Posted on April 27th, 2023


There were several other rigged elections in JR’s time. The Referendum was not the only one.   JR had intervened in the Jaffna District Development Councils elections held on June 4, 1981.  This was the first election to take place under Proportional Representation. Officials selected by the Commissioner of Elections were replaced by nominees of the ruling party just before the poll. For the first time in the history of the country, the conduct of an election was wrested from the election authority and exercised by a political party, said Vittachi.

Vittachi also quoted S. Nadesan who said, on the day before the election, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, on the order of the President had given instructions to the Returning Officer. 150 presiding officers at polling booths were removed and others substituted. Some were peons in government departments. They knew nothing of election procedure.    When it came to counting, 6 ballot boxes were missing.

Elections to the Jaffna DDC in 1981 were rigged, agreed Ranga Chandraratne. There were last minute instructions from Colombo to change the presiding officers at the polling booths. There was widespread booth capture and the stuffing of ballot boxes, he concluded.

UNP used the same tactics at the Mulkirigala by-election in 1985. There was thuggery and intimidation. But voters reacted.  They turned up in gangs with some carrying guns. UNP got 26,000 and SLFP got 24,000 votes at the election, reported Vittachi.

JR meddled with election laws.   Neville Fernando   UNP MP for Panadura was expelled from the party in 1982. Instead of a by election, government filled the seat with a new nominee.   There was no protest, reported Vittachi.  

The   Kalawana seat fell vacant due to the non attendance of UNP MP Pilapitiya, but Pilapitiya continued to sit in Parliament. To accommodate Pilapitiya, Parliament passed a law making Kalawana a two member seat. This was passed with two thirds of the votes. Kalawana became temporarily a multi member seat. At the election, Sarath Muttetuwegama was elected. However, Pilapitiya resigned and the matter ended, observed Vittachi.

JR had also wanted to alter the election laws. He wanted to shorten the period of time for nominations, manipulate the time allotted to media for election promotion, allow for a period time after elections for winning candidates to switch parties and allow political parties to nominate whom they liked to the winning seats, after the election was over. JR also wanted to change the defamatory laws. He wanted a law allowing the President to dissolve Parliament at his sole discretion at any time. There was a howl of protest over these suggestions, said Vittachi.

JR Jayewardene was the first head of state to engage in violence. This has not been sufficiently emphasized. JR had once been garlanded with flowers which had red ants hidden in it. JR endured the bites and when the meeting was over he had the guy who introduced the ants thrashed, said Sarath Amunugama.  

Political violence became institutionalized after 1977, observed Nira Wickremasighe. This was the start of an era of political thuggery, often perpetrated by member of the JSS union affiliated to the UNP.  Parliamentary MPs also engaged in Intimidation and violence, added Nira.

One highly disconcerting fact about JR’s administration was its condoning of violence, said Sarath Amunugama. When his plans met with organized resistance JR had no hesitation in bringing in thuggish trade unions for the purpose of attacking the protestors.  Until then the state   had not encouraged this.  Even Leftist parties like LSSP and Communist Party did not encourage its workers to attack others. But JR did, observed Sarath.

Much of the work was carried out by Cyril Mathew goons but there is no doubt that JR was behind these attacks, said Sarath Amunugama.  They attacked persons who were critical of the open economy. In 1982, Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra started to give a talk at ACBC Hall on decline of Sinhala culture in recent years.  Gang of thugs rushed up and beat him and several others on the rostrum including monks,  one of whom was Maduluwawe Sobitha.   

The  settling of 40, 000 Sinhala colonists at Maduru Oya,  was to have been done unobtrusively,  with quiet support from the Ministry, but instead it was carried out clumsily by Ven. Dimbulagala Seelalankara,  who went to Maduru Oya openly  in a  large convoy, blaring pirit  and  shouting all the way.  40,000 Sinhalese were settled at Maduru Oya.

There were protests from the Tamil Separatist Movement and JR wanted this Sinhala settlement dismantled.  The task was entrusted to Paul Perera, MP for Kaduwela. He was appointed District minister of Polonnaruwa, for the purpose. Paul Perera and Col. Benedict Silva a volunteer soldier form Katana thoroughly dismantled the settlements. I do not like to state the methods used said Malinga Gunaratne in his book ‘For a Sovereign state’.  Malinga did not realize the value of placing such violence on record. Instead he said there are witnesses in Nikawewa, Padaviya, now lame, who can describe the atrocities committed 

JR strangled the General strike of 1980 using force. Cyril Mathew goons led by UNP trade union launched a murderous attack on striker near Lake House roundabout. They had come armed with clubs, knives and knuckle dusters. One worker was killed and others ran to escape. Lake House roundabout was like a war zone with placards, shoes, slippers, files strewn all over, recalled Sarath Amunugama.

Black July 1983 was of course, total violence. The first wave of rioting and looting was organized by Cyril Mathew, with the seeming concurrence of the President, said Sarath Amunugama.  Many of the looters at least on the first day were workers of state institutions like Electricity Board, and Port Corporation. They were going about in government vehicles.   

The signing of the Indo Lanka Accord in July 1987 was also associated with violence. When the news of the proposed Accord became public, there was a violent reaction amongst the public. The accord was met with violent protests n the south. Thousands of millions of rupees worth of damage was done to government owned buses, cars, buildings, telephone exchanges, electricity stations, said Vittachi.

Large number of state buses and other property were destroyed by protesting masses, said Bandaragoda. Posters saying kill the old man appeared began to appear all over the country said Sarath Amunugama.

Jayatissa Bandaragoda had gone to Katunayake airport to drop a friend at the airport. On his return he was stopped at more than 10 places. At Hendala there was a barrier of burning tires across the road. Jayatissa was recognized by someone and the barrier removed. On his way back from Pannipitiya, after dropping the driver, Jayatissa   saw people walking in thousands towards Borella.They were angry mobs who were prepared to attack anything, he said. There were reports of gangs of protestors approaching Colombo from the suburbs, confirmed Sarath.

 The government retaliated. A crowd had assembled at Parliament .A helicopter gunship had fired from the air and the crowd quickly dispersed.  UNP goons had been unleashed   against a protest by monks and about a dozen protestors had been killed.  Muruttetuwe Ananda said Maubima Surakeeme Sanvidhanaya had bombs thrown at them at the demonstration.  

There was one last   expression of violence. The first session of Parliament after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was due to be held on August 18, 1987.  Before that JR held a meeting of the government  group on 7 august,  in Parliament premises.

 Ajith Kumara, recruited by JVP, was hiding behind the curtain in the room.  He  hurled two grenades at the head table where the President  was sitting.  Instead of   undoing the pin and waiting, he had hurled the grenades immediately after undoing the pin.   The grenades bounced off the table, and rolled  to where National Security Advisor Lalith Athulathmudali and Matara District Minister Keerthisena Abeywickrama were seated, and exploded in front of them.  Keerthisena was killed and others seriously wounded. JR escaped. (Continued)

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