Over a period spanning half a century, the United National Party has established an unparalleled record of service to Sri Lanka, spearheading Sri Lanka’s remarkable economic and social progress. The United National Party has established itself firmly as the strongest single political party of the country.
As the Hon D S Senanayake, the pioneer and founder of the United National Party stated in the opening address on the 6Th of September 1946 at ‘Palm Court’ in Albert Crescent on the occasion of the inauguration of the United National Party:
“The constitution with which this Island has been endowed requires a government backed by a firm and disciplined majority. It also required a strong party. We are not, as our opponents wishfully think we are, a temporary coalition formed for the purpose of winning seats at the first election. We are a permanent organization designed to act on a constitutional policy in The House of Representatives whether as the government or in opposition.”
The United National Party, in the fullest sense of the expression, is a united and national organization. This is because the United National Party has been constituted to enable comprehensive representation of all racial, social and other groups.
Quite appropriately, Hon D S Senanayake was appointed the Founder- President of the United National Party. This great helmsman, responsible for the destiny of this land, organized the party with a far-sighted vision of the future well-being of the Nation.
The records of the early days of the party also bear witness to many others who gave their unstinting support and co-operation in those early days. Following were the founder office bearers: Vice Presidents S W R D Bandaranaike, T B Jayah, Arunachalam Mahadeva, S Natesan, J L Kotalawela and George Ede Silva; Joint Treasurers AR A Razik and J R Jayewardene; and the Secretary, H W Amarasuriya.
At the Founding of the Party we had just 205 members. Fifty years later, today ,the membership has swelled to 1.4 million.
The United National Party was responsible for the Administration of the country for 31 years of its 50 year history. During the remaining nineteen years, the United National Party, while being in the Opposition, has addressed itself to the task of maintaining the momentum of progress along the path it initiated.
When we view the evolution of this country in historical perspective, the outstanding service rendered by the United National Party to this country by winning Independence, becomes crystal clear, After releasing the nation from the yoke of the British Empire and gaining political freedom, the United National Party turned to the colossal task of winning economic freedom – indispensable for the achievement of an independent nationhood.
The United National Party is the only political party that has been represented in Parliament without an interruption, since Independence.
The United National Party is also the only political party that has contested all elections held since the country won Independence.
The United National Party that has recorded such innumerable achievements and triumphs in the field of politics, brought into being an outstanding line of national leaders as well.
The Hon D S Senanayake was the party’s First Leader.
The United National Party contested the General Election in 1947, under his Leadership. The Party achieved victory gaining a total of 751,431 votes. This represented 39.8 percent of the total votes polled. At this election, 42 Members of Parliament were returned from the UNP. Hon D S Senanayake who founded the United National Party and ushered in not only independence but Democracy itself to Sri lanka, passed away on the 22nd of March 1952.
With the Hon D S Senanayake’s death, the mantle of leadership of the United National Party fell on Dudley Senanayake. Dudley Senanayake who became both leader and Prime Minister, Dissolved Parliament in1952 and held fresh elections.
At this Election, and United National Party polled 1,026,000 votes and recorded a percentage five points higher than in 1947. Fifty four United National Party candidates were elected to Parliament. This marks the First time a political party achieved a two-thirds majority in Parliament in Sri lanka. In 1953 Hon Dudley Senanayake resigned from the Premiership and the Party Leadership due to ill health.
Sir John Kotalawela
Sir John Kotalawela was the third to assume the leadership of the United National Party. During this period, in 1956 the United National Party faced a General Election and suffered a crushing defeat.
In this election, the UNP was for the first time pitted against a united and strong opposition. The United National Party polled 738,750 votes. Only eight members of the United National Party were elected. After the defeet in 1956, Sir John Kotalawela gave up the Leadership of the Party.
Re-building the Party
The task of re-building and re-organizing the party fell to the lot of Hon J R Jayewarden. J R Jayewardene, with tremendous courage, faced the challenges of re-organizing the Party with great vigour. He Breathed new life to the United National Party. The Clearly perceptible result of his great effort at re-building the party was the impressive victory of the United National Party at the Colombo Municipal Council Elections on the 19th of December 1956 – just seven months after the Party’s humiliating defeat in 1956.
Dudley Senanayake returns
In 1958, Mr Dudley Senanayake was invited to lead the party once again. At the polls in March 1960, under his leadership, the United National Party polled 908,996 votes Fifty UNP members were returned.
The minority Government that was formed by Mr Dudley Senanayake in March 1960 was defeated in Parliament at the Throne Speech debate.
At the General Elections held in July1960, on the dissolution of Parliament, the United Natioanl Party was defected once again. Althrough the United National Party polled 1.143, 000 votes, only 30 seats were won by the party on parliament. However, this represented an increase of 150,000 votes over those received in March.
In 1964, the coalition Government of SLFP-LSSP and the Communist Party, introduced a Bill to take over Lake House. At the parliamentary crisis relating to the vote of Thanks debated on 5th December 1964, the UNP-led opposition defected the ruling Coalition. At the subsequent General Elections, held in 1965, the United National Party achieved victory.
At these Elections in 1965, the United National Party polled 1,579,181 votes. Sixty-six members of parliament were returned. The number of votes polled by the United National Party at these elections exceeded those polled in 1960 by 400,000.
The United National Party was defected at the Polls once again in 1970. At that General Election the United National Party Polled 1,870,000 votes. This time too, the United National Party Polled 300,000 votes in excess of the number achieved in 1965. Seventeen Members of Parliament were returned.
J R Jayewardene
The Leader of the Party, Hon Dudley Senanayake passed away in April 1973. After his demise, Hon J R Jayewardene took the reins of the Party as its Fourth Leader.
From the time he assumed leadership, Mr J R Jayewardene initiated the process of reviving the Party, re-organizing the Party in an unprecedented manner. A major focus of his effort was to give the due place to those groups that had received scant attention until then. In consequence, the Party focused its attention on the Youth, revitalized the Trade Unions, strengthened Women’s Organizations and formulated policies to reflect the changes in social and political trends both here and overseas.
The Party launched a campaign under the new leadership to challenge the actions of the government of the time both inside and outside Parliament, as the situation demanded. It was at this time that the Government banned meetings of the United National Party under Emergency regulations. This was unequivocally opposed by the United National Party.
Mr J R Jayewardene resigned his Seat in Parliament in 1975 to protest the decision of the SLFP, LSSP and CP Coalition Government to extend the life of the Parliament by two more years. Re-contesting the seat, Mr Jayewardene won a resounding victory.
The cumulative effect of all these initiatives was the renewal of popularity of the United National Party.
General Elections – 1977
The General Elections of 1977 clearly put to test the leadership of Mr J R Jayewardene, and the results were overwhelming. The United National Party achieved a landside victory in 1977, polling 3,179,221 votes. One-hundred and forty UNP Members were returned. This time, the United National Party exceeded its 1970 votes by1.3 million. The percentage was 50.92.The represented the largest ever number of member returned to parliament by any single political party. The United National Party received a five-sixth (5/6) majority in Parliament. This was a record at Parliamentary Elections in any democratic country of the world.
This victory was the forerunner to many other political initiatives.
The New Constitution was promulgated in 1978. In the same year, Mr J R Jayewardene was appointed the first Executive President of Sri Lanka. This was the prelude to further UNP successes.
Mr J R Jayewardene was again victorious at the Presidential Elections in 1982.
At this Election, the United National Party polled 3,450,000 votes.
Ranasinghe Premadasa was chosen as the United National Party candidate for the Presidential Elections in 1988. In the same year, he won the Presidential Elections, On the 2nd of January 1989, Mr J R Jayewardene retired as President in terms of the Constitution.
On his retirement Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa was sworn in as the Second Executive President of Sri lanka.
Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa polled 2,569,000 votes at this Presidential Election.
At the General Elections held in 1989, the United National Party once again achieved victory, polling 2,837,000 votes. The first Sri lanka head of state to become the chairman of the SAARC was Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa.
D B Wijietunge
The Fifth Leader of the United National Party, Mr Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated on the 01 of May 1993. Mr D B Wijetunge succeeded him as the sixth Leader of the United National Party. Leader of the house Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe became prime minister. At the General elections held in August 1994, the United National Party under the Leadership of Mr D B Wijetunge Suffered defect.
At the Presidential Elections held in November 1994, The United National Party was defeated once again.
In this election the United National Party’s Presidential Candidate Mr Gamini Dissanayake, fell victim to a bomb-attack. Shortly before Election Day. Mrs Srima Dissanaayake was selected as the substitute Presidential Candidate by the United National Party. As an inevitable outcome of the turbulent conditions that existed in the country and also within the Party at this time, the United Natioanl Party polled only 2,700,150 votes at this Presidential Election.
Ranil Wickremesinghe – The New Leader
The Present Leader of the United National Party, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is its seventh leader. He was elected Leader of the Party in November 1994.
Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe is the first leader of the United National Party born after Independence.
He commenced re-building the party, which had been defeeted at three consecutive elections, within his first week as Party Leader.
When he assumed leadership, the United National Party was in the doldrums. Apart from the electoral losses, it had also lost many of its leaders. Finances and party morale were at an all time low.
He re-fashioned the party policies to reflect aspirations of a new society- “A New Path for a New Generation.” He has commenced the process of restructuring the party to take Sri lanka into the 21st century.
Under the guidance of all its seven leaders, the primary task of the party, a task it has adhered to with a clear and unwavering commitment, has been to bring peace, harmony and prosperity to Sri lanka of all walks of life.
In its 50 years, the United National Party has evolved not only into a mature and professionally managed political force, strong and I\united even in opposition, but a way of life in itself.
The following pages will examine key landmarks in Sri lanka’s development in this light.