About the UNP
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.
Founding of the Party
As the Hon D S Senanayake, the pioneer and founder of the United National Party, stated in his 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 Organisation. This is because the United National Party has been constituted to enable comprehensive representation of all racial, social and other groups.
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 Bandaranayake, T B Jayah, Arunachalam Mahadeva, S Natesan, J L Kotalawela and George R de Silva; Joint Treasurers A R 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 751,432 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 in 1952 and held fresh elections.
At this Election, the 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 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 defeat 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 Jayewardene. J R Jayewardene, with tremendous courage, faced the challenges of
re-organizing the Party with great vigor. 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
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 July 1960, on the dissolution of Parliament, the United National Party was defeated once again. Although the United National Party polled 1,143,000 votes, only 30 seats were won by the Party in 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 defeated 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 defeated 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.
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
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 landslide 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 by 1.3 million. The percentage was 50.92. This represented the largest ever number of Members 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 Lankan Head of State to become the Chairman of the SAARC was Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa.
The fifth Leader of the United National Party, Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated on the 1st 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 defeat.
At this Election, the United National Party polled 3,400,980. Eighty-six members were returned.
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 Dissanayake was elected 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 National Party polled only 2,700,150 votes at this Presidential Election.
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 defeated at three consecutive elections, within his first week as Party Leader. When he assumed leader-ship, 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.
The New Leader lost no time in rescuing the Party from this weakened state. Moving swiftly, he took many measures to infuse new life to the Party.
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 21 st century.
Under the guidance of all its seven leaders, the primary task of the party, a task it has ad hered to with a clear and unwavering commitment, has been to bring peace, harmony and prosperity to Sri Lankans of all walks of life.
Over this span of half a century, the unrelenting effort of the United National Party has
been to make political Independence a meaningful and living reality to our people and not
a mere mantra.
The UNP is endowed with a wealth of political experience which has been used throughout its fifty-year history to enrich the lives of our people. Thirty-one years in office and nineteen years in opposition have forged the badge which is the sign of the nation-builder and the distinctive mark of responsible and far-seeing governance.
In the finest and fullest sense, the UNP has been a party of revolutionary achievement.
SRI LANKA AS A NATION
The UNP led the movement that was responsible for Sri Lanka's independence.
The UNP made independence a reality by creating a free society based on democratic freedom, with sovereignty residing in the people. Fundamental rights were written into the constitution. The government was brought close to the people by devolving power on the Provincial Councils.
Sinhala and Tamil were made official languages.
We became a member of the Commonwealth. The UNP spearheaded Sri Lanka's entry into the international community by gaining admission to the United Nations, and, as nationhood matured, contributed to the setting up of SAARC. We entered the World Trade Organization and gained international commercial advantage.
National pride was elevated by the UNP through a cultural renaissance. The Art Council which was set up by the UNP, revived national culture. The Cultural Triangle created with the active assistance of UNESCO, restored our archaeological treasures and revealed our glorious heritage. Sri Jayawardenepura, in the ancient kingdom of Kotte, was proclaimed the capital of Sri Lanka, awakening a new interest in the area.
Religion was recognized as being vital to maintain the moral integrity of the nation, and always accorded the highest dignity and respect. Government patronage was extended to religious bodies.
FREEDOM FROM IGNORANCE
By introducing free education, the UNP shook the very foundations of privilege, and
created opportunities for rural youth to reach positions of prestige in public
administration, engineering, medicine,law and financial management,among others.
The UNP extended and expanded university education. It set up the Open University, the
Colleges of Education, the National Institute of Education and Technical Education, and
the Institute of Apprentice and Vocational Training. Postgraduate education was begun.
32,000 students were in universities in 1993.
Newspapers too, flourished. The 'lsland' group, the Wijeya Publications, the 'Sunday
Leader,' 'Lakbima' and an abundance of tabloids, all came into existence during the UNP
The UNP fed the nation. It engineered a revolution in agriculture with the giant Gal Oya and Uda Walawe projects, and the massive Mahaweli. By restoring the ancient irrigation tanks of Kantale, Padaviya, Huruluwewa, Kandalama, Kawdulla, Giritale, and the Parakrama Samudraya, it brought back pride and progress to the agrarian sector. Thousands of village tanks were also restored. The Mahaweli Development Project saw work on four huge dams commencing in quick succession, with completion accomplished in six years. Thousands of and acres came under irrigation. Nearly 2 million acres of land were given to the landless. Paddy production in 1993, increased to 3430 kgs per hectare. Thousands of families moved into new homes where the light of hope now shone with a renewed brightness. After centuries of effort, the rice needed in Sri Lanka was grown in Sri Lanka.
The UNP clothed the Nation. Vastly increased production, made textiles and readymade garments freely available. Sri Lankans were the best dressed in the region.
Housing was seen as a challenge by the UNP Government. The million houses programme
conceived by the UNP turned the dreams of the homeless and displaced into reality. A
million and more houses were built. With proper planning, practical wisdom and modern
construction methods, whole new villages, towns and cities sprang up all over the country.
Anuradhapura New Town and other new cities, Girandurukotte, Galnewa, Bulnewa,
Embilipitiya, Ampara, Teldeniya and Ratnapura were also brought into being by the United
Broad basing of shares directly and through Unit Trusts made the small investor a share holder in quoted companies. Incomes and savings improved. Small businesses burgeoned. The ranks of the middle class swelled.
The UNP brought us out of economic imprisonment by opening our doors to the gains of global enterprise. The great particular revolution the UNP wrought, its greatest achievement, has been in the economic arena.
The open economy demolished the fortress of bureaucratic controls and restrictions, and set free the forces of the market to create wealth for the enterprising citizen. Enormous benefits, followed with even pavement pitchmen seizing the opportunity to be part of the new entrepreneurial order. Industry accelerated as Free Trade Zones opened up in Katunayake, Biyagama and Koggala, with streams of foreign investors pouring in capital, bringing in machinery, and providing state-of-the-art technology. Greater emphasis was placed on non-traditional exports and re-shipment.
The UNP reinvented tourism by turning it into a major income earner. The industry created
vast employment opportunities.
A Stock Exchange was established as a vital component of the open economy, and, in the time of the UNP, experienced vigorous trading activity and high turnover. Wealth was created by the billion.
A network of modern roads and highways was developed. Colombo Port was upgraded to take
its position as the best in South Asia. Extended facilities at the Katunayake Airport
generated higher turnover of passenger traffic and cargo.
The UNP took its revolutionary approach to the Fishing industry by introducing a series of
measures to improve the productive efficiency of Fishermen and enhance their quality of
life. Land, housing, electricity, multi-day boats and outboard motors, and a pension
scheme, became part of their new lot.
The pulse of the nation began to beat again.
Since 1977 alone, the UNP created 2.5 million jobs. For millions more, life became meaningful where earlier, hope did not exist. This is one of the UNP's great glories.
The UNP also opened up avenues of foreign employment to over 300,000 rural men and women. By adding 1400 megawatts of power to the national grid, the UNP created vast opportunities for self-employment.
Youth found a place in society. The National Youth Council was set up to promote youth activity and develop leadership. Youth Clubs were formed. Youth got pride of place. Sri Lanka received test status in cricket through the efforts and encouragement of the UNP government. Athletes from the rural areas competed and won in international events. Government-sponsored sports festivals were held in places such as Bakamuna and Girandurukotte.
Equal employment opportunities in every sector were opened to women, giving them economic independence. They joined the work force in large numbers making an impressive contribution to the economy. Their rights were protected by Women's Charter.
Workers were given free shares in 'peoplised' ventures. The Employees' Trust Fund was
inaugurated for the benefit of private sector workers. The Gratuities Bill was introduced.
The UNP always believed that a healthy nation made a strong nation. The prevention and eradication of disease received serious attention. Malaria was successfully combated. The infant mortality rate was reduced by 95%. A primary health hazard was eliminated by providing safe drinking water to 5 million people. Immunization schemes were reactivated. Emphasis was placed on preventive medicine and primary health care. Indigenous medicine was developed. Regional hospitals were upgraded, and new hospitals built. The Sri Jayewardenepura hospital is one of the most modern health facilities in South Asia. Private hospitals were encouraged.
Impressive as this record remains, it gives only a brief insight into the extensive achievements of the UNP, which took place on a grander scale. In passing on a plenitude of riches to the people, the UNP made independence meaningful to all. People's lives changed for the better.