In retrospect: 1960 General Election
Political instability begins
Monday, September 7, 2015 - 01:00
In retrospect: 1960 General Election
In 1956, the SWRD Bandaranaike-led Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, a loosely knit coalition of right wingers, Marxists and language extremists, returned with an overall majority. They were 51 out of 95 elected MPs. Soon after becoming Prime Minister in 1956, S W R D Bandaranaike’s first duty was to introduce a bill to make Sinhala the official language of the country. It was tabled for the second reading on June 5, 1956. Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) decided to stage a peaceful picket referred to as a satyagraha, a non violent form of resistance, opposite the Parliament.
However this protest was clashed by a group of extremist Sinhalese who supported the Sinhala Only policy. They demanded the demonstrators to retreat. Leaving a dark spot in the minds of Tamils, the Sinhala Only policy was passed into law in 1956. Situations that happened subsequently paved the way for Parliament to be dissolved though it had the mandate to continue until 1961.
In 1956 Bandaranaike assumed powers with the support of several forces. However, three years later it struggled to retain its majority and shrunk to its most precarious numbers. The departure of Agriculture and Food Minister Phillip Gunewardena and Industries and Fisheries Minister P H Wiliam de Silva, and departure of other left-wingers in the coalition mainly affected the majority of the governing party. This reduced the voting strength in the House to 47 including six appointed MPs. On June 9, 1959, Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike reshuffled his Cabinet and appointed a new 16-member Cabinet consisting solely of his SLFP men and one woman. On September 25, 1959, Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk called Ven Talduwe Somarama Thera. The monk shot the Prime Minister at his private residence while worshiping him. The Acting Leader of the House was called upon by the Governor General, Sir Oliver Goonetileke, to form a caretaker government on September 26.
W. Dahanayake’s resignation
W. Dahanayake became the fifth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, formed his Cabinet on the same day and held it until March. During his tenure as the Prime Minister he removed almost all the ministers of the SWRD Bandaranaike’s government from office. As a result of the internal struggle and the great force from the Opposition, the third Parliament was dissolved on December 5, 1959. On December 7, 1959, W. Dahanayake announced that he had resigned from the SLFP and formed his new party named Lanka Prajathantravadi Pakshaya (Ceylon Democratic Party). On the very next day, the SLFP working committee rejected Mr. W. Dahanayake’s resignation and expelled him from the Party. This was followed by many ‘tit for tat’ actions between W. Dahanayake and members of the SLFP.
Various new innovations came into play at the 1960 election in accordance with the Ceylon Parliamentary elections (Amendment) Act No. 11 of 1959. A few of them included postal voting systems for public servants who might not be able to vote at polling stations and increasing the number of electorates up to 145 which allowed 151 members to be elected to Parliament.
The country’s politics was in disarray. About 899 candidates from 23 recognised parties handed over nomination papers on January 4, 1960, to contest the fourth general elections fixed on March 19. The UNP fielded a total of 127 candidates, the SLFP 108, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party 101, the Philip Gunewardene led Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) 89, the W. Dahanayake led Lanka Prajathanthrawadi Pakshaya (LPP) 101, the Communist Party – 53, the Samajawadi Peramuna (SMP) 40, the Sri Lanka Jathika Peramuna (SLJP) – 1, the Bosath Bandaranaike Peramuna (BBP) – 1, the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – 2, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress – 8, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi – 19 and independents and minor parties 167. All were in the fray to win 151 elected seats to the House of Representatives. The total number of registered voters was 3,724,507.
During the general election campaign for the fourth Parliament, the SLFP was led by CP de Silva who was not a charismatic leader as compared to his predecessor. So the party roped in the widow of the slain leader, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, to appear in the election rallies on behalf of the SLFP candidates. During her speeches she wept while speaking and other parties claimed it as an act to garner sympathy votes during the election campaign. But it became a point of attraction at the rallies and while extolling virtues of her husband, she asked people to cast their vote for SLFP to continue with the policies of the SWRD Bandaranaike. Furthermore, Party leader C. P. de Silva in rallies insisted that it was only after late Bandaranaike came to power the common man was given the right place in the country.
Phillip Gunewardene, the leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, claimed that if they came to power MEP would take necessary steps to proceed with nationalisation of commercial banks and insurance companies and introduce necessary steps to establish a truly national system of education by taking over all the schools. In addition, he stressed the need for a truly socialist government that is capable of implementing a policy that would help economic development of the country.
During the months between dissolution and the election of new Parliament, W Dahanayake, the caretaker Prime Minister had to face many hardships. Joining his newly formed party rallies he promised the wholesale repatriation of Indian Tamils if he came into power. Furthermore, he stated inaugurating the campaign speeches of his party LPP that the Marxists had made Ceylon a hell on earth. In addition to that he stated that the country was at crossroads, having Marxism on one side and the UNP on the other side.
Dr. N M Perera was quite mute on his party’s stance on the language issue. However, he forecast a workers’ and peasants’ government on March 19. He also further stated during election campaigns that real struggle is between capitalism and socialism. He also referred to SLFP as a ‘comic gang’ and the UNP as ‘reactionaries’ while referring members of his party as “Golden Brains” that the country needed.
Speaking to the public on behalf of Communist Party at elections, Pieter Keuneman stated that his party wishes to establish a stable government to carry out the policies of Bandaranaike. One of the notable forecasts of Keuneman was that no single party would be able to secure the absolute majority in the Parliament.
Dudley Senanayake, the leader of the UNP opening the campaigns with much confidence assured that when his party came to power he will take necessary steps to restore law and order and a sense of national discipline, national unity and national self respect to which the people of the country entitled to. Moreover he stressed that no government could hope to undertake a programme of work without ushering in a period of orderly government, communal and religious harmony and industrial peace.
The curtain fell on the fourth general election of the Ceylon on March 19th.
For the first time in the history of general elections of Sri Lanka polling finished within a day and started counting on the same day. A total of 3,069,106 votes were cast which was 81.7 as a percentage. The UNP won 50 seats, while SLFP won 46, ITAK -15, LSSP 10, MEP 10, LPP 4, CP 3, SMP -1, BBP -1. In addition, seven independents were successful in securing their seats. This election created history leading to the first ever hung parliament of Sri Lanka.
One major shock was the defeat of the incumbent Prime Minister W. Dahanayake. Though he was defeated, four of his party candidates were able to secure their seats in their respective electorates. For the first time, GG Ponnampalam, the Tamil Congress Leader and eminent Queen’s Counsel was defeated by Alfred Duriyappah, the Jaffna Mayor who was an independent candidate and a relatively unknown political character. Similarly C. Suntheralingam, known for his controversial nature in decision making was defeated by another unknown independent political novice T Svasithamparam.
Daily News of April 1960
Cont. In retrospect: 1960 General Election
In all, 31 members of the 1956 Parliament were defeated at the March elections. Some notable losers included Premier Dahanayake, P. Tennekoon, Deputy Speaker Stanley de Zoyza, a Minister of both Bandaranaike and Dahanayake governments R E Jayathilaka, a Minister of Dahanayake government, Vivienne Goonewardene of LSSP, Philip Gunewardene’s wife Kusuma Genewardene, LSSP Stalwart Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Edmund Samarakkody (LSSP) and D A Rajapaksa (MEP).
It was an obvious fact that the election had been a stalemate, and no party had an overall majority to form a strong government. On the brighter side however, the UNP got back to the forefront of the country’s politics from state of eight seats of 1956 election. Before naming the Cabinet, Dudley Senanayake initiated discussions on a coalition government with Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi leaders. But his response for the demands of ITAK leaders was not satisfactory enough to form a coalition government with them. ITAK Leader Chelvanayakam showed his dismay over the request made by Dudley Senanayake to accept ministerial posts in the UNP government.
He further stated that their party would not accept ministerial portfolios and be a part of the government until or unless the rights of Tamils are won.
Election of Speaker
Sri Lanka Freedom Party in its attempt to form a government assigned Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmud, the Principal of Gampola Zahira College and one of the founders of SLFP started discussions with Chelvanayakam. Discussions were successful and all plans were set to form a government between SLFP and ITAK in case if UNP fail to win the majority of the Throne Speech.
However in the meantime Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilake invited Dudley Senanayake, the leader of the majority party at the time, to form a government. Dudley Senanayake accepted to form a minority party and he appointed an eight-member Cabinet and it was sworn-in on March 23, 1960. The Cabinet comprised Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister as well as Defence and External Affairs Minister, Bernard Aluwihare as Education and Cultural Affairs Minister, MD Banda as Agriculture, Food, Commerce and Trade Minister, Senator EJ Coorey as Justice Minister, JR Jayewardene as Finance and Local Government and Housing Minister, Montague Jayawickrama as Nationalised Services, Shipping, Transport, Posts, Works and Power Minister, Dr MCM Kaleel as Home Affairs and Rural Development Minister and Senator Dr Mahapitiyage Velin Peter Peiris as Health and Services Minister.
The first indication of testing the strength of government was the election of Speaker. UNP nominee Sir Albert F Peiris was defeated to the opposition group nominee TB Subasinghe, an independent MP from Katugampola electorate. The vote count was 93 to 60.
The vote on the Throne Speech was taken up on March 22, 1960. At the debate followed by the Throne Speech, Chelvanayakam expressed his party intention.
He made strong allegations that Dudley and JR were the leaders who misled the people against the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam agreement by leading the march from Colombo to Kandy. He pointed out that this was the reason behind agreement being repudiated and ultimately which led the racial holocaust of 1958.
On April 22, 1960, ITAK voted along with SLFP for the result of 61 votes in favour of the Throne Speech and 86 against to defeat the UNP’s minority government. Dudley summoned an immediate Cabinet meeting to call for a general election. In the mean time, ITAK and SLFP set their preplanned sketch to form a government.
However the Governor General avoided giving an opportunity for the SLFP to form the government over a caste issue of the leader of the SLFP and dissolved the Parliament in order to ask for a new mandate from the people to form a new government.
- See more at: http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=archives/....yhNWygEn.dpuf
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