17 May, 2022


Wijetunge: President Of The Transition

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Rajan Hoole

The 1990s: The Culture of Untruth and a Perilous Vacuum Part 5

Premadasa’s death was greeted with silence rather than grief. There were reports of UNP agents trying to foment communal violence. This was communicated to the foreign embassies and soon afterwards the new president, D.B. Wijetunge, sent individual letters to UNP organisers telling them that he expects them to ensure that nothing untoward happens in their area. The main virtue of the new president was that having played his role as Premadasa’s passive prime minister, he had no stomach for the intrigues and exertion required by the intricate institution of the presidency built up by Jayewardene and Premadasa. Wijetunge dismantled some of the more questionable aspects of what he had inherited. One was the private intelligence network set up by Premadasa using retired, mainly Tamil, police officers. In key appointments too he usually went by seniority rather than push up favourites out of turn.

D.B. Wijetunge

D.B. Wijetunge

In July 1993, Frank de Silva succeeded Ernest Perera as inspector general of police. In December 1993, Cecil Waidyaratne resigned as army commander after a botched up operation in Jaffna and heavy loss of life and equipment when the LTTE attacked Pooneryn camp in November. Despite pressures to appoint a Buddhist, Wijetunge appointed Gerry de Silva, a Christian, as army commander. Many closely connected with the Army view this as the time when things started to change for the better in the Army after more than ten years of political intrigue and corruption. Although far from being an enlightened man (as suggested by his statement about minorities being creepers about the majority), Wijetunge created the conditions for the cleanest elections this country had witnessed since 1977. The People’s Alliance comprising the SLFP, LSSP, CP and SLMC came to power after winning the parliamentary elections in August 1994 and the presidential election in the November following, with Chandrika Kumaratunge obtaining 62.3% of the votes cast.

A notable feature of the Wijetunge period was a dismantling of the cloak-and-dagger features of Premadasa’s legacy. Hardly had anyone dared to criticise Premadasa while he lived. It was also a sign of how much internal party democracy had suffered under the monarchical presidential system. The group that was closer to Jayewardene and was eclipsed under Premadasa reasserted itself. Mrs. Premadasa who wanted the Party’s support to carry forward her late husband’s vision was roundly snubbed. Sirisena Cooray, although remaining a minister, began fading away and gave up the secretaryship of the UNP. More interestingly, Anura Bandaranaike finally made his long overdue entry into the UNP. This could not have happened under Premadasa who ridiculed the Bandaranaikes. Even more remarkable was Gamini Dissanayake abandoning the newly formed DUNF and rejoining the UNP. Following the general election, he displaced Ranil Wickremasinghe and became leader of the opposition, and then the UNP’s presidential candidate. He was assassinated while addressing an election rally in Colombo North on 24th October 1994. The woman LTTE suicide bomber took down with her G.M. Premachandra and Ossie Abeygoonesekere along with several dozens of others. The LTTE, it is thought, feared that Dissanayake’s election victory would give new life to the Indo-Lanka Accord.

A welcome feature of the presidential election campaign was that both leading candidates, Mrs. Kumaratunge and Dissanayake, were in close agreement about resolving the ethnic issue along federal lines. Dissanayake, like his peers who played the chauvinist card, was now prepared to swallow hard realities. He discovered that to consolidate power, he needed a more pragmatic approach on the Tamil issue. The chauvinist lobby was effectively silenced. If the LTTE wanted to resolve the issue, it could have framed its political demands and easily pressed for a solution in its favour. Instead, while the South was talking of peace, it was using its suicide cadre to pursue a different agenda. The first was the use of a suicide sea tiger to sink a naval vessel off Mannar in September ’94, and then came Dissanayake’s assassination in October. A cease-fire came into force after Kumaratunge’s election during which the LTTE declined to discuss political proposals, and then ended the cease-fire in April 1995 by again using suicide divers to sink two naval vessels berthed in Trincomalee. The LTTE was determined to keep the chauvinist lobby in the South alive.

To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 0

    By far THE BEST President, Srilanka ever had. DBW shines for Generations to come.

  • 0

    This reproduction is a timely reminder of the quirky nature of national, Sinhala and Tamil politics. When there is a solution in sight or a possible way out, there is always someone to sabotage it. An interesting phenomenon for research a, which may provide answers to our national conundrum.

    One aspect of the Wijetunge government that is seldom spoken about is that it facilitated the exit of Tamils with false documents through the airport, when the right price was paid, The N.U. Jayawardene advice that the a Tamils must be made a manageable minority was implemented and the Tamils paid to give it effect. The Tamils thought they were being clever, while many in authority and played the intermediary role, became rich. In the case if the intermediaries (agents) , it was a rag to riches story. Wijetunge made it easy to export the Tamils and hence the Tamil problem, by helping many to earn the fat buck in the deal. The Tamils became a willing export commodity!

    The nature of the Premadasa has been summarised well. What did young Sajit, learn from his father? To follow his footsteps or be different? I know as a young returnee from the UK, he was apprenticed to many government servants at the helm under President Premadasa. What did he learn? To see merits in his father’s methods or otherwise? These are questions that have to seek answers for, before considering Sajit Premadasa as an alternative to Ranil Wickremasinghe.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    Like in the case of Rajiv Gandhi, the killing of Gamini D and many UNP’ers could well be a case where the LTTE merely functioned as trigger men for a “Contract” The conspiracy may not have belonged entirely to them. How were UNP stalwarts in Colombo like Sirisena
    Cooray and MH Mohamed (who, I believe, left early) escaped the


  • 0

    The Tamil Diaspora was created unwittingly by SL Politics of over 6
    decades. TGTE is the direct outcome of zero action of the present
    Regime. It has now grown strong in the world stage and is over 3.3
    million (Indian & SL Origin) as per Wikipedia – detailed below:
    Malaysia ~1,396,000 (2000)
    United Kingdom ~300,000
    USA ~300,000
    South Africa ~250,000
    Canada ~200,000
    Singapore 188,591 (2010)
    France ~125,000
    Reunion ~120,000
    Fiji ~80,000
    Mauritius 72,089 (2011)
    Germany ~50,000
    Switzerland ~40,000
    Australia ~30,000
    Italy ~25,000
    Netherlands ~20,000
    Norway ~10,000
    Thailand ~10,000
    U.Arab Emirates~10,000

    Some of the renowned personalities are: Ananda Kumarasamy (1877-
    (1947) USA, V.Sundramoorthy Singaporean Footballer National Team
    1980-1995, S. Ramanathan 6th President of Singapore, M.Arulpiragasam
    (18-7-75) Singer-Rapper, Navanetham Pillay (23-9-41) UNhcr-Jurist,
    S. Ramamurthy – American Actor, Kamala Devi Harris -32nd Attorney
    General of California, Susheela Raman UK Singer-Songwriter,
    K.Kamaleswaran – Australia – Musician etc etc (Wikipedia)

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