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Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

 Ranil Wickremasinghe

Dingiri Banda Wijetunga

Ranasinghe Premadasa

Junius R. Jayawardena

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Dudley Senanayake

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Dudley Senanayake

W. Dahanayake

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

Sir John Kotelawala

Dudley Senanayake

D.S. Senanayake

Hon. Ratnasiri
(November 2005 - April 2010)


Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse
(April 2004 - November 2005)

The fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister, Member of Parliament, lawyer, human rights activist and trade unionist comes from a family with a long tradition in people-oriented politics. He was elected Executive President in the nation-wide election held in November 2005.


Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
(May 1993 - August 1994)

(December 2001-April 2004)

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Hon Ranil Shriyan Wickramasinghe MP LLB (born March 24, 1949) is the current Leader of the Opposition. He was Prime Minister twice, from May 7, 1993 to August 19, 1994 and from December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004. He has also been the leader of the United National Party since November, 1994 and a member of the party since the early 1970s.

Wickramasinghe's father was Esmond Wickramasinghe, a one-time leftist and director of the Lake House group of newspapers then owned by their family. From Anglican stock, his paternal uncle Lakshman Wickramasinghe was later to be a much respected Bishop of the Church of Sri Lanka. His maternal line, who are Buddhists, comprisesd landowners and the owners of the Lake House newspaper group. He was a nephew of J.R. Jayewardene, a leading politician, later Prime Minister and First Executive President of Sri Lanka.


Wickramasinghe was educated at Royal College, Colombo. Later, he entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo. After graduation he completed the law exams at the Sri Lanka Law College and took oaths as an attorney-at-law.
Political career

Wickramasinghe joined the United National Party (UNP) and progressed through its ranks, being the chief organizer of the Kelaniya Parliamentary seat in the mid 1970s and was later installed as the chief organizer of the Biyagama seat which he won in the 1977 Parliamentary Elections.

He was appointed the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government headed by his uncle JR Jayewardena and was soon promoted to the post of Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment which made him the youngest cabinet minister of Sri Lankan. He introduced the National Youth Services Council (NYSCO) which provides vocational and career training to school leavers. Wickramasinghe was later made the Minister of Education.
Under the Presidency of Ranasinghe Premadasa, Wickramasinghe was appointed as the Minister of Industry under which he initiated certain industrial reforms and established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone. Appointed the leader of house in 1989, on May 7, 1993 Wickramasinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister after President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated, by the Tamil Tigers.

In the 1994 Parliamentary Elections, the UNP lost to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (PA) which ousted Wickramasinghe from the Prime Ministership. He also lost the race to be the Opposition Leader to fellow UNP member Gamini Dissanayake who was later assassssinated, also by the Tamil Tigers. Wickramasinghe was later appointed as the Opposition Leader as well as the UNP leader.

In the Presidential Election of December 1999 he stood for the presidency for the first time and was defeated by the incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga. After the loss of the 1999 Presidential Elections, Wickramasinghe unsuccessfully led his UNP through the 2000 Parliamentary Elections again losing out to the PA.

He was elected Prime Minister in the December 2001 Parliamentary Elections with the United National Front led by him winning a majority of seats.

One of his first acts was to sign a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE in February 2002 and start peace talks, which were later abrogated by the LTTE after three rounds in 2003.

Wickramasinghe came under fiery criticism and was called a traitor by some, after a police officer, commonly perceived as a Wickramasinghe ally, exposed an elite Sri Lankan army LRRP unit, based in Colombo engaged in covert operations against the LTTE, on the false accusation that the unit was deployed to assassinate Wickramasinghe..

In the Parliamentary Election held in April 2004, following the dissolution of Parliament earlier that year by President Kumaratunga, the UNF led by Ranil Wickramasinghe lost governmental office.

In December 2004 Wickramasinghe was chosen by the United National Party as its Presidential candidate for 2005 Presidential Elections due in late 2005. Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Prime Minister, was appointed as the Presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

In the Presidential Election, held on November 17, 2005, Wickramasinghe was defeated by Mahinda Rajapaksa gaining 50.29% of the vote, while Wickramasinghe gained 48.43%. He remains the Leader of the Oppositionm in Parliament.

Hon. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
(August 2000-December 2001)

Former Minister of Public Administration, Home Affairs and Plantation, Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed Prime Minister, on 10th August, 2000,  succeeding Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who resigned at the age of 84.

Wickremanayake entered politics in 1960 winning the Horana seat in the March General Election as a member of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP).

Later in 1970, he was appointed Deputy Minister, Justice and went on to be the General secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1977.

In the 1994 General Election, he won the Kalutara District seat and was appointed as the Minister of Public Administration, Home Affairs and Plantation Industries and the Leader of the House in President Chandrika’s Cabinet.

As Prime Minister Mr. Wickramanayaka is also the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs and retains the Ministry of Plantation Industries. He is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Central Cultural Fund.

Hon. Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike
(August 1994-August 2000)

1960 - 1965)

Hon. SIRIMAVO R.D. BANDARANAIKE (Born April 17, 1916) was the world's first elected woman Prime Minister, and a founder leader of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), and had the distinction of becoming the Prime Minister for three times.

An illustrious stateswoman, she brought credit to Sri Lanka at many international fora, including the United Nations Organization and the Non Aligned Movement. It was she who brought a resolution before the UN asking that the Indian Ocean be made a Peace Zone. She worked very closely and actively with leaders such Indira Gandhi of India, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, and was a friend of the former socialist bloc.

Before becoming the Prime Minister in 1994, for the third time, she took oaths as the Minister without Portfolio on August 19, 1994. She donated her salary to the Treasury and worked as an advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers of her daughter's Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government.

Indian Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had very close family connections with the Bandaranaike family and as a result Indo-Sri Lanka Nations during her periods of office were very strong. Her friendly and cordial approach helped her to find solutions to festering problems such as that of the Stateless persons of Indian origin in Sri Lanka.  The Sirima-Shasthri agreement between Mrs. Bandaranaike and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shasthri of India helped to initiate moves to repatriate stateless persons in Sri Lanka’s plantations to India. It was solely due to her effort that an amicable settlement favourable to Sri Lanka was reached on the question of the Kachchativu, a tiny island between the South Coast of India and Sri Lanka's North Coast, formally acceding it to Sri Lanka.

When border issues between India and China showed signs of armed confrontation, Mrs. Bandaranaike separately met the leaders of the two countries to successfully bring about pacification.

She was Prime Minister from July 1960 to March 1965 and then from 1970 to 1977.

During the height of terror in 1988 she polled 2,289,868 votes of 44.9 percent as the presidential candidate at the elections held on December 19, 1988. Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa who won the election polled only 50.4 percent.

The daughter of Barnes Ratwatte Dissawa and Ratwatte Kumarihamy, she received her education at St Bridget's Convent, Colombo.

In 1940, she married Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike, then Minister of Local Government and Health, who later became Prime Minister of the country in 1956 and continued till September 1959, when he was assassinated.

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was first appointed Prime Minister as a member of the Senate in July 1960. She contested her first seat to Parliament in March 1965 from the electorate of Attanagalle - and was returned by a very large majority. She became the Leader of the Opposition on that Parliament. She was Prime Minister again from 1970 to 1977, being elected on a coalition of left and centre-left parties.

She gave leadership to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the party founded by her late husband, both during good times and bad. Mrs. Bandaranaike's greatest achievement was perhaps, the holding of the 1975 Non Aligned Movement's Conference in Colombo, and her election as to its Chair. After her election to Parliament at the 1977 polls, when she became Opposition leader again, President JR Jayewardene appointed a Presidential Commission to inquire into the period 1970-77 and found her guilty of abuse of power. Parliament adopted a special motion on October 16, 1980 and removed her civic rights for seven years. This resulted in her being unable to contest the Presidential Election in 1983, which saw Jayewardene’s election for a second term. President Jayewardene granted her a free pardon in January 1986.

After four decades in politics, the veteran Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, resigned on 10th August, 2000. She passed away on October 10, 2000, the date of the General Election which saw the government led by her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was the fourth Executive President of Sri Lanka, lose its parliamentary majority.

Hon. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (August - November 1994)

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the second daughter of two prime ministers, was born on 29th June 1945. Her father, SWRD Bandaranaike, was a senior Minister of the Government at the time. He was later to become the Prime Minister of the country in 1956, while her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was to become the world’s first woman Prime Minister in 1961, following the assassination of her husband in 1959.

She had her early education at St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo. Later, at Aquinas University College, Colombo, she studied for LLB. From there, she went on to the University of Paris, from which she graduated in Political Science. She also obtained a Diploma in Group Leadership from the same University. Her studies for the Ph.D in Development Economics at the University of Paris were interrupted by the call to serve her country, where her mother’s government had launched a wide ranging programme of reform and development. While in Paris, she also underwent training in political journalism at the prestigious Le Monde. She is fluent in Sinhala, English and French.

With her academic background in Social Sciences and her practical experience in the field, Chandrika Kumaratunga has authored several research papers and monographs on Land Reform, Agrarian Reform, Development Strategies and Food Policies in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Kumaratunga has been a guest lecturer at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and the Bradford University in U.K. She was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London from 1988 to 1991.

Early political life

The Land Reform Programme in the 1970s under the government of her mother Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike provided the avenue for Chandrika Kumaratunga’s entry into active politics. She served as a Director and as the Principal Director of the Land Reforms Commission (1972-1976); was Chairman of the Janawasa Commission (1976-1977), which was responsible for the settlement of several thousands of educated and under-educated youths. From 1976 to 1979, she also served as one of the FAO’s panel of Expert Consultants.

Having inherited the liberal political philosophy of her father, the late SWRD Bandaranaike, in her student days in Paris, she was also greatly influenced by the radical student movement of the 1960s, which saw a strong commitment to social reform and help to the underprivileged, and had a strong commitment to the imperatives of a plural society in her approach to politics. She has been a full time political activist from her early youth, establishing grass root contacts throughout the country.


The Provincial Council Elections held in May 1993 saw Chandrika Kumaratunga's first entry to electoral politics. She was elected to the Western Provincial Council with a very large majority, and was appointed the Chief Minister of the Province, the country's largest. In August 1994, she contested the Parliamentary General Elections as a member of the People’s Alliance party, and its Prime Ministerial candidate. She was elected to Parliament by an overwhelming majority, and was appointed Prime Minister in the People’s Alliance government that was formed on August 19th, 1994. In the Presidential Elections held shortly thereafter in November 1994, she contested as the People’s Alliance candidate. She was elected President obtaining a record 62% of the votes cast, which made her resign from the office of Prime Minister to accept the higher office. She was re-elected President for a second term in December 1999 which office she relinquished in November 2005.

Chandrika Kumaratunga has had more than her fair share of personal tragedy in life. She was a school girl when her father Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by political opponents. Her charismatic film-idol-cum-politician husband Vijaya Kumaratunga whom she married in 1978 was also slain by political opponents in 1988.

She is the mother of two children - daughter Yasodhara and son Vimukthi.


Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe (1993-1994)


Hon. Dingiri Banda Wijetunge (1989-1993)

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  • Mr. D. B. Wijetunga, who was the Prime Minister at that time, was elected by parliament to be the President, after the assacination of President R. Premadasa in 1993. Some leaders who left the UNP, during the Premadasa regime re-joined the government.
  • Some of the welfare measures curtailed earlier were reintroduced.

For further elaborated evaluation of Mr. D. B. Wijetunge's governance please refer to the Former Presidents page.




Hon. Ranasinghe Premadasa (1978-1989)

RPrema.gif (4871 bytes) Ranasinghe Premadasa (June 23, 1924 - May 1, 1993) was the 3rd President of Sri Lanka from January 2, 1989 to May 1, 1993. Before that, he served as the Prime Minister in the government headed by J. R. Jayewardene from February 6, 1978 to January 1, 1989. He was assassinated in Colombo in a suicide bombing, by the LTTE.

Ranasinghe Premadasa came from a family of modest means and his political rise was resented by some of his rivals from the upper class families who had inherited political power, post British departure in 1948. He attended St Joseph's College, Colombo; originally planned to be a journalist, and translated an autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru into Sinhala.

He was active in the Temperance Movement of Sri Lanka, and made his  entry into politics from the Labour Party, then headed by A.E.Goonesinghe, beginning with Local Government politics in the Colombo Municipal Council. Having realized that the Labour Party in the 1950s had lost most of its political base, Premadasa joined the righht wing United National Party, and reached the highest levels in democratic, post-independence Sri Lanka.

During his tenure as Minister of Broadcasting in Dudley Senanayake's cabinet (1965 -70), 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, a Poverty Alleviation programme, a foster parents scheme, the Gam Udawa project with which he tried to achieve a re-awakening of villages in Sri Lanka, the mobile secretariat whereby he took the central government bureaucracy to the peasants, the Tower Hall Foundation to encourage 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.

Premadasa met with less success in dealing with Sri Lanka's ethnic crisis. When he assumed office, he faced a rebellion in the south from the hardline Sinhala-nationalist, Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The security forces put down the revolt and killed many of its leaders. In the north, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, were facing off against the Indian Peace-Keeping Force. The Indian presence on the island was unpopular, and Premadasa requested India to leave. After they did in 1990, the government's war with the LTTE resumed, and resulted in stalemate.

Premadasa is known for the unostentatious life led by him in his simple residence away from his luxurious official residence; a man who perhaps travelled abroad the least of any politicians at the helm. 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 Liberation Front (DUNLF).

Premadasa was married to Hema Premadasa and had two children. Sajith Premadasa, his son, is an MP of the UNP from Hambantota District. Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed on 1 May 1993, during preparations for a May Day demonstration  in Colombo, by an LTTE suicide bomber who had infiltrated into his inner circle.

Hon. Junius R. Jayawardena (1977-1978)

  • The UNP gained a landslide victory. Mr. J R Jayewardene became the Prime Minister in 1977. The heavy defeat of the SLFP paved the way for the leader o f the Tamil United Liberation Front [TULF], to become the leader of the opposition.
  • The new government introduced a new constitution in 1978. Mr. J R Jayewardene became the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, with wide executive powers. Mr. R. Premadasa was appointed as Prime Minister.
  • At the Presidential Elections held in 1982, President J. R. Jayewardene won a second term, while the leader of the SLFP, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was kept out of the contest by the deprivation of her civic rights by the government.
  • In 1982, the government extended the life of the existing parliament for another six years by holding a referendum.

For further elaborated evaluation of Mr. J. R. Jayewardene's governance please refer to the Former Presidents page.


Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1970-1977)

Hon. Dudley Senanayake

(March 1960 - July 1960)

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The first Prime Minister Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake died in March 1952, and his son Mr. Dudley Senanayake, then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, was appointed Prime Minister by the Governor General, Lord Soulbury, Parliament was subsequently dissolved and a general election was held in May 1952. The election was won by the UNP led by Mr. Dudley Senanayake. Among other things, increased welfare benefits, in particular the rice subsidy, contributed to the resounding victory.

Within a year, after the Korean boom ended, the Government found that the burden of the subsidy on the Budget was excessive and decided to curtail the subsidy expenditures sharply. The price of rice was increased. Other subsidies including free meals for school children were cut.

The Political protest to this move was explosive. A general strike, known as "Hartal", launched by very strong trade unions affiliated to the left-wing parties was so effective that the Prime Minister was compelled to resign from office. The price of rice was immediately reduced and the ration enlarged. This event is a landmark in the political economy of the post-independence era, which underlined the importance of the subsidy issue in government.

The elections in March 1960 after the assassination of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike in September 1959 had a large number of parties contesting. None of the parties were able to gain a majority, and a minority government was formed by the UNP and Mr. Dudley Senanayake assumed duties as the Prime Minister for the second time.

This Government did not survive for long and was defeated at the vote on the Address of Thanks. Fresh elections were held in July, 1960.

The general election of March, 1965 did not give a clear majority to any party, but the UNP, which had gained the highest number of seats, formed a government with the help of six other small parties including the major Tamil party, the Federal Party. Mr. Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister, for the third time.

Mr. Senanayake tried to reach an understanding with the Federal Party on the ethnic issues by devolution of power to the North and the East, but the proposals were withdrawn on account of opposition,

Tight trade and exchange controls were relaxed and a multiple exchange rate system was introduced in 1967 with the Foreign Exchange Entitlement Certificates (FEECs) which were traded at a premium over the official rate for specified transactions.

These reforms were supported by the first borrowing made by Sri Lanka from the IMF in 1965 of U.S. dollars 30 million.

The Government decision to pay compensation to the nationalized US oil company holdings paved the way for the resumption of assistance from the US. In 1966, the moratorium on repatriation of dividends, profits and other investment, imposed in 1964, was lifted.

An aid consortium consisting of Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the US was set up to assist Sri Lanka. This was later joined by the Federal Republic of Germany.

In 1966, an attempt was made to limit food subsidies by excluding income tax payers from benefits. Taxpayers with taxable income of over Rs. 1,000 were required to pay a tax equal to the subsidy unless they handed back their ration books. The amount of rice given at the subsidized price was reduced.

The Sri Lanka rupee was devalued in 1967, after nearly 15 years, by 20 per cent against the pound sterling to reduce the pressure on the balance of payments.

The agricultural sector was given high priority and came under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office. School children were mobilized for agricultural activities and agriculture was given a prominent position in the school curricula. The import of potatoes was banned.

An attempt was made to develop large scale private sector agriculture by leasing out land to large private sector investors. In 1968, the first agreement between the Asian Development Bank and the Government was signed for financing the foreign exchange cost of the Tea Factory Modernization Programme.

Credit assistance was provided through the New Agricultural Credit Scheme introduced in 1967 for paddy, vegetables and other specified food crops. The Government, through the Central Bank, backed this scheme with 100 per cent refinance and a 75 per cent credit guarantee. Loans were provided on easy terms to the farmers.

The government procurement price for paddy was raised and inputs such as fertilizer were supplied at a subsidized price.

Plans and designs were made for the development of the Mahaweli river basin.

The subsidized rice quota was reduced but some part was given free.

The third Dudley Senanayake Government was defeated at the 1970 elections, which is mainly attributed to the reduction in welfare measures.

Mr. Senanayake passed away after a brief illness in April 1973.


Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1960 - 1965)
The world's first woman Prime Minister


Hon. Dudley Senanayake (March 1960 - July 1960)


Hon. W. Dahanayake (1959-1960)

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  • The new Prime Minister, Mr. W. Dahanayake, who was appointed as caretaker pending new elections, has problems with his colleagues in the Government from the beginning and political instability continued. Parliament was dissolved in 1960.


Hon S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1956-1959)

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    Mr. Dudley Senanayake resigned from politics in January 1956. The MEP led by the SLFP came to power with a landslide victory at the 1956 (April) general elections. Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister. The UNP was pushed to the fourth place, with only 8 seats. The left leaders within the Government were assigned important cabinet portfolios.
    The Government took steps to expand the role of the public sector in the economy.
  • An initiative was taken to introduce state led industrial development with the introduction of the State Industrial Corporations Act in 1957.
  • The cargo handling at the Port of Colombo and bus services were nationalised.
    The Paddy Lands Act of 1958 gave protection to tenant paddy farmers.
    Sinhala was proclaimed the official language in June, 1956 and after protests, provision was made for the use of the Tamil language in 1958.
    The Government took over the control of the Trincomalee naval base and the Katunayake air base from the British authorities.
    Two premier educational institutions - the Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya Pirivenas - were elevated to the status of universities.
    The efforts by Mr. Bandaranaike to resolve the ethnic issue by giving some form of autonomy to the Tamil community in the North, and the East on the basis of the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact had to be abandoned due to strong opposition.
    The trade unions affiliated to the left-wing parties also showed their muscle through prolonged strikes which were settled by large wage increases. The strikes weakened the economy which was already facing difficulties due to deteriorating external resources.
    The Employees' Provident Fund was introduced by the Government to provide retirement benefits to workers in the Public sector.
    A Ten Year Plan was prepared, giving emphasis to developing agriculture and industry. However, due to resource problems, arising from declining export earnings, a more modest Three Year Plan was adopted.
    During the period 1956 - 1959, the agricultural development policy of farmer settlement under irrigation was continued. The Walawe River Development Scheme was inaugurated in 1957. However, strong initiatives were taken to develop the industrial sector.
    A radical departure was made in foreign policy when relationships were built with countries having different political ideologies and socialist orientation in terms of the new policy of non-alignment. The relationship with India was further strengthened.
    However, ideological differences within the coalition government continued to simmer and two left-wing ministers were forced to resign.
    The Prime Minister, Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in Colombo in September, 1959.


Hon. Sir John Kotelawala (1953-1956)

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  • Rt. Hon. Sir John Kotelawala became the Prime Minister in 1953 after the resignation of Mr. Dudley Senanayake.
  • In 1954, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Sri Lanka. the last British Governor General, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Viscount Soulbury left Sri Lanka. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke became the first Sri Lankan Governor General.
  • The Asian Prime Ministers' Conference was held in Colombo in 1954. As a follow-up to that meeting, a meeting at Bandung heralded the birth of the Non-aligned Movement. These meetings and the Afro-Asian Conference in 1954 emphasised the importance of regional solidarity.
  • Sri Lanka became a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1955.
  • A diplomatic mission in the USA was established in 1956.
  • There was no direct involvement by the Government in developing industrial enterprises. However, the Government introduced a modest programme to revamp some of the industries set up during the war, which were not functioning efficiently. Some were closed down and some others were converted to public corporations.
  • By 1955, the new SLFP in opposition assumed leadership of nationalist aspirations, reflected in a demand that Sinhala be made the official language of the country. These groups formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) to contest the elections.


Hon. Dudley Senanayake (1952-1953)

Hon. D.S.Senanayake (1948-1952)
Sri Lanka's first Prime Minister
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  • At the time of independence, the political party system was not well developed except for the left parties that were organised in the 1930s. The first Government of independent Sri Lanka was formed by Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake of the United National Party (UNP), which gained the highest number of seats at the 1947 general elections, with the backing of minority parties. This Government included some members from the northern electorate as Ministers.
  • The Government maintained close links with the United Kingdom even after independence through agreements on defence, external affairs and membership of the Commonwealth.
  • These agreements with Britain were expected to safeguard the security and sovereignty of the country. Thus. the naval base at Trincomalee and the air base at Katunayake were kept under British authority.
  • The citizenship of the country was defined and negotiations were initiated with India on repatriation of plantation workers of Indian origin who were not eligible to obtain citizenship.
  • The country's diplomatic relations during this period were mainly with the Western countries because of the strong trade relations with those countries. The important exception was the recognition of the People's Republic of China by Sri Lanka in 1950 and the establishment of trade relations with her under the Rubber-Rice Pact signed in 1952.
  • The development of domestic agriculture became the first priority in the policy regime of the first post-independence Government. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who had been campaigning for self-sufficiency in food since the first State Council period when he was the Minister of Agriculture emphasised the development of agricultural infrastructure to step-up paddy and other subsidiary food crop production. Thus, the settlement of farmers in the Dry Zone which was started in the 1930s was pursued with increased vigour. The land policy was mainly geared towards transfer of land to the landless, under the settlement schemes and for expansion of villages.
  • A start was made in developing the hydro-power potential of the country with the commissioning of the Laxapana station in 1950.
  • The two development programmes prepared during this period, i.e., the Six Year Development Plan 1951 - 1957 and the Six Year Programme of Investment (1954 - 1959), placed major emphasis on investment in agricultural infrastructure. The private sector was expected to play a leading role in the development process.
  • The Central Bank of Sri Lanka was established in 1950 by replacing the Currency Board System, to implement an independent and flexible monetary policy.
  • Welfare measures inherited by the new Government were expanded systematically. These measures included free education up to the tertiary level, free health facilities for all, and above all, the provision of food, mainly the staple food, rice, at a subsidised price for all.
  • The Korean War boom of 1949 - 1951, caused by the sharp rise in rubber prices during the Korean War, enhanced foreign resources and encouraged the expansion of welfare measures. Later, these measures exerted tremendous pressure on government budgets . In 1951/52, welfare expenditures accounted for 29 per cent of the government current expenditure, even exceeding the expenditure on development.
  • The welfare measures, however, helped the country to maintain investment in human capital at a higher level and have been responsible for lifting the human development status of the country well above most other developing countries and even some developed countries.
  • Conflicting views among the different groups within the UNP surfaced by 1951, and as a result, a group of government members led by Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike crossed the floor to join the Opposition and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1951. This marked the birth of a major party with the capability of forming an alternative government.


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