as well as the party branch in Kandy suggested that the MEP too
should get into the common front. But Philip Gunawardena probably
because the SLFP Ministers obstructed his progressive path in the
1956-59 MEP government or for some other reason did not accede to it.
Ultimately in July 1960 general election the MEP contested alone and
could field only 54 candidates. Out of the 3 candidates who won form the
MEP and left the party, two contested from the SLFP and 1 as an
independent and won.
Besides some candidates who came second contesting from the MEP in
March 1960 this time, contested from the SLFP and won. The MEP could win
only 3 seats and several MEP candidates who won in March 1960 got the
In July 1960 general election, the SLFP won 75 seats and could form a
government without the support of the Leftist parties. If the MEP too
had joined the no-contest agreement it would have easily got about 25
seats and the Leftists could have got into the government.
After the 1960 July election the MEP could never raise its head again
as a powerful force in the political arena.