Ranasinghe Premadasa

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His Excellency
Ranasinghe Premadasa
Ranasinghe Premadasa.jpg
3rd President of Sri Lanka
In office
2 January 1989 – 1 May 1993
Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Preceded by Junius Richard Jayewardene
Succeeded by Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
In office
6 February 1978 – 2 January 1989
President Junius Richard Jayewardene
Preceded by Junius Richard Jayewardene
Succeeded by Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Member of Parliament
for Colombo Central
In office
22 March 1965 – 2 January 1989
Preceded by Razik Fareed
Succeeded by constituency abolished
In office
19 March 1960 – 20 July 1960
Preceded by M.S. Themis
Succeeded by Razik Fareed
Personal details
Born (1923-06-23)23 June 1923
Colombo, British Ceylon
(now in Sri Lanka)
Died 1 May 1993(1993-05-01) (aged 69)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Nationality Sri Lankan
Political party United National Party
Spouse(s) Hema Premadasa
(née Wickrematunge)
Children Sajith, Dulanjali
Alma mater Hāvad (හාවඩ්) Girls' College, Dam Street
Lawrence College, Maradana
St Joseph's College, Colombo
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Sri Lankabhimanya Ranasinghe Premadasa (Sinhalese: රණසිංහ ප්‍රේමදාස,Tamil: ரணசிங்க பிரேமதாசா; 23 June 1923 – 1 May 1993)[1] was the third President of Sri Lanka from 2 January 1989 to 1 May 1993. Before that, he served as the Prime Minister in the government headed by J. R. Jayewardene from 6 February 1978 to 1 January 1989. He was assassinated in Colombo in a suicide bombing by the LTTE.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

1 year old R. Premadasa with his parents in 1925.
R.Premadasa in 1930.

R. Premadasa was born on 23 June 1924 at Dias Place, Colombo 11, to the family of Richard Ranasinghe (Ranasinghe Mudalali) of Kosgoda and Jayasinghe Arachchige Ensina Hamine of Batuwita, Horana. R.Premadasa was the oldest of five children, three sisters, and one brother. He received his primary education at Harvard Girls’ School, Dam Street, Colombo, post primary education at St. Lorenz’s College, Skinner’s Road South (Now Sri Sangaraja Mawatha, Maradana) and his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. While attending school, he attended the Hewavitharana Daham Pasala. He completed his education at St. Joseph’s College, during the Le Goc era. He satisfied all the requirements for registering at the University of London for higher studies.However, he gave up this opportunity to engage in higher studies and chose path of social service for the welfare of the poor and down- trodden.

He, the architect of the Sri Sucharitha Movement, a volunteers organisation with the objectives of uplifting the economic, social and spiritual development of the low income people living in shanty areas of the capital. He was the full-time organizer of the community development project of the area in 1939. These youth who enrolled in his development movement refrained from taking liquor and avoided smoking and gambling. Premadasa too was a teetotaler.

Allying with late A. E. Goonesinghe, the founder leader of the Ceylon Labour Movement, he commenced his political life. He had several ups and downs in that era. He had been the Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council while functioning as a member of San Sebastian’s Ward. Joining hands with late Dudley Senanayake, he joined the UNP and contested Dr. N.M. Perera unsuccessfully in the Ruwanwella constituency at the general election held in 1956.After his first failure to enter Parliament, he, in the process of reorganising the UNP, visited every nook and corner of the country, while also being the secretary of the Religious Affairs Committee of the Buddhist Council appointed by the government to organize the 2500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.

The following year he joined the protest march to Kandy on October 3, which had been organized by the late J.R. Jayewardene (later President). This march was disrupted at Imbulgoda by some thugs led by a powerful politician of the area. He was elected the third Member of Parliament for Colombo Central in the Dudley Senanayake government at the general election held in March 1960, but failed in the July general election. Later he was elected Member for the Cinnamon Gardens Ward in the Colombo Municipal Council. It was at this time that he married Hema Wickramatunge, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wickramatunge Arachchige Charles Appuhamy of Bandarawela, on June 23, 1964. The son, Sajith, and daughter, Dulanjali, were born to this couple.[4]

Political career[edit]

Premadasa initially supported the Labour Party, then headed by A. Ekanayake Gunasinha. He was elected Deputy Mayor of Colombo in 1955.[3] Having realized that the Labour Party in the 1950s didn't have a very promising future, in 1956 Premadasa joined the moderate United National Party,[3] and became the first non-Govigama politician to reach to the highest levels in democratic, post-independence Sri Lanka.

During his tenure as Minister of Broadcasting in Dudley Senanayake's cabinet, Premadasa turned Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia, into a public corporation - the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation on 5 January 1967.

Part of his political program was shelter for the poor, after the United Nations declared a Year of Shelter. Other policies included Jana Saviya, the instrument he used to help the poor, a foster parents scheme, the Gam Udawa project with which he tried to stir up the stupor in the villages, the mobile secretariat whereby he took the central government bureaucracy to the peasants, the Tower Hall Foundation for drama and music, and the pension schemes he initiated for the elder artistes. On the economic front, the garment industry project that he initiated became a forerunner in earning foreign exchange and provision of employment in the villages.

He was elected second Member of Parliament at the general election held in 1965 for the same seat and was appointed Chief Government Whip besides being appointed Parliamentary Secretary of Local Government. Later he was raised to the position of Minister of Local Government. In the following general election held in 1970, he was elected first MP for Colombo Central and sat in the Opposition with late J.R. Jayewardene, the Leader of the Opposition. Premadasa was once again appointed Chief Opposition Whip. Further, he was elected chairman of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Inter- Parliamentary Association held in Australia. In the meantime, he held membership of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the constitution of 1972. Premadasa was elected first MP for Colombo Central in 1977 and became the Leader of the House and the Minister of Local Government. In addition he became the Deputy Leader of the UNP. When J.R. Jayewardene became the first Executive President of the country, Minister Premadasa became the Prime Minister on February 23, 1978.[4]

Ranasinghe Premadasa & Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyeratne with Raja Elephant

Presidency[edit]

He was elected second Executive President of the country when late J. R. Jayewardene stepped down. He led the UNP to victory at the general election held in 1989. He survived the attempted impeachment by some of his party men together with opposition Members of Parliament. When he assumed duties as President, the country was in a bad shape with an insurgency in the South and the presence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the North and East. So, he first set about overcoming the two major problems in a very competent and matter of fact way. Then, he concentrated on building the economy, in which exercise too he was successful as seen by the improved position of the country’s economy during his tenure.

However, Premadasa’s greatest achievements were in the field of housing, poverty alleviation and the upliftment of the down- trodden. He was the architect of many innovative development schemes, such as, the Gam Udawa, Presidential Mobile Service, 200 Garment Factories programme and so on.

Premadasa proposed at the United Nations Organisation in New York to declare an year as International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The proposal was unanimously accepted at the 37th session of the United Nations General Assembly and 1987 was declared the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.

He launched the Gam Udawa scheme all over the country. He is the eminent founder of the Janasviya, now the Samurdhi scheme.

Premadasa met with less success in dealing with Sri Lanka's civil war. When he assumed office, he faced a rebellion in the south from the hardline Sinhala-nationalist, Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The security forces brutally put down the revolt and killed many of its leaders. In the north, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were facing off against the Indian Peace-Keeping Force. The Indian presence on the island was unpopular, and Premadasa requested India to leave. In order to force IPKF to leave the island, he authorized a clandestine operation to supply arms to LTTE according to the report published by the Sri Lankan Presidential commission to inquire into the 1992 assassination of one of the senior most officers in the Sri Lankan army, Lt Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa.[5] The inquiry also found that Premadasa ordered clandestine supply of arms to LTTE. In the end, LTTE massacred 774 policemen using the same weapons he had given to LTTE (the policemen were asked to surrender to LTTE in Batticaloa at Premadasa's request).[6][7] After the IPKF left in 1990, the government's war with the LTTE resumed, and resulted in stalemate.

During his presidency Premadasa took action to reduce poverty in the country. He encouraged the building of model villages with clean water, decent roads, schools and health centers. He encouraged the placement of small-scale industries, mostly garment-related, in poor areas by giving factory owners low-interest loans and a share in textile quotas for the United States and Europe.[3]

Premadasa was well known for the unostentatious life led by him in his simple home, away from his luxurious official residence. He perhaps travelled less than any other leading Sri Lankan politician. During his presidency, he also expelled from the UNP his two formidable rivals Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, who then joined to form the Democratic United National Front (DUNF). He was found to be involved in the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali by a presidential commission appointed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.[8][9]

In 1992, he changed the country’s name in English from Sri to Shri Lanka on the advice of soothsayers, who predicted it would improve the country’s fortunes. However, after his assassination in 1993 the former spelling was restored.

Assassination[edit]

Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed on 1 May 1993, during a May day rally, by an LTTE suicide bomber.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Junius Richard Jayawardene
President of Sri Lanka
1989–1993
Succeeded by
Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Preceded by
Junius Richard Jayawardene
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
1978–1989
Succeeded by
Dingiri Banda Wijetunga