Sri Lanka Table of Contents
The UNP was established in 1946 by prominent nationalist leaders such as Don Stephen Senanayake, who became the country's first prime minister, and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who broke with Senanayake in 1951, establishing the SLFP. The UNP, originally a collection of disparate and jealous factions, was organized to compete in the first general elections in 1947 against leftist parties on the platform of communal harmony, parliamentary democracy, and anticommunism. Between 1946 and the early 1970s, the UNP was organized around power personalities and politically influential families rather than a consistent ideology or a strong party organization. In its early years it was known as the "uncle-nephew party" because of the blood ties between its major leaders. When the first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, died in March 1952, he was succeeded by his son, Dudley. In September 1953, Sir John Kotelawala, Dudley Senanayake's uncle, assumed the leadership of the UNP government and remained in power until April 1956. In the March 1965 general election, Dudley Senanayake again became prime minister at the head of a UNP government. In 1970 leadership of the party passed to a distant relative, Junius Richard (J.R.) Jayewardene. A prominent activist in the preindependence Ceylon National Congress who was elected to the colonial era legislature in 1943, Jayewardene departed from the personality-dominated UNP status quo. Instead, he established a strong party organization and recruited members of the younger generation, traditionally attracted to the leftist parties, to fill UNF party ranks.
In keeping both with the privileged background of its leadership and the need to provide the electorate with a clearcut alternative to the leftist orientation of the SLFP and other groups, the UNP has remained, since independence, a party of the moderate right. Despite the constitutional adoption of the term "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka" as the country's formal name, the ruling party's policies under Jayewardene have included comprehensive economic liberalization designed to stimulate growth of a market economy, encouragement of foreign investment, a partial dismantling of the country's elaborate welfare state institutions, and closer and friendlier relations with the United States and other Western countries. Because the UNP's popular support is firmly anchored in the Sinhalesemajority regions of central, southern, and western Sri Lanka, it has had to compromise with rising grass-roots sentiment against the Tamil minority as ethnic polarities intensified during the 1980s. Historically, however, it is less closely identified with Sinhalese chauvinism than its major rival, the SLFP.
Data as of October 1988