National leaders who boosted country’s image | Sunday Observer

National leaders who boosted country’s image

14 May, 2023

Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon had been a colony of the British Empire over thirteen decades and there had been vast changes in the entire social, economic, educational, cultural, administrative and political fabric of the country.

It is quite natural and understandable that when a small country is completely under a powerful foreign domination for a long time, the changes in the above vital sectors or spheres invariably occur for the easy administration of the foreign rulers.

With the missionary education introduced in the country a substantial percentage of the elite class were well educated and some of them pursued their higher education in Great Britain. Those who were exposed to the outside world realised the importance of the independence and returned to the island and actively took part in political activities.

They formed an organisation called Ceylon National Congress (Lanka Jathika Sangamaya ) represented by all community leaders irrespective of any differences and started claiming for self autonomy or independence from the imperialistic rulers. This coincided with the Indian freedom struggle headed by Mahatma Gandhi which had a great influence on our local struggle too.

With the formidable requests by local politicians who were in the State Council such as D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, Sir D.B.Jayathilake, Dr. N.M. Perera, Ponnambalam Arunachalam and T.B. Jaya who represented different districts and different sections of the society. Eventually it came to a stage where the almighty monarch had to heed the people’s request and appointed Lord Soulbury to make recommendations with regard to the internal administration of Ceylon.

Soulbury Constitution

However, the British Government refused to undertake the drafting of a new Constitution in the midst of World War II since they were much occupied and D.S.Senanayake the Chairman of Board of Ministers appointed P.B.Peiris, Asst. Legal Draftsman to draft the new Constitution.

The 1946 Constitution which P.B.Peiris drafted and named the Soulbury Constitution was the best that Sri Lanka yet had according to some political analysts. It was the model that the British Government used when it began dismantling its far flung colonial empire.

By this time of the era there were two main political parties, first being the LSSP formed by Dr. N.M.Perera in mid 1930 and the United National Party formed in 1946 by D.S.Senanayake with the support of all community leaders.

The first general election was held under the Soulbury Constitution in 1947 and UNP leader D.S.Senanayake was elected as the first Prime Minister who subsequently earned the dignified sobriquet as the” Father of the Nation.”

Leader of the LSSP Dr.N.M.Perera became the first Opposition Leader of Parliament. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake along with his able lieutenants of all communities continued the freedom struggle and on February 4, 1948 the country regained independence from the British Empire after 133 years and hoisted the Lion Flag at Independence Square amidst a colourful ceremony attended by all community leaders and some dignitaries of the British Empire.

This feat is considered as the most significant achievement of the first Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake in addition to his mega development projects in the agriculture sector which bolstered the image of the country.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

The sixth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the wife of slain Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike who had been familiar with the State affairs being with her husband and when she ascended to the throne, she discharged a commendable service to the nation based on her political ideology.

She introduced the 1st Republican Constitution architectured by her Constitutional Affairs Minister Dr. Colvin R.De Silva and the name of the country was changed to read as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, instead of Ceylon.

The most significant achievement during her tenure was the holding of the Non-Aligned movement Summit in 1976 which was attended by a large number of International Leaders including Marshall Tito, Colonel Gaddafi and a host of other Government leaders in which the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike chaired the proceedings.

It had been a very rare and a tremendously important occasion for an island nation like Sri Lanka that had been applauded by all International Leaders.

Her commitment and dedication to the Non-Aligned Movement was abundantly appreciated and endorsed by all international leaders and eventually entered into a number of conventions which fostered the movement further.


President J.R.Jayewardene who started his political career as a Ward Member in the Colombo Municipal Council, (CMC) soon after his legal education gradually climbed the political ladder and became the Prime Minister of the country at the age of 72 in the 1977 general election.

He was the most senior politician who had worked with a number of leaders of the UNP and gathered an ocean of knowledge on State administration and party politics and faced triumphs and defeats, lost no time in introducing his brainchild the Executive Presidential System in the country. From the beginning of 1978 a revolutionary change took place in all spheres marking the dawn of a new era in Sri Lanka.

Liberalisation of the economic policies, promoting foreign direct investments, relaxing import restrictions, strengthening international relations with all countries and maintaining strict discipline paved the way for President Jayewardene to revive the economy fast from dire shackles due to closed door economic policies of the previous Samagi Peramuna Regime. President Jayewardene’s fast track economic policies were then followed by many Asian countries.

Man of many feats

In 1951 when J.R. Jayewardene attended the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in Sanfrancisco U.S.A. over reparations against Japan, the sentiment expressed by him quoting the stansas of the Buddha Nahi Verena Verani which means hatred ceases not by hatred but by love- was applauded and appreciated by the entire world community and Japan was pardoned.

From that point onwards Japan became a personal friend of Sri Lanka and then all the Japanese leaders had a very close cordial relationship with President Jayewardene. When J. R.Jayewardene became the President, the Japanese Prime Minister asked President Jayewardene what he wanted and the 1001 bed Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital was a personal gift to President J. R. J. by the Japanese as a token of gratitude for the excellent speech he made in Sanfrancisco in 1951.

In addition Japan supported in many ways with regard to the development of Sri Lanka in many a field such as infrastructure development, technology, electronic media and communication facilities.

President J.R.J’s tenure marked the highest development growth rate in the post independent Sri Lanka completing a number of mega development projects that generated water, electricity, irrigation and all infra structure requirements for agricultural growth in the country.

Setting up of Free Trade Zones in Katunayake, Biyagama, Koggala and most parts of the country boosted the local economy whilst earning much needed forex for imports and simultaneously solved the unemployment problem to a great extent.

In June 1984 President and Madam Jayewardene visited the White House on an invitation from U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the brief stunning speech he made there had won the admiration of all Americans. It is heard that during this two day tour over a casual chat the U.S. President had once said to his people “Lankan President knows our history more than me. “

Ranasinghe Premadasa

Although President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure of office as President was very brief, he left an indelible impression in the annals of the post independence history of Sri Lanka. The progressive measures he took to alleviate the sufferings of the downtrodden masses of the country were endorsed even by his critics. The Jana Saviya program and the Gam Udawa (village reawakening) and setting up of 200 garment factories all over the country to solve the unemployment problem were some of the major development projects carried out by him.

The most significant achievement in which he was successful was declaring 1987 as the International Year of Shelter (Housing ) at the United Nations which was endorsed by all world leaders. It brought honour and accolades of praise from all over the world.

Mahinda Rajapaksa

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the most senior parliamentarians living at present who entered Parliament in 1970. He gradually climbed the political ladder and became the Executive President of Sri Lanka in the 2005 Presidential Election.

The country was ravaged with a ruthless war for over two decades at that time and all successive governments from the early eighties attempted to solve the problem through negotiations and with the support of the international community without success.

When Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister under Chandrika Kumaratunga’s regime he entered into a ceasefire agreement with Prabhakaran with the support of the international community that weakened the military outfit of the LTTE movement since some factions broke away from the movement and entered main stream politics.

However, the guerrilla leader Prabhakaran resumed his destructive activities and President Mahinda Rajapaksa was compelled to crush the movement with the determined and dedicated support of the valiant security forces headed by General Sarath Fonseka and leaders of the other tri forces.

The LTTE had been branded as an invincible force by some international communities but with the firm commitment it was defeated under the able political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who freed the nation from the clutches of war and terror. The thirty-year-old war victory goes down in the history as the most significant achievement of President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his tenure as the President. The people were so grateful and re-elected him as the President for a further term.

From the beginning of 2022 Sri Lanka suffered the worst ever economic debacle, political crisis and social upheaval due to the wrong and unviable economic policies, mismanagement at all vital sectors, arrogant behaviour of some political stalwarts of the Government followed by the unprecedented degree of corruption which had become the order of the day in most State institutions.

The Aragalaya protest campaign which started with the slogan Gota Go Home at Galle Face green turned into a destructive battlefield with the infiltration of radical political hooligans of the extremist and opportunistic political ruffians.

They stormed the Presidential Secretariat, Temple Trees and some State buildings. The incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down with his Cabinet and President Gotabaya had to flee the country to save his life.

Under this extreme chaotic and dangerous situation in the country, the main Opposition and some other parties declined to accept the challenge due to cold feet and lack of confidence.

The United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe the one and only parliamentarian of the UNP, who possesses an enormous wealth of knowledge on State administration especially amidst the chaotic situation came forward boldly accepting the challenge to save the country from imminent disaster. After a lengthy constitutionally mandated legitimate procedure he was elected the 8th Executive President of Sri Lanka by a majority of parliamentarians.

Within a few hours into his presidency world leaders started congratulating him for saving the country as they had seen what had been happening.

Within a matter of months he had been able to address a large number of burning issues amidst this economic meltdown. It has been widely accepted even by the members of the Opposition that President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s profound knowledge of economy and equally talented cordial relations with world leaders and the manner in which he negotiated with the IMF officials had resulted in reviving the economy which had been reduced to an abysmal level a few months ago.

Al Jazeera and some other media organisations had recently reported that whenever the world leaders meet they invariably refer to President Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka as an indispensable political icon for all parties in the country.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe

The warm welcome he received at the coronation ceremony of King Charles amply testifies the command of respect he enjoys among the international leaders. When King Charles mother’s coronation ceremony was held in 1951, it was President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s parents (Esmond Wickremesinghe and Nalini Wickremesinghe) who had attended as State guests along with Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.

On the sidelines of the coronation ceremony President Wickremesinghe had requested the Commonwealth chair to convene a brief meeting to discuss some urgent issues for which King Charles also attended amidst his busy schedule.

All Commonwealth leaders had taken part and applauded the genuine gesture of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is the general belief that President Wickremesinghe is the one and only visionary leader of the country who could guide the nation to prosperity with his projected program of work for the next few years.