The United National Party’s 71st Anniversary : UNP safeguards not a family, but the country’s youth | Sunday Observer

The United National Party’s 71st Anniversary : UNP safeguards not a family, but the country’s youth

Senior UNP members pay homage to the party leaders at Sirikotha at an event to mark the anniversary on September 6 Pic: Shan Rambukkwella
Senior UNP members pay homage to the party leaders at Sirikotha at an event to mark the anniversary on September 6 Pic: Shan Rambukkwella

The United National Party (UNP) survives today as one of the two major political parties in the country as its democratic attributes could keep pace with changing times.

The RT Hon. D.S. Senanayake founded the party on September 6, 1946, based on democracy and reconciliation. There was Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim consensus in the party.

The following is an extract of the then UNP Chairman D.S. Senanayake’s speech:

“We should understand that we are a Sri Lankan nation. Communal and Religious differences are completely ruled out. Irrespective of our being Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay or Burgher or even Eurasian, we ought to think this is our motherland. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians need to bless this island of their birth”.

Democracy and reconciliation continued to remain as pivots of the UNP. D.S. Senanayake was the founder leader of the United National Party. D.S. was fondly called, Father of the Nation. He captured the hearts of the people at the grassroots level, through opening up agricultural colonization schemes – his brainchild.

His political foresight is such that he maintained very close relations with the former colonial master, Britain. The UNP always moved with the international community, contrary to any isolationist policies.

The free education was UNP’s largesse to the country followed by the provision of free school text books and uniforms. The incumbent national unity government has taken steps to provide a free insurance cover and distribute tabs to schoolchildren.

Although Dudley Senanayake succeeded his father D.S.Senanayake there was no family bandyism but a culture of, ‘the right man to the right job’ symbolized the party vision. Dudley Senanayake was the embodiment of honesty and the saviour of the poor. He was known as, “Buth dun piya”, and it was he who made poya day, a public holiday.

His name is enshrined in the hall of fame as the only Prime Minister who resigned his portfolio, due to the crisis situation created by the 1953 Hartal, compared to politicians of the recent past who left no stone unturned to remain in power. Dudley Senanayake is an honourable politician of unique fame.

Dudley’s successor, Sir John Kotelawala gifted the Laxapana power generation project to the country and opened the new Kelani bridge across the Kelani river which greatly facilitated vehicle inflow to the Colombo city.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who championed the cause of the Buddhists was voted to power in 1956. His ‘Sinhala Only’ Act, triggered the Sinhala-Tamil riots in 1958. The Dudley Senanayake government of 1965 opened new vistas for the tourism industry in the country. His government extended state patronage to the tourism industry by setting up the Ceylon Tourist Board and the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, massive investments unknown to the country, then. The UNP governments of 1947, 1960 March and 1965 unleashed radical economic and social changes in the country. The incumbent, Ranil Wickremesinghe is in the vanguard to restore the freedom of all citizens emblazoned with democracy and reconciliation.

Golden era

The year 1977 heralded the golden era of the country as well as the United National Party. The UNP under the leadership of President J.R. Jayewardene secured a staggering five-sixths majority in Parliament. Close cooperation with the international community, introduction of the Open Economy, accelerated economic development schemes and a novel social democratic economy for the country were his landmark achievements. Great relief was provided to the people. Free trade zones, which provided employment to thousands of youth and telescoping the thirty year accelerated Mahaweli Development scheme into five years are some of the major progressive steps of the UNP government in the larger interests of the masses. The Open Economy, the first ever to be adopted by a South Asian leader was a total success. The Cultural Triangle launched by the UNP government is evidence of its attempts at a national cultural renaissance.

The stateless people in the estate sector were granted citizenship and were made to feel that Sri Lanka is their motherland. The Mahapola Scholarship scheme for students of low-income families was a windfall which enabled them eventually, to pass out as graduates.

The Middle Eastern employment opportunity for women-the green pastures was pioneered by the UNP which still remains as a major foreign exchange earner. The setting up of the National Youth Services Council to brighten the prospects of the youth, and the introduction of information technology were stepping stones in the direction of a new era. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced as a solution to the rampaging Tiger terrorism, with support from the Indian government.

This led to devolving powers of the central government to the newly established provincial councils. Besieged by the Tiger terrorism in the North and the East and the JVP insurgency in the South, the late President Premadasa launched his ‘Village Awakening Project’ to uplift the livelihoods of the people at grassroots level.

President Premadasa was the architect of the concept of ‘Shelter for all’ - an unprecedented housing project which spread its tentacles throughout the length and breadth of the country. Consequent to his untimely death at the hands of LTTE terrorists, the late D.B. Wijetunga took over the reins of power as President.

Leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe

Ranil Wickremesinghe who became Prime Minister in 2001 took pains to negotiate the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE to put an end to the festering terrorism which had engulfed the country. Simultaneously, efforts were made to rejuvenate a decadent economy. Unfortunately, his term ended prematurely when the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed Prime Minister again on January 9, 2015 with his 100-day program doing the utmost that a government could ever do within a shortest possible time-frame. Despite winning a large number of seats at the 2015 August General Elections, he made a tremendous sacrifice in forming a consensual government with the Sri Lanka Freedom party to put the country on the right track for a speedy economic recovery.

His present economic philosophy and future vision is far wider than that of President J.R. Jayewardene. He has an unprecedented vision to make Sri Lanka the hub of the Indian Ocean and a prosperous country in 2020 which no other leader was ever endowed with.

The United National Party as a true democracy, has encouraged a second rung of leaders, considereing the recurrent needs of the country.

The UNP leaders do not make room for family bandyism but are committed to safeguard the party. Former President J.R Jayewardene gave the foremost place to his successor R. Premadasa while promoting party greats such as, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake as second rung leaders. Having observed his attributes for future leadership President Jayewardene brought Ranil Wickremesinghe as a third rung leader of the UNP hierarchy. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too, following the footsteps of his leader has cast the party responsibilities on to youth leaders. While senior Ministers are responsible for the execution of the Government’s plans and projects, the Prime Minister has given pride of place to young parliamentarians in the organisational work of the party.

What will be the future of the Party? When one looks at the party’s past and present odyssey, its future is crystal clear. The party safeguards not a family but the country’s young generation. If the youth realizes this noble task before them, the future of the party is no doubt, safe and sound.

Translated by

Michael Kittampahuwa