Suppression of JVP terror and Premadasa regime
||Richard de Soyza
After the 1989 general election, President Premadasa made an appeal
to the JVP to give up violence and enter the political mainstream. It
was of no avail and the situation worsened day by day. There were
explosion of bombs, slaughter of dissidents, attacks on security
personnel, killing of police officers and taking their weapons were
reported from all over the country.
The JVP organised a Hartal for several days to commemorate the 18th
anniversary of 1971 Insurgency of April 5, 1989. As a result transport
came to standstill and the work in offices were crippled. Several people
who defied the hartal were assassinated. The hartal forced on people was
somewhat a success.
Thereafter the JVP took up an anti-Indian stance and organised a
boycott of Indian products. They took students and undergraduates to the
streets for demonstrations. They prohibited CTB and private buses from
plying and the efforts made by the government to run them by providing
security by Armed Forces proved futile. Public property like buses and
post offices were destroyed. There was a complete breakdown in civil
administration and the government reimposed the Emergency on June 22,
On the other hand, Ranjan Wijeratne, the Deputy Defence Minister took
stern measures to suppress the JVP. He gave wide powers to the Armed
Forces to curb terrorist activities. The JVP organised a protest for
July 28 and 29 to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the Indo-Lanka
Accord. But the government deployed the Forces and took firm action to
crush it. The demonstrations organised by the JVP were dispersed by
firing which resulted in many deaths.
In the meantime the Deshapremi Janatha Sannaddh a Balakaya published
a notice that if the members of the Armed Forces do not resign before
October 20, 1989, the members of their families would be killed.
There was a view that this was a ploy by the government. Nonetheless
now the members of the Armed Forces acted with firm determination and
added vigour to wipe out the JVP. Besides para-military organisations
like 'Pra' and 'Yellow Cats' were deployed to kill JVP members. Around
this period numerous corpses half or fully burnt were found on the
There was a plan to round up the JVP leaders as well. The first to be
arrested was D.M. Ananda, a politburo member of the JVP. On information
extracted from him, Rohana Wijeweera, the leader of the JVP was taken
into custody at an estate bungalow in Ulapane. Thereafter Upatissa
Gamanayaka, the deputy leader of the JVP and a majority of its central
committee members were also taken into custody. In due course almost all
the leaders of the JVP were rounded up and were put to death. Since then
although there were minor incidents here and there, the terrorist
activities of the JVP ceased.
The 1988-89 JVP uprising was a devastating reign of terror compared
to the 1971 Insurgency. The main target of 1971 Insurgency was the Armed
Forces and it did not cause much harm to the civilians. The 1988-89
movement was a ruthless exercise. It infused terror on civilians,
killing many innocent people.
The suppression of the 1988-89 terror was equally ruthless. It is
said that over 100,000 youth of the JVP were killed by the Forces and
para-military groups, without proper judicial process.
In the meantime, the LTTE posed as the only organisation that
represented the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It began to assassinate members of
other armed groups who by this time had entered the democratic
mainstream. On the other hand the IPKF managed to confine the LTTE to
the Vanni jungles which created a conducive environment to hold
provincial council elections for the North-East. However, President R.
Premadasa detested the presence of IPKF in Sri Lanka. He called the LTTE
for a Peace Treaty in May 1989.
Accordingly, President Premadasa summoned the LTTE to Colombo for
Peace Talks. He provided the LTTE with weapons and other facilities. He,
to please the LTTE even dissolved the North-East Provincial Council
which was under EPRLF administration with Vartharaja Perumal as Chief
Minister. Eventually, the IPKF left Sri Lanka in March 1990, on the
initiative of President R. Premadasa. The LTTE that managed to fool R.
Premadasa again waged war on June 11, 1990 and assassinated 400 odd
police officers who surrendered.
The folly of President Premadasa in dealing with the LTTE tarnished
his image in the country. Nevertheless he proved himself to be a person
sincerely committed to the welfare of people. His Janasaviya program,
putting up 15,000 houses and opening 200 apparel centres immensely
benefited the poor. He looked into the problems of commoners and
directed the State power and government officers to provide relief to
However, President Premadasa was accused of running a one-man show
disregarding the views of Ministers and MPs. It is said that he abhorred
criticism and took revenge on opponents. Premadasa administration was
detested by many when Lakshaman Perera, a UNP, MMC of Dehiwala who was
instrumental in staging a drama which was a satire on government with
Richard de Soyza, in the lead role criticising the government, were
In September 1991, an impeachment motion to oust President Premadasa
was handed over to the Speaker in Parliament. It was signed by a few
Ministers and MPs of both the government and the Opposition. The big
wigs of the UNP, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and M.G.
Premachandra played a leading role in the impeachment move.
President Premadasa did everything possible to face the impeachment.
He first prorogued Parliament and brought various pressures on the
signatories. As a result some expressed that they had signed without any
knowledge and others disclaimed their very own signatures. At the end
the Speaker declared that there were insufficient number of signatures
and not proceed with the impeachment.Because of the failed impeachment
bid, 12 MPs including Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and M.G.
Premachandra were expelled from the UNP. The 12 MPs went to Courts but
could not get any relief. Thereupon they formed a new party called
Democratic United National Front. The DUNF soon posed a threat to the
The DUNF contested the 1993 Provincial Council Elections and from the
response of the people it was clear that it could raise its head as a
third force. However, at a propaganda rally of the DUNF held at
Kirillapona on April 24, 1993 one of its co-leaders Lalith Athlathmudali
was assasinated. Although it was concluded that it was the work of the
LTTE, many pointed their fingers at the Premadasa administration. The
Lalith Athulathmudali Assassination Commission appointed by the P.A.
Government later also made some aspirations to that effect.
A week after the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, President R.
Premadasa too was killed by a bomb attack by the LTTE on May Day. D.B.
Wijetunga the Prime Minister was appointed to succeed him as the
President for the remaining period of one and half years.
The moment D.B. Wijetunga assumed duties as the President, he
dissolved the Police Unit formed under a retired DIG to probe the
activities of the opponents of the government.
He also did away with the one-man show and Ministers were restored to
their due position. He also did away with the extravagant Gam Udawa.
At the Provincial Council elections held under the D.B. Wijetunga
administration, the combined opposition of the P.A. and the DUNF won
power in Western, South and North Western provinces. The UNP retained
the power in four provinces barring the North East. The UNP polled 46.9%
of the total votes and the P.A. got 36.1%. The DUNF formed a few weeks
before polled 14.5% and showed future prospects.
The concepts of D.B. Wijetunga were quite different from that of R.
Premadasa and the outlook of the UNP changed under him. As a result the
leaders of the DUNF like Gamini Dissanayake, M.G. Premachandra and
Sarath Amunugama re-joined the UNP. Mrs. Srimani Athulathmudali remained
in the party and it came to be known as the DUNF - Srimani
At this time there was a marked change in the SLFP too. In 1992 Mrs.
Chandrika Kumaratunga re-joined the party and in due course became
powerful in the party. With the ascendancy of Kumaratunga, Anura
Bandaranaike left the party and joined the UNP.
In 1994 Kumaratunga was made a Vice-President of the SLFP. Mahinda
Rajapaksa who revived the SLFP from 1989 to 1992 organising a long walk
and Jana Gosha against the iron rule of R. Premadasa was relegated to
the background. So were the others in the SLFP like Dr. Neville
Fernando, Halim Ishak, Tilak Karunaratne and Jinadasa Niyathapala. At
this time the SLMP led by Ossie Abeygunasekera joined the UNP. At the
beginning of 1994 T.D. Fransiscu, a member of the PA in power in the
Southern Provincial Council by one vote, crossed sides and there was
confusion in the Council. The Governor dissolved the Council and the
election was fixed for March 1994. As Mrs. Sirimavo Bandranaike was
indisposed Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga led the PA in that election
campaign. The PA won it with 32 seats as against 23 by the UNP.
Immediately after this victory at a ceremony for entrepreneurs Mrs.
Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that in a future SLFP government the open
economy would be continued but with a human touch. The Presidential term
of D.B. Wijetunga was due to expire at the end of 1994 but the
Parliament could continue till 1995. But he decided to have the
Parliamentary elections first and dissolved the Parliament on June 22,
At the general election that was fixed for August 16, 1994 the UNP
contested with an alliance with the Workers' Congress led by S.
Thondaman. The SLFP, LSSP, CP, Y.G. de Silva led fraction of the SLMP,
Srimani Athulathmudali faction of the DUNF all joined together and
contested as the PA. It had a no contest pact with the SLMC.
Although the MEP did not endorse the open economy, it too wanted to
contest from the PA. But it was denied entry at the last moment and had
to go alone.
During the Presidential term of D. B. Wijetunga there was 6.9
development in the economy and a marked increase of foreign investment.
He also stood firm and refused 300 hours of work demanded by the
Workers' Congress and won the accolades of Sinhala people in
plantations. At this time the forces were in command in the Eastern
province except Thoppigala, and D. B. Wijetunga asked for power to clear
the North as well. He also made a statement that what was found in Sri
Lanka was not an ethnic issue but a terrorist problem.
However, the majority of the people were fed up with the 17 - year
UNP rule. As Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga pledged to continue to open
economy some of the entrepreneurs helped the PA. D. B. Wijetunga was
branded a racist and the PA got the support of the minorities and some
NGOs. The tabloids and some of the Catholic priests too were seen
supporting the PA.
In the 1994 election the PA led with 105 seats and the UNP could get
only 94 seats. The SLMC got 7 seats and the TULF won 5. The PA which got
the support of the SLMC and the TULF could form the government. The LSSP
and the CP which contested under the PA got 3 seats each.
The MEP which contested alone could not win a single seat. As it
wanted to contest from the PA till the last moment it had no time to get
well organised for the election. Besides at that election all the
progressives wanted to oust the UNP and they might have thought voting
for the MEP would be wasting their vote.
Most of the votes of those who had an affection to Boralugoda
Walauvva went to the PA as Indika Gunawardena of the CP contested from