The United National Party is 65 years old today

The United National Party, whom some have termed as the ‘United Noble Party’ was formed by D. S. Senanayake, on September 6, 1946, resigning from the Ceylon National Congress, allying with the members grouped in organisations such as the Sinhala Maha Sabha, the Tamil Congress, together with the Ceylon National Congress. Later, the members of the Muslim League also joined the UNP.

All the members were ministers and the majority of the members were from the State Council, which was just dissolved. This political party was formed as a non-communal party to deal with public questions on non-communal lines.

It was at a special decision taken by the Ceylon National Congress at its headquarters at 11/1, Borella Flats. J. R. Jayewardena and John Kotelawela were the conveners of this assembly, which was led by D. S. Senanayake.

After Senanayake explained the purpose of this get-together, S. Nadesan, who had been a member of the State Council, proposed that a political party should be formed naming it as United National Party and it was seconded by State Councilor A. R. A. Razik. At that point the Muslims and Hindus who were at the meeting proclaimed that the new party would never be a communal party.

The first meeting of the UNP was held on the same day at the same premises.

D. S. Senanayake was elected leader/President of the party unanimously. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike became the Vice President, claiming that his Sinhala Maha Sabha was the largest group in the State Council.

All the political parties in the island got ready for the general election which was to be held in August 1947.

The UNP fielded 98 candidates and 42 seats, in a chamber of I0I. D. S. Senanayake was the choice for the Prime Minister and the Governor General, Sir Henry Moore invited him on September 24, 1947 to form the first Cabinet of Ministers of the country.

It was on October 14, 1947 that the first meeting of the House of Representatives was held. At this meeting, A. F. Molamure (late Sir Francis Molamure) who had been the first Speaker of the State Council, was elected as the Speaker.

The first UNP Government consisted of the following ministers:

1. D. S. Senanayake – Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and External Affairs.

2. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike – Minister of Health and Local Government, and Leader of the House.

3. J. R. Jayewardena – Minister of Finance.

4. J. L. Kotelawela – Minister of Transport and Works.

5. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke – Minister of Home Affairs.

6. George E. De Silva – Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries.

7. C. Sundaralingam – Minister of Commerce and Trade.

8. Dudley Senanayake – Minister of Agriculture and Lands

9. T. B. Jayah – Minister of Labour and Social Services.

10. E. A. Nugawela – Minister of Education

11. A. Ratnayake – Minister of Food and Co-operative Undertakings.

12. L. A. Rajapakse – Minister of Justice

13. C. Sittampalam – Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

14. R. S. S. Gunawardena – Minister without portfolio and Chief Government Whip.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike broke away from the UNP in July 1951 and dissolved his Sinhala Maha Sabha and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Had the UNP under D. S. Senanayake at the general election held in 1947, gained an overall majority if not a landslide, Sri Lanka would have set up a new constitution for the welfare of the whole nation.

The party which was formed 65 years ago with 205 members, now is a party with over 15,000 members, although the vote base has declined to 22 per cent under the existing leadership, together with the membership. One of the best political parties in Asia, the UNP since its rout out in 1956, a great many ‘last nails’ have been driven into the UNP coffin, but surprisingly, this party has had the wonderful capacity of being re-incarnated again and again to bounce back to power. In 1977, it came to power with a five sixth majority.

The President J. R. Jayewardena who was one of the key lieutenants of Prime Minister D. Senanayake was responsible for this exercise.

D. S. Senanayake was responsible for the massive irrigation projects that were implemented in the dry zone. The UNP can also claim to have initiated and completed most of the Mahaweli Diversion Scheme. The initiation of large scale foreign investment in the country too could be attributed to this party. The Greater Colombo Economic Zone, set up by the Jayewardene Government under the Chairmanship of the late Upali Wijewardena, set the stage for the influx of foreign investment.

The UNP, under J. R. Jayewardena sought to resolve the conflict politically in the Northern province, granting devolution in the form of Provincial Councils. The LTTE spurned the opportunity to evolve a peaceful solution.

Ranasinghe Premadasa during his tenure tried to find a different solution through a direct dialogue with the LTTE, even against the wishes of India.

Ranil Wickremasinghe, during his tenure as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2004 even agreed in principle to a solution to be evolved in keeping with the Oslo Declaration which envisaged federalism, but the LTTE walked away from the peace talks in 2003.

The existing government under the prudency of Mahinda Rajapakse did everything for the purpose. But the LTTE leader rejected every devolution offer till such time that they were militarily destroyed.


Source: The Island