United National Party

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United National Party
එක්සත් ජාතික පක්ෂය
ஐக்கிய தேசியக் கட்சி
Abbreviation UNP
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
General Secretary Kabir Hashim
Founder Don Stephen Senanayake
Founded September 6, 1946; 69 years ago (1946-09-06)
Merger of Ceylon National Congress, Sinhala Maha Sabha, Muslim League
Headquarters "Sirikotha House", 400 Kotte Road, Pitakotte, Sri Jayawardenapura
Youth wing United Youth Front
Ideology Conservatism,
Economic liberalism
Political position Centre-right[1]
National affiliation United National Front
International affiliation International Democrat Union
Regional affiliation Asia Pacific Democrat Union
Colors      Green
Parliament of Sri Lanka
106 / 225
Sri Lankan Provincial Councils
112 / 417
Local Government
1,157 / 4,327
Election symbol
United National Party logo.png
Politics of Sri Lanka
Political parties

The United National Party, often abbreviated as UNP (Sinhalese: එක්සත් ජාතික පක්ෂය, pronounced Eksath Jathika Pakshaya, Tamil: ஐக்கிய தேசியக் கட்சி), is a political party in Sri Lanka. It currently is the main ruling party in the government of Sri Lanka and is headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP is considered to have right-leaning, pro-capitalist, and liberal conservative policies.

At the last legislative elections in Sri Lanka, held on 2 April 2004, the UNP was the leading member of the coalition United National Front, which won 37.8% of the popular vote and 82 out of 225 seats in Parliament. It came in second to the United People's Freedom Alliance, a left-leaning coalition, which won 45.60% of the vote. The Front previously held a majority in parliament from December 2001 until April 2004, when it had 109 seats, with Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister. The UNP had previously been the governing party or in the governing coalition from 1947 to 1956, from 1965 to 1970 and from 1977 to 1994. In total, the UNP governed Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) for 33 of 57 years of its independent history. The UNP also had control of the executive presidency from the presidency's formation in 1978 to 1994.

The UNP is a conservative party to the right of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, favouring a more neo-liberal market-oriented economy. The UNP is also member of the International Democrat Union.



The UNP was founded on 6 September 1946 by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-dominion parties from the majority Sinhalese community and minority Tamil and Muslim communities. It was founded by Don Stephen Senanayake, who was in the forefront in the struggle for independence from the United Kingdom, having resigned from the Ceylon National Congress because he disagreed with its revised aim of 'the achieving of freedom' from the British Empire.[2] The UNP represented the business community and the landed gentry. However, Senanayake also adopted populist policies that made the party accepted in the grassroots level.

D.S. Senanayake, the founder of the party

The UNP campaigned in the 1947 general election on a platform of dominion under the United Kingdom and protecting the traditional way of life and Buddhism, the religion followed by the majority of the people, from alleged communist threats from the left-wing opposition parties (the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party of Ceylon). The UNP failed to win a working majority and cobbled together a coalition with Sinhalese and Tamil elements. Ceylon became a dominion in 1948, with D.S. Senanayake as the first prime minister. He followed a pro-West, anti-Communist foreign policy much to the ire of the Soviet Union. The commanders of the armed forces were all British officers and Britain retained military bases in the country.

The new government proceeded to disenfranchise the plantation workers of Indian descent, the Indian Tamils, using the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act of 1949. These measures were intended primarily to undermine the Left electorally.[3]


In 1952 Prime Minister Senanayake died in a riding accident, and his son Dudley became Prime Minister. This irked long standing UNP stalwart S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, a Buddhist nationalist leader known for his centre-left views. Bandaranaike quit the party to found the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as a balancing force between the UNP and Marxist parties.

In 1953 the UNP attempted to reduce the rice ration and there was a Hartal, which caused Dudley Senanayake to resign. He was replaced by his cousin, Major John Kotelawala. The UNP was jocularly referred to at this time as the 'Uncle Nephew Party'.

There was growing disaffection with the UNP particularly because of its support of minority religious groups, most notably Catholics, to the consternation of the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese. Bandaranaike was able to take advantage and lead the SLFP to victory in the 1956 elections. Soon afterwards he passed the controversial Sinhala Only Act, which led to communal clashes in 1958. An attempt at a language compromise with the Tamil Federal Party was thwarted when the UNP organised a 'March on Kandy'.

In 1962 the UNP was accused of instigating a failed coup d'état carried out by right-wing elements in the army with civilian collaborators like Douglas Liyanage. The UNP again came to power in 1965 in coalition with the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the Tamil ethnic Federal Party under Dudley Senanayake, but it lost in a 1970 landslide to the SLFP, which had formed an electoral alliance with Marxist parties known as the United Front.

A bitter leadership battle soon developed between the populist Dudley Senanayake and the more conservative J. R. Jayewardene, a strong supporter of free market policies and a pro-American foreign policy. For the latter, he was called “Yankee Dickey.”

Jayawardene era[edit]

First Executive President of Sri Lanka His Excellency J.R.Jayawardana

After Dudley Senanayake’s death in 1973, J.R. Jayewardene became leader of the UNP and started reorganizing the party at the grass roots level.

General disaffection with the economic policies of the United Front coalition and its brutal crackdown against a 1971 Maoist insurrection by the JVP, as well as promise to provide each person with a free ration of eight kilograms of cereal, brought the UNP to power in 1977. The party won an unprecedented five-sixths of the seats in parliament - one of the most lopsided victories ever in a democratic election and out of proportion to the actual number of votes it received.

The UNP began its unbroken 17-year rule with pogroms, first against leftists and, within a month, against the Tamil minority. There was widespread victimisation of state employees.

J.R. Jayewardene got himself elected Executive President by Parliament and, in 1978, introduced a new constitution (which incidentally first called the country a "Democratic Socialist" republic) transforming the presidency into an executive post with sweeping powers. In 1979, President Jayawardene introduced the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly to quell a low-key armed insurrection in the Northern Province by separatist Tamil rebels - which had, ironically, been given life by Jayawardene's anti-Tamil measures.

The UNP opened up the economy and revolutionized the entire outlook of the country. "Let the robber barons come“ was the expression used by President J.R. Jayawardena to describe the measures introduced.[4]

On the economic front, free-market policies initially harmed the nascent electronic and motor spares industries, as well as the long-established tea machinery industry, leading to the loss of about 100,000 manufacturing jobs. Free-trade zones were established in order to generate employment, but unemployment was primarily reduced by sending menial workers to the Middle East. The government undertook massive development work to promote hydroelectricity and agriculture.

Following an election petition, the UNP MP for the Kalawana electorate was unseated. However, he was permitted to continue sitting in Parliament, even after the Communist Party of Sri Lanka's Sarath Muttetuwegama was elected at a by-election. The UNP attempted to pass a constitutional amendment to allow members unseated by election petition to continue sitting in the house, but it was not approved by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

However, rising unprecedented inflation generally made the public frustrated with the government, leading to a series of Opposition-led strikes, culminating in a general strike in 1980, which was crushed by the police and armed members of the UNP’s trade union wing. Thousands of government workers were summarily sacked after warnings.

In 1982 a 3rd amendment to the constitution was passed, enabling the President to seek re-election after 4 years. Thereafter, a presidential election was held in which vote rigging was widespread - even the main opposition candidate, Hector Kobbekaduwa was impersonated, and the widely known Communist leader Pieter Keuneman also found that his vote had been cast for him when he arrived at the booth.

Immediately after the election, the government had leading members of the opposition arrested as "Naxalites" and held a referendum to extend parliament's life amid widespread vote-rigging and voter intimidation.

Meanwhile, separatist Tamil rebels in the north and eastern provinces began an insurgency for a separate state for Tamils. In July 1983, members of the government organised a pogrom against Tamils in all parts of the country after a rebel attack in Jaffna which killed 13 soldiers of the Rajarata Rifles. The government was criticised to have used the riots as an excuse to ban several opposition parties including the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Nava Sama Samaja Party and the Marxist nationalist JVP which had heavy influence on university campuses. (see Black July)

The Tamil rebel groups were allegedly trained and armed by India, angry with Jayewardene's pro-American policy. The intelligence operative Victor Ostrovsky charged that Mossad was arming and training both Government troops and Tamil militants.[5]

By 1987, the Sri Lankan military had cornered the LTTE in Jaffna, on the tip of the island and were confident of bringing an end to the conflict. However, due to internal pressure, specifically concern about the 50 million Tamils living in India, the Indian government called for a halt to the offensive. After the request was snubbed by Sri Lanka, the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered a flotilla of ships be sent to relieve the LTTE. After the convoy was blocked by the Sri Lanka Navy, India instead chose to airdrop supplies to the besieged city in a mission codenamed Operation Poomalai.[6] Jayewardene threatened to fight the Indians to the last bullet but, finding the American backing he was counting on was not materialising, he caved in and signed an Indo-Sri Lankan Accord with Rajiv Gandhi, whereby an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was stationed in Sri Lanka.

This caused a nationalist backlash. A naval rating swung his rifle at Rajiv Gandhi, confessing later that he hit the Indian PM because he could not reach Jayawardene. There were riots in the streets of Colombo - but no anti-Tamil actions.

The JVP began an intense attack on government forces in hope of a socialist revolution, but this turned out to be an utter failure. The government allegedly used death squads to crush the insurrection. In the due process over 40,000 civilians “disappeared” at the hands of the armed forces, and death squads and torture chambers sprung up to interrogate JVP activists. Many abducted youth were summarily executed. The intensive offensive crushed the rebels. JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera was captured and later executed by the armed forces in custody.

Premadasa era[edit]

Jayewardene retired in 1988 and was succeeded by Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, a populist leader from the lower class known for his anti-Indian sentiment. He was elected President in another election criticised as violent and rigged by the opposition. While he initiated many housing projects and poverty alleviation programs, his was a regime of terror under which opponents simply "disappeared", most notably the journalist Richard de Zoysa. In 1993 Premadasa was assassinated by separatist LTTE suicide cadres at a May Day rally. Ranasinghe Premadasa.jpg

Wickremesinghe era[edit]

Ranil Wickremesinghe is the longest serving party leader since 1994.
Opposition (1994–2001)

By this time the people were longing hor a change due to allegations of inefficiency and corruption against the UNP government, as well the White Terror under Premadasa. In the 1994 election, the Peoples Alliance gained control of parliament after 17 years of unbroken UNP rule. While in opposition many of UNP stalwarts were killed by an LTTE suicide terrorist attack during an election rally which saw the assassination of Gamini Dissanayake, the UNP's presidential candidate. This paved the way for an easy victory for Chandrika Kumaratunga of the SLFP. Party leadership passed to Jayewardene's nephew, Ranil Wickremasinghe, a relatively young politician with pro-west views and penchant for neo-liberal economic policies.

21st Century[edit]

In government (2001–2004)

By 2001 the country was facing the worst economic downturn since independence, with rising inflation and an acute power crisis. The GDP was shrinking by 2.5%. The SLFP government fell on a no-confidence motion by the opposition, which prompted President Kumaratunga to call for early elections. Wickaramasinghe managed to secure the support of former government big wigs most notably former Kumaratunga confidants, Prof. G.L. Peiris, and S.B. Dissanayake who would later become important members in the party. The UNP easily came to power in the 2001 election in a platform of peace with LTTE and economic resurgence, and won all but one district in the country. Wickremasinghe became the Prime Minister for the second time following the election and began a "co-habitational" government with President Kumaratunga.

Within two months into his premiership Wickremesinghe signed a pivotal ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. The agreement was followed by intense peace negotiations towards a solution to the ethnic conflict. During Eelam War III, which followed as the negotiations were not yet complete, the LTTE proceeded to regain territories that it had lost before.

The UNP government maintained strict fiscal discipline and market-friendly policies, which led to a resurgence in the economy,large-scale investments, and rapid economic growth. The government created key economic institutions such as the Board of Investment, the Ministry for Small and Rural Enterprises, and the Information Communication Technology Agency. Economic growth continued to accelerate, reaching almost 6% at the end of 2003, while inflation was at less than 2%, an allp-ime low. Many local and foreign experts believed that Sri Lanka at current pace would reach double digit economic growth within a few years.

Unfortunately for Wickremesinghe and the UNP government, constant cease-fire breaches by the LTTE, including the constant stream of assassinations of military spies, paved the way for nationalistic factions such as the JVP and its other cover organizations such as the Deesha Hithaishi Jathika Viyaparaya (Patriotic National Movement) to organize protests. They tried to convince the public that Wickremesinghe was giving too much away to the LTTE. Hardline Sinhalese Buddhist organizations such as the Sihala Urumaya (Sinhalese Heritage) criticized the government on the same lines, and also for allegedly pandering to western evangelical Christian organizations and thereby encouraging proselytizing and endangering Buddhism. The Sihala Urumaya would later rename themselves as Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Sinhalese Heritage) and put forward Buddhist monks to contest elections.

In late 2003 the President took over the National Lotteries Board. The UNP blocked this move by surrounding the government press so that the gazette could not be printed. As a retaliatory move the President then took over the ministries of Mass Communications, Defence, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was visiting George W. Bush in Washington DC. Kumaratunga and her confidants launched a massive media attack on their nominal partners, branding Wickremesinghe as a traitor and accusing the UNP government of "selling" national heritage sites to foreigners.

Opposition (2004–2015)

Early in 2004, the SLFP and JVP formed the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), signalling the beginning of the end for the UNP government. In February 2004, within 24 hours of a well rehearsed speech for national unity, Kumaratunga dissolved parliament.[7]

In the subsequent election on 2 April 2004, the UNP was defeated by the UPFA. Wickremesinghe remained as leader of the UNP.[8]

In the presidential election of 17 November, its candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, came second with 48.43% of the vote. So it resulted in a defeat and a win for the UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapakse. It is widely believed that if not for the boycott of the polls in the North and parts of the East, allegedly due to LTTE intimidation, Wickramsinghe would have won. It has been apparent however that Ranil Wickremesinghe, although winning the support of the minority communities (Tamils and Muslims); he was unable to gain the trust of the bulk of the majority Sinhalese community.[8]

In early 2007, 18 senior members of the UNP joined President Mahinda Rajapakse's ruling coalition. All of them were given ministerial positions. This resulted in a state of political unrest, as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the President and the UNP leader in late 2006 was read as no longer valid. This incident, generally recorded in the press as 'crossovers', also resulted in a state where a number of senior government ministers expressed concern over the 'jumbo cabinet' of ministers. On Friday 9 February 2007, the president sacked three ministers for their remarks against the new political configuration.

UNP and twelve other opposition parties in the Parliament of Sri Lanka, signed an Opposition Alliance 3 November 2009 in the Sri Lankan Parliament Building.

After winning 30-year-old war against LTTE in 2009, President Rajapakse called for an early presidential election in 2010. UNP and JVP backed General Sarath Fonseka as presidential candidate. This was the first time UNP backed a non-UNP member as a presidential candidate. However, President Rajapakse won the election with 57.88% of the popular vote. Then, in April, President Rajapakse called for a general election and UPFA won a majority of 144 seat while UNF received 60 seats.[9]

In government (2015–present)

President Rajapaksa, seeking his third term called for an early election in 2015. UNP and several other parties backed SLFP`s general secretary and health minister of Rajapaksa cabinet, Maithripala Sirisena as common candidate. Sirisena emerged victorious with 51.28% of the popular vote, which saw a record turnout of 81.52%. Very next day, President Maithripala Sirisena swore in as 6th executive president while Ranil Wickremesinghe swore in as Prime Minister for the third time in his political career.[10] Over 70% of the ministerial post in the cabinet went to UNP. Minister Lakshman Kiriella was appointed the leader of the house. After 14 days the new government presented a budget in parliament to give several benefits including a Rs 10,000 pay hike and reduce prices in 13 goods. The National Medicine Regulatory Authority Bill, which was tabled in Parliament was passed with amendments in parliament with a majority of 67 votes.A total of 68 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favour of the bill while only independent MP Ajith Kumara voted against.The Bill will provide for the establishment of a regulatory authority to be known as the National Medicines Regulatory Authority.The Gazette notification on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was approved by the Cabinet at an emergency Cabinet meeting on March 16, 2015.

The party won the highest numbers of seats (106) in the 2015 General elections to retain the power and leader Ranil Wickramasinghe was appointed as the 16th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 21 August 2015. United National Party also signed a MOU with Sri Lanka Freedom Party for a National Unity Government on the same day that gave Mr. Wickramasinghe to appoint his cabinet from both parties.[11][12]

National unity government formation[edit]

On 20 August 2015, The major political parties United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party have signed a Memorandum of understanding to form the National Government in order to address burning issues in the Island, which were not resolved after end of 30 year ethnic conflict, President Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's United National Party have agreed to form a National Government for at least 2 years to resolve serious issues in the Island.[11][13][14]

On 3 September 2015, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presented motion to exceed the limitation imposed on cabinet and non-cabinet ministers to the Parliament, According to 19th Amendment the cabinet cannot exceed limit of 30 ministers, Thereby in an event of forming the National Government, the 19th Amendment permits the government seek parliament approval to bypass such a restrictions.[15][16]

The motion received 143 in favour, 16 against, and 63 absent, The parliament approved the increase of Cabinet ministers to 48 and non-cabinet to 45.[17] On 9 September 2015, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has formed the National Government with total of 46 ministers, 19 state ministers and 22 deputy ministers were sworn in before the President and this is the first time in Sri Lanka's political history that the two major parties functions as one unity government since independence.[18]

Electoral history[edit]


Party had seven leaders from 1947 up to now. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the current leader of the Party since 1994.

Name Portrait Province Periods in party leadership
D.S. Senanayake
Official Photographic Portrait of Don Stephen Senanayaka (1884-1952).jpg
Western 1947–1952
Dudley Senanayake
Dudley Shelton Senanayaka (1911-1973).jpg
Western 1952–1953, 1956–1973
John Kotelawala North Western 1953–1956
J. R. Jayewardene
J. R. Jayewardene.jpg
Western 1973–1989
Ranasinghe Premadasa Western 1989–1993
Dingiri Banda Wijetunga Central 1993–1994
Ranil Wickremesinghe
R Wickremasinghe.jpg
Western 1994–present


  1. ^ Tim Hume, CNN (9 January 2015). "Rajapaksa's gamble fails - CNN.com". CNN. 
  2. ^ "Asia Times: SRI LANKA: THE UNTOLD STORY". atimes.com. 
  3. ^ "Welcome to UTHR, Sri Lanka". uthr.org. 
  4. ^ Donella Caspersz, 'Organizing Export Processing Zone Workers: Some Considerations for Trade Unions'
  5. ^ Ostrovsky, Victor and Hoy, Claire, By Way of Deception, Ottawa: 1980. ISBN 0-312-92614-6. pp. 127–131
  6. ^ India Airlifts Aid To Tamil Rebels - New York Times
  7. ^ Andersen, Brigid (8 February 2004). "Sri Lankan Parliament dissolved". ABC News. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Ratnayake, K. (19 November 2005). "Rajapakse narrowly wins Sri Lankan presidential election". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Ratnayake, K. (5 January 2010). "Sri Lankan elections: JVP in sordid alliance to back Fonseka". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  10. ^ ""Maithri Era" Dawns: New President - Prime Minister Take Oaths". asianmirror.lk. 
  11. ^ a b "Ranil takes oath as PM: MoU signed for national govt.". Sri Lanka Mirror. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  12. ^ "UPFA wins 8, UNP wins 11 - Gammanpila". DailyMirror.lk. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "Sri Lanka main opposition party agrees to form national government with ruling UNP". ColomboPage. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  14. ^ "UNP and SLFP sign MoU". Dailymirror. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  15. ^ "Sri Lanka: The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution - from start to finish". ConstitutionNet. 19 March 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  16. ^ "Speaker approves proposal to increase Cabinet". The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka). September 3, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Parliament passes bigger Cabinet". The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka). 3 September 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Sri Lankan president warns Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists against toppling government". The Economic Times. 9 September 2015. Retrieved Sep 11, 2015. 

External links[edit]