17 May, 2022


‘Api Kavuruda?’: Ranilist Toiyyaism Or Premadasaist Social Democracy

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Since Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over the SLFP leadership in 1960 after the SLFP lost the first election of that year and won the second, right up to the time the baton passed to Mahinda Rajapaksa, the SLFP adopted ‘Bandaranaike Policies’.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the leadership, the ideology and policy paradigm shifted to ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. The branding and re-branding helped the SLFP, until it deviated and signed up with Wickremesinghe’s UNP in the Yahapalanaya government, a move that crippled and paralyzed it.

The crisis of the SLPP (‘Pohottuwa’) today is that it cannot decide between the nationalist-populist Mahinda Chinthanaya of the two MR terms and the Mahinda Sulanga movement and its vanguard, the Joint Opposition (JO), on the one hand, and the Far-Right ultranationalist-autocratic Gotabaya ideology and policy paradigm, on the other.

Opposition Identity

Led by a Premadasa, and so long as it led by a Premadasa, the SJB’s policy paradigm and prescriptions must be Premadasa-ist. They cannot be even residually Ranilist. The policy prescriptions that the SJB offers as an alternative cannot be those of the Ranilist quarter century when the UNP never produced a leader for Lanka.

This is what the SJB’s pro-UNP civil society critics do not understand.    

There is also an obvious strategic logic to this. Under Ranil’s leadership the UNP never led the country. Under Ranasinghe Premadasa’s leadership the UNP never once lost an election and wielded power through the vote at all three levels of the polity—the Presidency, the Parliament (1989) and the local authorities (1991).   

But what is the Ranasinghe Premadasa policy package, paradigm and perspective? What is the Premadasa ideological position, perspectival space and path?

How many UNP-ers and ex-UNPers of the Ranil-era, i.e., the era of never being responsible for wielding state power –as distinct from governmental/administrative power—under a President who led their own party; the long era when the UNP was never the ruling party but only and for short-duration the governing one, actually know the answer?


As a Deputy Minister in the Dudley Senanayake administration of 1965-70, Premadasa had been the second Lankan politician ever, to reach out to Western Social Democracy – the first such being his erstwhile leader A. E. Goonesinghe who, as Prof K. M. de Silva documents, sought to link up with the British Labour Party. Premadasa returned from a visit to West Germany and close interaction with Willy Brandt. He sought the assistance specifically of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), the foundation officially affiliated with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), to set up the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) for the task of labour education.

This distinctive line of Premadasa, sharpened by the April Insurrection (he attended every single sitting of the CJC main trial), was best exemplified in an April 4th 1973 speech to the Colombo West Rotary Club, a speech he was so proud of and committed to that he had it reproduced in the ‘SAARC Summit special supplement’ of the Daily News during his Presidency, accompanied by an introduction in bold type which read: “The seeds of today’s concepts were sown years ago…President Ranasinghe Premadasa, then First Member of Parliament for Colombo Central was invited by the Colombo West Rotary Club to deliver an address on the topic ‘A Plan for Sri Lanka’ at a luncheon meeting of the Club. The speech was delivered when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was only an opposition member of Parliament and portrays the vision of a young politician of what he thought was the best for Sri Lanka”. (CDN Nov. 21, 1991).

In April 1973, there was no one who would have bothered to ghost-write a speech in English for this lonely pioneer who had launched the Samastha Lanka Puravasi Peramuna in ’72, in the enfeebled Opposition.

That speech, which takes as a desirable goal “Socialism without ulterior motivations and external interferences”, is the best short exposition of and platform for a social democratic Third Way a good quarter century before Prof Anthony Giddens.

Though dating from his Puravesi Peramuna period, before he rejoined the UNP mainstream at JR Jayewardene’s invitation (sometime after the latter succeeded to the leadership in late April ’73) its reproduction under his presidency – with the word ‘Socialism’ significantly undeleted – underscores the continuity of his thinking and gives the lie to those who would cunningly dilute and distort the content of his economic philosophy.

A lengthy excerpt from Premadasa’s crucial April ’73 text is needed to comprehend the core of his thought:

Political power has been diffused among the people through the exercise of the franchise. In like manner the economic wealth of the country should also be diffused among the people. We should evolve a scheme under which the public sector, the co-operative sector, the private sector and a combination of all these three sectors – a joint sector – could function in competition with each other. Such competition will bring the maximum benefit to the people who need not become slaves of either a public or private monopoly. The government should ensure through its legislative and planning processes that the people participate in all aspects of development without allowing monopolies – state or individual.

The people’s participation should be enlisted in all matters relating to policy decisions and their implementation. The common people should be made to share the responsibility of finding solutions to their problems. That burden must not be presumed to be monopolized by a few. The common people should have a voice in making decisions and share in their implementation…

…We can solve our problems. Scarcity of foreign exchange is no obstacle. To earn foreign exchange, we must increase production; to increase production we must develop our national resources, and if we are to develop our national resources, we must harness the human potential that we have in abundance. It is futile to go on bended knees to foreign countries begging for assistance.

We must trust our people who have placed their confidence in us. Going to them for the vote alone is not sufficient. In order to formulate and implement policies from the village level to the national level we must get the active participation of our people including the new generation. The root cause of unrest among our people is that we have reduced them to mere voting machines operating once in five years. This system must change; and change completely to make the people the real masters”. (People’s Participation in Government- CDN Nov. 21, 1991.)


1977 was almost as much a victory of Premadasa’s as it was of JR Jayewardene’s. Lalith Athulathmudali writing as a confident Minister (of Trade and Commerce) in 1980 in the Lanka Guardian special issue looking back at the decade of the 1970s sums up the changes that made the UNP the electoral juggernaut it was by 1977: 

“…A new policy and programme proposed by a committee headed by R. Premadasa was adopted. Family power and privileged group power were dethroned and the fact that these very monstrosities were being strengthened in the other parties only served to consolidate the UNP. In the popular mind the UNP often thought of as being concerned with the few, came to be considered as the party of the masses. The UNP had built itself a new political base”. (Lalith Athulathmudali, Lanka Guardian Vol. 2 No 17, 1980 p13-14).

For Premadasa, the 1977 victory was an unfinished revolution. At the mammoth UNP May Day of 1977, before the landslide, Premadasa’s was the only voice to rise above the triumphalism of the impending victory and sound a clear cautionary note. It took a depth of discernment far greater than that of JR Jayewardene and the other UNP personalities, (‘genius’ would be the right word) to do so, and his perspicacity was spotted and published internationally by one journalist at the time:

Premadasa said “Those young hands applauding us now may manufacture the bombs that will kill us, if we too do not change our ways of living and leadership.”’ (Quoted in Mervyn de Silva, ‘Survival of the Fittest’, Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong, May 20th 1977, pp.17-19)

This was no mere flash in the pan. In his Feb 23rd 1978 Parliamentary speech assuming the Prime Ministership, an occasion which any other individual would have regarded with smug satisfaction and chosen not to strike a discordant note on, he spurned etiquette and rang the alarm bells again:

“Our people are facing untold hardships. The efforts of our youth to obtain opportunities for work, economic progress and social security have been unsuccessful. The forbearance and fortitude of our people who are shouldering great burdens of the cost of living, must not be mistaken for weakness. This atmosphere of poverty is about to overwhelm the limits of their patience. If so, none can tell what might transpire. Policies must be formulated, implemented… bearing this in mind.’’ (‘Prabuddha Shakthiya’, p170, published by B. Sirisena Cooray, June 1978, printed by MD Gunasena & Co.

One of Premadasa’s last acts as Prime Minister (1988) was to pen and publish the Introduction to the Sinhala translation by Janadasa Pieris of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, a work in which Gorbachev defined his project as a ‘reformed…democratic Socialism’.

The very fact that Premadasa as President chose to reproduce his Rotary Club speech of April 1973 on Socialism and People’s Participation in Government, in the SAARC special supplement in 1991 when he was SAARC Chairperson, indicates that it was the consistent perspective he wanted the outside world to know about, and which he hoped to radiate in the region.

Opposition’s Existential Choice

Most certainly, Premadasa’s social democracy was Populist, but it was ‘social Populist’ or ‘socioeconomic Populist’ as in Latin America, not ‘ethnoreligious Populist’ or ‘ethnonationalist Populist’ as in the case of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, the Rajapaksas or SWRD Bandaranaike in 1956.

Today’s SJB is the successor party of not only the UNP but also the Samastha Lanka Puravesi Peramuna. It should emancipate itself of every last vestige of Ranilist ‘Toiyyaist’ neoliberal urban-elitism.

The SJB as the main Opposition party stands to inherit the thinking of the greatest development policy thinker-practitioner that the UNP and indeed Sri Lanka ever produced; the greatest developmental leader that independent Sri Lanka ever had.

The late Neville Jayaweera, who held a First-Class Honours degree in Philosophy from Peradeniya (1953) and was one of the most stellar products of the elite Ceylon Civil Service, confirmed it thus, writing with the benefit of hindsight, very much later in 2009:

“…The soaring vision he [Premadasa] had for his country, and I do not mean merely for the Sinhala people but for Sri Lanka as a nation, was unmatched by any political leader of the last century, either conceptually, or in terms of the intelligence and managerial energy with which he backed it up, even though that vision was tainted by his many failings…” 

It is up to the SJB, led by Ranasinghe Premadasa’s only son, Sajith, to pick up the torch of Premadasa’s “prabuddha shakthiya” on development philosophy and practice, resume and complete the unfinished social democratic people’s revolution of 1988-1993, and build a 21st century social democracy in and for Sri Lanka.

*The writer was President Premadasa’s appointee as Director, Conflict Studies at the Institute of Conflict Studies, and later, Executive Director of The Premadasa Center (1994-1999). He was co-editor of ‘The Premadasa Philosophy: Selected Thoughts of Ranasinghe Premadasa’, June 1994.

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Latest comments

  • 11

    But … You know … the real person only comes out when his power is threatened (like what is happening to Gotler at the moment). When the cocksure Wijeweera and his JVP started pressurizing Premadasa, after helping him to win the presidency in 1988, to take action to alleviate the suffering of the poor – Premadasa lost his “social democratic” cool. He didn’t have any qualms whatsoever about unleashing the capitalist state terror and murdering in cold blood whoever his paranoia deemed as a threat to his hard-won power. According to Dayan, Sajith will, if he gets power, will be a worthy son and keep up the good work.

    • 12

      “Api Kavuruda?’: Ranilist Toiyyaism Or Premadasaist Social Democracy”
      No, it should be “Ranilist Toiyyaism or Premadasist Baiyaism”
      Or even Mahinda Baiyaism with Premadasa Characteristics (as the Chinese might say)

      • 8

        As Marianne David writes in the FT,
        “Premadasa’s SJB is no more than ‘Rajapaksa-lite’, a slightly more minority friendly, slightly less bigoted version of the SLPP.”
        I don’t think that’s what the country needs.

        • 6

          “and his perspicacity was spotted and published internationally by one journalist at the time:”
          Of course some people have to drag their fathers into everything they write.
          But let us not forget Premadasa’s “perspicacity” in telling 600 policemen to surrender to the Tigers, to be murdered with weapons supplied by Preme himself. I do hope his son, who talks a lot but says nothing, will not follow that example.

  • 11

    So Dayan wants another Ranasinghe Premadasa era. There is a pattern to the brutal Sinhalese Buddhist hatred and violence towards the tamils and other minorities. Put down and held in their place by the British the Buddhist were roused up by the Anagarika and other contemporaries. What was dormant suddenly burst out into the open and manifested it self a vicious hatred towards the establishment which was run by English speaking gentlemen of Sinhalese, Tamil and Burger ancestry. Most hailed from land owning aristocratic families. Falling out with the Senanayake’s for wanting to promote their own family in politics SWRD tapped into this couldron of seething nastiness and came to power on their vote. Sinhala only was their wet dream and now, SWRD had to deliver. This was the instrument by which these Buddhist sougth to exact raveng on the establishment. Banda realized only too late the damage he had done and ended up getting executed by these scoundrels. Nextr came his wife who did not see herself as a member of the aristocracy but as a member of these seething hatefull mobsters. She gleefully went about implementing their agenda. The country suffered and suffered blow after blow. The envy of the world our dear country sank to the gutter.

  • 13

    Finally the Tamils fought back and gave the monsters a taste of their own medicine. The country suffered even more egregiously. All our regional contemporaries over took us while we kept licking our communal wounds like a mangy dog. Then came Premedasa. A solution to the LTTE was by then in place the Indian Army was taking casualties but fighting back. Premadasa decided to take up the cause of the Sinhalese Buddhists and chase the Indian army out of Sri Lanka by helping and arming the LTTE undemining all the good work to bring the situation back to normal. What happened to Banda happened to Premadasa. The violent nasty outfit he helped protect killed, him blowing him to bits. While Premamdasa was in power another brutal massacre was carried out against our own youth. Cold blooded accounts of what was done by the authorities are legend. We always had blood thirsty animals within our law enforcement. These elements are never identified and punished. The Easter Sunday bombings were organized by a similar group. Premedasa was a foolish man but also cunning. He was also paranoid. His son seems to have similar qualities. His claims of an education are totally false. His use of the old Sinhalese Buddhist pride and greviance complex is bogus and never resulted in anything good happening for the country.

  • 13

    “Led by a Premadasa, and so long as it led by a Premadasa, the SJB’s policy paradigm and prescriptions must be Premadasa-ist.” That tells it all. Today, I think a majority of our people want to get rid of the Rajapakse regime. But very few people would want to go back to “Premadasa-ism”. We remember the Premadasa years very well. I regret to say this– because I oppose all killings– when that era came to an end on that fateful 01 May, people lit crackers and danced on the streets.

  • 0

    Dr. DJ quotes extensively, the publication of the talk given by RP, printed in CDN Nov 21, 1991. RP had a super Parliament just before he became President and he sought vital amendments to the constitution that lowered the cut off percentage from 12.5% to 5% in keeping with his undertaking given to certain political parties. But the seems to have forgotten his own talk later on. RP did quite a lot of service to the people and at the same time gained a lot of adverse publicity, particularly regarding mysterious loss of human life. Had he implemented his words such as introducing a constitutional amendment where the constitution and an implementable public policy must be ratified by the people and so are all amendments to the same then one can truly describe RP as a man of his words. The reality is that politicians, particularly of the third world, cannot afford to be that. Though they extol the virtues of checks and balances that is the very thing that they don’t like to happen when the government is there’s. They are studious while out of power and a crude selfishness creeps in when they are in power.

  • 0

    There is also an obvious strategic logic to this. Under Ranil’s leadership the UNP never led the country. Under Ranasinghe Premadasa’s leadership the UNP never once lost an election and wielded power through the vote at all three levels of the polity—the Presidency, the Parliament (1989) and the local authorities (1991). The above is a lifesaving passage for renamed UNP Muthalalies, from a Cuban Communist wolf, who is shedding tears for a soaking lion which is covered by sheep skin. The truth is when Thero’s arch enemy JR was there Sinhala Buddhist Modayas voted for UNP for 17 years. But after Vaalaiththodam Sr came and left in the middle by the act of LTTE, UNP too was gone. Weeping widow Siri Mao won elections, by the favor of her husband was murdered by a Bald Head. But Hema never won any election for the LTTE’s assassin of her husband. All children of SWRD went high in the leadership of Lankawe Aanduwa and SLFP party, neither Vaalaiththodam Jr or Old King’s children had yet established it. The shame is, Vaalaiththodam Jr took a massive defeat from Hitler King in 2019, compared to the marginal defeat Ranil took in 2005 after Tamils rejected UNP’s friendship.

  • 0

    If Ranil is Nariyah, Thero de Silva is a Hyena, stealing and additionally scavenging from his masters.
    (First, there is nothing good or bad in any animals, but all of them, by nature or by God’s act, are left with some instinct advantage to survive in their environment. Though we are aware of that very well, we, from old wisemen to modern science educated, all compare nature to despair at the lower human beings or on the other side to adore the higher human beings.) Recently the silly sally cuckoo is laying its eggs in a crow’s nest. He is loading his Cuban Communism over the runway UNP gang-men. Sadly, those gang-men never heard anything about Thero’s Cuban Communism. When the overfilled foreign label drips through his nose, he lazily lies down and defines a lot of isms, that there is nothing like that in the real world where the Sun comes in the next morning.
    Where in the world, other than the Wildlife Sanctuary, Lankawe, which is gripped by the Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals, does a political scientist write an essay like above?

  • 0

    This invalid Political Scientist only prays his enemy’s enemy to rise. So he sought refuge in the Vaalaiththodam empire when JR went after the Lankawe lame duck communism. In 2015, in Narahenpita, he surrendered to the Old King to save him from the King. But at the same time, the Old King surrendered to Ranil to have him saved from the West. Ranil, a policy bankrupt political beggar, now is surrendering to the China Communist Party, to come back to power. In November 2019, he handed over the government to the same Old King. These cabalistic snakes swallow each other by their tails, while swallowing innocent prey too.
    “ The crisis of the SLPP (‘Pohottuwa’) today is that it cannot decide between the nationalist-populist Mahinda Chinthanaya of the two MR terms and the Mahinda Sulanga movement and its vanguard, the Joint Opposition Comedies (JOC)-[who the gang of Communist Pakaya, Ganapathi Pillai, Lemon Puff Veeraya et al, the coolies employed to howl by Royals to bring down UNP Yahapalanaya] After Thero’s so obscure isms & explanation, the reality in Lankawe is that Old King’s Chitanta fraud is swallowed beyond its head by the King’s Racist Hitlerismic populism that is ever present in the Sinhala Modaya Politics, from 1915’s Don’s racist leadership

  • 0

    Anyway, with the help of Ranil, Chitantarism temporarily resisted the demise which it should have faced at the hand of the Yahapalanaya. Ranil targeted his own Yahapalanaya to save Royals. Old King’s Chitantarism is only a prostitute’s daughter, whom to be offered to the temple and earn income for the mother, the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas.

    “…A new policy and programme proposed by a committee headed by R. Premadasa was adopted. Family power and privileged group power were dethroned and the fact that these very monstrosities were being strengthened in the other parties. UNP, from inception of Sir Pon Arunachalam, a family party. What the message here Thero saying by reproducing this here, while he is trying to transfer that culture from UNP to SJB Politics by promoting a worthless chaff?

    ‘…Premadasa said “Those young hands applauding us now may manufacture the bombs that will kill us, if we too do not change our ways of living and leadership.’ What a heart feeling, compassionate in its pomposity, but in reality, a hypocritic speech! What an irony, then, the Socialistic Vaalaiththodam Sr, by his own hands, wiped out hundreds of thousands that who applauded his ascendance to throne. Then. Again the irony was, the hands of those who refused to applaud their hands because of the denial of their education by standardization, brought him down.

  • 0

    DJ, Without clinging too hard to the past, not knowing far into the future, we need to live in the now. If “now” is too far off the path like at present in a money mad context, it is absolutely necessary to expose all and prevent even by force this path going further away. Otherwise the return is equally far in plain language. You have said it in political language. Now the need is to take action in the behavioral language of the deceived. Continual watchfulness will expose how untrustworthy most people are without penalizing boundaries.

  • 2

    SP despite his ‘political pedigree’ clearly lacks the drive and charisma to lead his newly formed party . With the silver haired fox back in the hunt in possibly a last ditch attempt to quench his insatiable lust for power , it won’t be long before the SJB becomes a headless chook . The Moratuwa University Engineering graduate quietly biding his time has public appeal , great oratory skills and the street smarts to lead the rudderless SJB potentially to an election victory whenever one is held. . Whether he gets a shot at it or not, only time will tell.

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