Posted on April 26th, 2023


This essay contains observations, on the rule of President JR Jayewardene, many of them first hand, made by V.P. Vittachi and Sarath Amunugama with additional information from Jayatissa Bandaragoda. All three had served in the Ceylon Civil Service and held high positions in the state administration.

V.P. Vittachi joined the Ceylon Civil Service in the closing years of British rule. In the early sixties he was Government Agent in Jaffna. His last position, in the 1970s, was as the Head of Sri Lanka Customs. Sarath and Jayatissa were GAs when JR Jayewardene was head of state.

 Vittachi   was so disgusted with JR that he felt compelled to write a book of 150 pages specifically on JR Jayewardene’s period of rule. He titled it, ‘Sri Lanka what went wrong; JR Jayewardene’s Free and Righteous Society”, (Navrang, New Delhi, 1995).  When the book appeared, Vittachi had taken the precaution of spending each night at a different hotel.

Vittachi’s observations are supported by comments from Sarath Amunugama in his book To Paris and back” (2022) and contributions from Jayatissa Bandaragoda in his book, Path of destiny (2011) 

 Vittachi’s book is a contemptuous account of the reign of President JR Jayewardene. Vittachi examines specific events during JR’s rule very closely and places them on record. Vittachi starts by laughing at JR’s statement made at a Commonwealth Summit meeting in 1985 that he was following a long line of heads of state in Sri Lanka, starting from Vijaya.

At Biyagama Export Processing Zone speech in 1987, JR had said that from 1815 the King of England was our king as well. ‘I am the successor to that monarchy’.Vittachi also pointed out that  the state controlled media referred to the President’s address to Parliament as ‘ throne speech’ and referred to JR’s  wife as consort ‘ariyawa’.

From the beginning JR’s actions were near dictatorial even monarchical said Vittachi . His main preoccupation  at the time when taking over power was  silencing all dissent and criticism from whatever source,   crippling his foes, silencing Mrs. Bandaranaike, who was his most dangerous opponent,  and enacting a new constitution which would make him an all powerful ruler.

Within days of becoming Prime Minister JR took over the pro SLFP Times group of newspapers said Vittachi. In 1981 he   took control of SLFP headquarters, using the Public Security Ordinance.

 JR  when President,  summoned  Edgar Gunatunga who headed  Commercial Bank and was also President of the Bankers  Association  of Sri Lanka ,  and asked him to withhold loans from the Upali Group of Newspapers which was relentlessly attacking JR and his government. Edgar had refused and JR had threatened to sack him, reported Island.

 JR removed Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s civil rights in a carefully thought out step by step way, said Vittachi. .he first set up the Special Presidential Commission Law no 7 of 1978 which had the power to subject a person to civic disability if found guilty of corruption.  They were asked to inquire into vents in 1970- 1977. The judges were Weeraratne and Sharvananda from Supreme Court, and one from the minor judiciary KCE de Alwis.

The two Supreme Court judges were elevated in seniority when Supreme Court was reconstructed soon after. Justice Weeraratne went up to 5th place from 11th place and Sharvananda   to 6th place from 14. Later, Weeratne became acting Chief Justice and Sharvananda became Chief Justice.   De Alwis was pushed up over 18 judges of the High Court to Appeal court.

 This Commission found Mrs. Bandaranaike guilty of misusing power.  Two resolutions were pushed through Parliament on the same day, one took away Mrs. Bandaranaike   civic rights and the other expelled her from Parliament. Amendments were made to the Parliament Election Act and Presidential Elections Act so that she could not appear at either election.

Vittachi has provided a blow by blow account of how JR led the country into the 1982 referendum, which put a stop to the Parliamentary elections of 1983. There was deep resentment in the country over this Referendum. Voters were urged not to vote “Yes” at the Referendum. The Referendum issue went to the law courts, but the court was divided on the matter.

Vittachi records the    utterances of JR,   and the strategies he tried out.    JR obtained undated letters of resignation from the MPs before the Referendum. SLFP press was sealed and SLFP workers taken into custody. Aththa” had supported Hector Kobbekaduwa in the Presidential election. Aththa office and printing press were sealed.

 It was against the law to display posters, but the government party did so. IGP took no action to get them removed and Vittachi observed that the IGP, Rajasingham on retirement was given a diplomatic posting with ambassadorial rank.

JR’s Referendum was Sri Lanka‘s first corrupt general election.  For fifty years, since 1931, Sri Lanka had clean elections, observed Vittachi. This was the first dirty election. Vittachi stated that there was open thuggery and lawlessness not excluding murder on referendum day. UNP toughs gathered at early in the morning at the entrance to every polling station. There was impersonation, intimidation of voters, polling staff with guns and the police looked the other way. One polling agent died of a heart attack.

 When the Presiding officer at Ladies College polling station looked into a case of impersonation, he was threatened by thugs, continued Vittachi. Unauthorized persons stationed themselves near the voting enclosure and observed the marking of the ballot, and in some places the voters had to show them the ballot paper before dropping it into the box. Organized gangs of persons were observed at the entrance to the polling stations with list and bundles of polling cards, they distributed these and gave instructions to others brought in vehicles. Analysts estimated that about 3 to 4 lakhs of voters had been impersonated..But  clearly there was resistance. The votes were 3 ,141,223 for( 38% of the total registered votes) and 2,605,983    against. .

Vittachi praise the Commissioner of Elections, Chandrananda de Silva, for his courageous reporting on the  Referendum. Chandrananda  said in his report  that there was intimidation of voters, to make them keep away from voting,  official observers  were forced to leave polling stations, voters were seen displaying their vote. He said that the voters appeared to be under someone’s command to display their vote, they were under threat to do so.  The secrecy of the ballot had been respected  at all former elections, but not this election, concluded the Commissioner of Elections.

Violence was used to prevent the opposition from garnering a No vote, said Sarath  Amunugama. There were Illegal acts at polling stations, there was  abuse of police powers, intimidation of voters by threats, violence , deadly weapons, and  impersonation on mass scale, he  added.

JR did not stop at that .Superintendant of Police Udugampola had sealed the press of Pavidi Handa.  Supreme Court held that the SP had acted unlawfully, and must pay compensation. Instated,  Udugampola was promoted to senior superintendent and the money would be paid by from state funds.

Vivienne Goonewardene was  arrested. Supreme Court declared the arrest unlawful. The   sub inspector who had arrested Vivienne was promoted on the order of the President. JR openly admitted that he had personally ordered the promotion of the two police officers and that the cost be paid by the state.   In addition, mobs  arrived at the houses of the judges and shouted threats and obscenities.  JR was  trying to teach the judges a lesson, to make them more pliable, said Vittachi. ( Continued)

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