Remembering President Premadasa

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23 June is the 98th birth anniversary of Ranasinghe Premadasa, former Prime Minister and President. He served as Prime Minister from 1978 to 1988 and as President from 1989 to 1993. He was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber on 1t May 1993.

President Premadasa was born on 23rd June 1924 at Dias Place in Keselwatte.  He was the eldest of five children. He had his primary education at Harvard Methodist Girl’s School and St. Lorenz’s College and his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College.

President Premadasa had been a long-time friend of my father late E. P. De Silva, who was a political reporter before he became the Editor of Daily Mirror and Times Newspapers. President Premadasa started his political career in 1946 joining the Labour Party as a full time member. He was elected as the President of the youth league of the same party in 1949. In 1950 he contested the Colombo Municipal Council ward San Sebastian and won the seat and became a Member of the Colombo Municipal council. He was again re-elected in 1954 and in 1955 he became the Deputy Mayor.

He faced many challenges without fear. The biggest challenge he faced after he joined the UNP was in 1956 when contesting the Ruwanwella electorate against Dr. N. M. Perera as he was born and bred in Colombo and had no link to that area. He was defeated by 6,228 votes. In 1977 July, when the UNP won 141 seats out of 168, President Premadasa was re-elected as the first MP for Colombo Central with 94,128 votes. He was appointed as the Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction as well as the Leader of the House.

In 1978 when J. R. Jayawardene became the President, Premadasa was appointed as Prime Minister, the position which he held from 1978 to 1988. In 1988, after more than four decades of active politics, Premadasa became the Executive President. He was a dedicated man with a positive vision and a mission for Sri Lanka.

Premadasa was one who had the feeling for the common man and reached out to uplift their living conditions. Whenever, he visited me when I was planting, he was very concerned about the living conditions of the workers such as the housing, drinking water and electricity. He said that whatever development we may bring about, it should be to the benefit of the poor people whether they are in the village or in the estate sector.

The country lost a dynamic leader who was action and result oriented. He launched many programmes uplifting the rural economy. The Janasaviya or the poverty alleviation programme and the 200 garment factories programmes are some of the major programmes he introduced. The garment industry became the largest industrial export from Sri Lanka due to the vision of the late President. I have been in the plantation sector, some workers specially the young girls left their estate line rooms searching employment in the garment sector.   Both these programmes made a significant contribution to the economic emancipation of the rural people which comprised nearly 75 per cent of the population of this country.

Today our people are facing untold hardships. The efforts of our youths at Galle Face fighting to obtain economic progress and social security have been unsuccessful. We can solve our problems. Scarcity of foreign exchange is no obstacle. To earn foreign exchange, we must increase production. To increase production, we must develop our national resources. The late President had the common touch. That’s why he always believed the common people should be made to share the responsibility of finding solutions to their problems. 

The late President wanted men who could perform and those with the must do attitude and did not worry about whether they were Red, Blue or Green. He made it a point to monitor and evaluate by sending his staff to visit sites and give him a report. When the inspection reports were received, he proceeded with comparing same with the statistics maintained by the Ministries. This enable him to track which officials worked tirelessly to achieve results as well and took remedial action against those who have bluffed him.

By Lalin I De Silva