Sri Lanka Table of Contents
In 1951 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike led his faction, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, out of the ruling UNP and established the SLFP. Bandaranaike had organized the Sinhala Maha Sabha in 1937 in order to promote Sinhalese culture and community interests. Since the 1950s, SLFP platforms have reflected the earlier organization's emphasis on appealing to the sentiments of the Sinhalese masses in rural areas. To this basis has been added the antiestablishment appeal of nonrevolutionary socialism. On the sensitive issue of language, the party originally espoused the use of both Sinhala and Tamil as national languages, but in the mid-1950s it adopted a "Sinhala only" policy. As the champion of the Buddhist religion, the SLFP has customarily relied upon the socially and politically influential Buddhist clergy, the sangha, to carry its message to the Sinhalese villages.
Another important constituency has been the Sinhalese middle class, whose members have resented alleged Tamil domination of the professions, commerce, and the civil service since the British colonial era. In contrast to the free market orientation of the UNP, the SLFP's policies have included economic selfsufficiency , nationalization of major enterprises, creation of a comprehensive welfare state, redistribution of wealth, and a nonaligned foreign policy that favored close ties with socialist countries. It has, however, refused to embrace Marxism as its guiding ideology.
Like the UNP, the SLFP has been a "family party." S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. After a brief and somewhat chaotic interregnum, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was chosen as party leader. In the July 1960 general election, the party won 75 out of 151 parliamentary seats, and in a coalition with Marxist parties, Mrs. Banaranaike became the world's first democratically elected female head of government. Although she was obliged to step down from party leadership after her civil rights were taken away in October 1980 on charges of corruption and abuse of power, she resumed leadership of the SLFP following a government pardon granted on January 1, 1986.
In 1977 six members of the SLFP left the party and formed a new group, the People's Democratic Party (PDP--Mahajana Prajathanthra). A second group, the Sri Lanka People's Party (SLMP--Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya), was formed in 1984 by a daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunge, and her husband Vijay Kumaratunge. They claimed that the original SLFP, under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike's son, Anura, was excessively right wing and had become an instrument of the Jayewardene government. Although Sirimavo Bandaranaike reentered politics and assumed a leadership position within the SLFP after her 1986 pardon, Anura Bandaranaike remained leader of the parliamentary opposition. Neither the PDP nor the SLPP had representation in Parliament in 1988.
During the late 1980s, the SLFP and the breakaway SLPP remained split on the sensitive issue of negotiations with Tamil separatists. The former opposed the granting of significant concessions to the militants while the latter joined the UNP in supporting them. In 1986 Sirimavo Bandaranaike and politically active members of the Buddhist leadership established the Movement for Defense of the Nation in order to campaign against proposed grants of regional autonomy to the Tamils.
Data as of October 1988