J. R. Jayewardene

His Excellency
J. R. Jayewardene
2nd President of Sri Lanka
In office
4 February 1978  2 January 1989
Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa
Preceded by William Gopallawa
Succeeded by Ranasinghe Premadasa
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
In office
23 July 1977  4 February 1978
President William Gopallawa
Preceded by Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike
Succeeded by Ranasinghe Premadasa
Leader of the Opposition
In office
7 June 1970  18 May 1977
Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Preceded by Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Succeeded by A. Amirthalingam
Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement
In office
4 February 1978  9 September 1979
Preceded by William Gopallawa
Succeeded by Fidel Castro
Minister of Finance
In office
24 April 1960  20 July 1960
Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake
Preceded by Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
Succeeded by Stanley de Zoysa
In office
26 September 1947  13 October 1953
Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake
Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
Member of Parliament
for Colombo West
In office
4 August 1977  4 February 1978
Preceded by Constituency created
Succeeded by Anura Bastian
Member of Parliament
for Colombo South
In office
5 August 1960  18 May 1977
Preceded by Edmund Samarawickrema
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for Kelaniya
In office
30 March 1960  23 April 1960
Succeeded by R.S. Perera
In office
14 October 1947  18 February 1956
Preceded by Constituency created
Succeeded by R.G. Senanayake
Personal details
Born Junius Richard Jayewardene
(1906-09-17)17 September 1906
Colombo, British Ceylon
(now in Sri Lanka)
Died 1 November 1996(1996-11-01) (aged 90)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Nationality Sri Lankan
Political party United National Party
Spouse(s) Elina Jayewardene
(nee Rupasinghe)
Children Ravi Jayewardene
Alma mater Colombo Law College,
University College, Colombo,
Royal College, Colombo,
Bishop's College Colombo
Profession Statesmen, Advocate
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Junius Richard Jayewardene (Sinhalese: ජුනියස් රිචඩ් ජයවර්ධන,Tamil: ஜூனியஸ் ரிச்சட் ஜயவர்தனா; 17 September 1906 – 1 November 1996), famously abbreviated in Sri Lanka as JR, was the leader of Sri Lanka from 1977 to 1989, serving as Prime Minister from 1977 to 1978 and as the second President of Sri Lanka from 1978 till 1989. He was a leader of the nationalist movement in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who served in a variety of cabinet positions in the decades following independence. A longtime member of the United National Party, he led it to a crushing victory in 1977 and served as Prime Minister for half a year before becoming the country's first executive president under an amended constitution.[1]

Early life and education

J. R. with his parents and siblings.

Born to a prominent Ceylonese family with a strong association with the legal profession, Jayewardene was the eldest of 11 children, of Hon. Justice Eugene Wilfred Jayewardene KC, a Chief Justice of Ceylon and Agnes Helen Don Philip Wijewardena daughter of Tudugalage Muhandiram Don Philip Wijewardena a wealthy merchant. His younger brothers included Dr Hector Wilfred Jayewardene, QC and Dr Rolly Jayewardene, FRCP. His uncles where the Colonel Theodore Jayewarden, Justice Valentine Jayewardene and the Press Baron D. R. Wijewardena.

He received his primary education at Bishop's College, Colombo and attended Royal College, Colombo for his secondary education. At Royal College he played for the college cricket team, debuting in the Royal-Thomian series in 1925, and captained the rugby team at the annual "Royal-Trinity Encounter" (which later became known as the Bradby Shield Encounter). Excelling in both studies,sports and Club and Societies.He was the first Chairman/Secretary in Royal College Social Services League in 1921 and he became the head prefect in 1925 and also represented the school in football and boxing; he was also a member of the cadet corps. He would later serve as the Secretary of the Royal College Union.[2][3]

Jayewardene entered the University College, Colombo, in 1926;[2][4] he attained a distinguished academic record and showed a keen interest in sports. In 1928 he entered Colombo Law College and passed out as an advocate, starting his practice in the unofficial bar, for a brief period. Jayewardene converted from Christianity to Buddhism in his youth.[5]

Political career

The first Cabinet of Ministers of Ceylon

Jayewardene did not practice law for long, however. In 1938 he became an activist in the Ceylon National Congress (CNC), which provided the organizational platform for Ceylon's nationalist movement (the island was officially renamed Sri Lanka in 1972). He became its Joint Secretary in 1940. He was elected to the colonial legislature, the State Council in 1943 by winning the Kelaniya by-election. During World War II, Jayewardene, along with other nationalists, contacted the Japanese and discussed a rebellion to drive the British from the island.

J.R Jayewardene as the Prime Minister of
Sri Lanka with his Cabinet members in 1977

After joining the United National Party on its formation in 1946, he became Finance Minister in the island’s first Cabinet in 1947. He played a major role in re-admitting[6] Japan to the world community at the San Francisco Conference (see Ceylon's defense of Japan).

Jayewardene's acute intelligence and subtle, often aggressive political skills earned him leading roles in government (1947–1956 and 1965–1970) and in opposition (1956–1965 and 1970–1977). In 1951 Jayewardene was a member of the committee to select a National Anthem for Sri Lanka headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne. The following year he was elected as the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon.

As the youngest Finance Minister, in D.S. Senanayake's government, Jayewardene struggled to balance the budget, faced with mounting government expenditures, particularly for rice subsidies. His 1953 proposal to cut the subsidies - on which many poor people depended on for survival - provoked fierce opposition and the 1953 Hartal campaign, and had to be called off.

By the late 1950s, the UNP struggled to deal with the rising force of the Sinhala-nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Jayewardene pushed the party to accommodate nationalism and endorse the Sinhala Only Act, which was bitterly opposed by the island's minorities. Throughout the 1960s Jayewardene clashed over this issue with party leader Dudley Senanayake. Jayewardene saw how skilfully the SLFP had played the ethnic card, and felt the UNP should be willing to do the same, even if it meant losing the support of ethnic minorities.

No government gave serious thought to the development of the industry as an economically viable venture until the United National Party came to power in 1965 and the subject of tourism came under the purview of the Minister of State Hon. J. R. Jayewardene.

The new Minister Jayewardene saw tourism in a new dimension as a great industry capable of earning foreign exchange, providing avenues of mass employment, creating a manpower which commanded a high, employment potential in the world. He was determined to place this industry on a solid foundation providing it a 'conceptional base and institutional support.' This was necessary to bring dynamism and cohesiveness into an industry, shunned by leaders in the past, ignored by investors who were inhibited by the lack of incentive to invest in projects which were uncertain of a satisfactory return. The new Minister Hon. J. R. Jayewardene considered it essential for the government to give that assurance and with this objective in view he tabled the Ceylon Tourist Board Act No 10 of 1966 followed by Ceylon Hotels Corporation Act No 14 of 1966.

This was the beginning of a new industry ignored by the previous governments but given a new life by Minister J. R. Jayewardene. As a result today tourist resorts exist in almost all cities and today an annual turnover of over 500,000 tourists are enjoying the tropical climes and beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka not to mention the enormous amount of foreign exchange they bring into the country.[7][8]

In the general election of 1970 the UNP suffered a major defeat, when the SLFP and its newly formed collation of leftist parties won almost 2/3 of the parliamentary seats. Once again elected to parliament J. R. Jayewardene took over as opposition leader and de facto leader of the UNP due to the ill health of Dudley Senanayake. After Senanayake's death in 1973, Jayewardene succeeded him as UNP leader. He gave the SLFP government his fullest support during the 1971 JVP Insurrection (even though his son was arrested by the police without charges) and in 1972 when the new constitution was enacted proclaiming Ceylon a republic. However he opposed the government in many moves, which he saw as short sighted and damaging for the country's economy in the long run. These included the adaptation of the closed economy and nationalization of many private business and lands. In 1976 he resigned from his seat in parliament in protest, when the government used its large majority in parliament to extend the duration of the government by two more years at the end of its six-year term without holding a general election or a referendum requesting public approval.


Tapping into growing anger with the SLFP government, Jayewardene led the UNP to a crushing victory in the 1977 election. The UNP won a staggering five-sixths of the seats in parliament—a total that was magnified by the first-past-the-post system, and one of the most lopsided victories ever recorded for a democratic election. Immediately thereafter, he amended the constitution of 1972 to make the presidency an executive post. The provisions of the amendment automatically made the incumbent prime minister—himself—president, and he was sworn in as president on 4 February 1978. He passed a new constitution on 31 August 1978 which came into operation on 7 September of the same year, which granted the president sweeping—and according to some critics, almost dictatorial—powers. He moved the legislative capital from Colombo to Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte.

There was a complete turnaround in economic policy under him as the previous policies had led to economic stagnation.He opened the heavily state-controlled economy to market forces, which many credit with subsequent economic growth. He opened up the economy and introduced more liberal economic policies emphasizing private sector led development. Policies were changed to create an environment conducive to foreign and local investment, with the objective of promoting export led growth shifting from previous policies of import substitution. To facilitate export oriented enterprises and to administer Export Processing Zones the Greater Colombo Economic Commission was established.Food subsidies were curtailed and targeted through a Food Stamps Scheme extended to the poor. The system of rice rationing was abolished. The Floor Price Scheme and the Fertiliser Subsidy Scheme were withdrawn. New welfare schemes, such as free school books and the Mahapola Scholarship Programme, were introduced. The rural credit programme expanded with the introduction of the New Comprehensive Rural Credit Scheme and several other medium and long-term credit schemes aimed at small farmers and the self-employed.[9]

He also launched large scale infrastructure development projects.He launched an extensive housing development program to meet housing shortages in urban and rural areas.he Mahaweli River Diversion Scheme was accelerated. New reservoirs and large hydropower projects such as the Kotmale, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe and Ulhitiya were also launched. Several Trans Basin Canals were also built to divert water to the Dry Zone.[9]

After the 1977 riots, the government made one concession to the Tamils; it lifted the policy of standardization for university admission that had driven many Tamil youths into militancy. The concession was regarded by the militants as too little and too late, and violent attacks continued.

Jayewardene moved to crack down on the growing activity of Tamil militant groups. He passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1979, giving police sweeping powers of arrest and detention. This only escalated the ethnic tensions. Jayewardene claimed he needed overwhelming power to deal with the militants. He had likely SLFP presidential nominee Sirimavo Bandaranaike stripped of her civic rights and barred from running for office for six years, based her decision in 1976 to extend the life of parliament. This ensured that the SLFP would be unable to field a strong candidate against him in the 1982 election, leaving his path to victory clear. This election was held under the 3rd amendment to the constitution which empowered the president to hold a Presidential Election anytime after the expiration of 4 years of his first term.

Jayewardene was loath to give up the massive majority he'd won in 1977. He therefore held a referendum to cancel the 1983 parliamentary elections, and allow the 1977 parliament to continue until 1989. He also passed a constitutional amendment barring from Parliament any MP who supported separatism; this effectively eliminated the main opposition party, the Tamil United Liberation Front.

Civil war

Jayewardene presents a baby elephant to American President Ronald Reagan and the American people, 1984

Jayewardene said in Daily Telegraph, 11 July 1983," Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy."

At first, the war went badly for the government, and the LTTE ended up in possession of Jaffna and most of the northern province. The army counterattacked with an offensive that threatened to retake the city, at the cost of many civilian casualties. Jayewardene had to halt the offensive after pressure from India pushed for a negotiated solution to the conflict. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi finally concluded the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, which provided for devolution of powers to Tamil dominated regions, an Indian peacekeeping force in the north, and the demobilization of the LTTE.

The LTTE rejected the accord, as it fell short of even an autonomous state.The provincial councils suggested by India were the once that didn't even had powers to control over revenue,police,government sponsored Sinhala settlements in Tamil provinces . Sinhala nationalists were outraged by both the devolution and the presence of foreign troops on Sri Lankan soil. An attempt was made on Jayewardene's life in 1987 as a result of his signing of the accord. Young, deprived Sinhalese soon rose in revolt, organized by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which was eventually put down by the government.

Jayewardene retired from politics in 1989; his successor Ranasinghe Premadasa was formally inaugurated on 2 January 1989.

Foreign policy

Quite contrary to his predecessor, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Jayawardena's foreign policy was aligned American policies (earning him the nickname 'Yankie Dickie') much to the chagrin of India. Before Jayawardena's ascendency into the presidency, Sri Lanka had doors widely open to its neighbourhood India. Jayawardena's tenure in the office restricted the doors to India a number of times; once an American company tender was granted over an Indian company tender.


On the economic front, Jayewardene's legacy was decisive. For thirty years after independence, Sri Lanka had struggled in vain with slow growth and high unemployment. Since Jayewardene's reforms, the island has maintained healthy growth despite the civil war.

On the ethnic question, Jayewardene's legacy is bitterly divisive. When he took office, ethnic tensions were present but the country as a whole was at peace. By the end of his tenure, Sri Lanka was facing not one but two civil wars, both featuring unprecedented levels of violence and brutality.

Though Jayewardene indeed did not take measures to stop the attack on Tamils, he was not opposed to them personally, only politically. One of his most esteemed friends was a supreme court judge of Tamil ethnicity, a member of an elite family and raised in Colombo, but who was strongly linked to his Jaffna Tamil heritage. This is but one close Tamil friend of the president's, and it is quite clear that he was not a racist but rather a man who knew how to exploit racism to win the majority.[10][11]

Family life

Jayewardene married Miss Elina Bandara Rupasinghe in 1935, Ravindra "Ravi" Vimal Jayewardene is their only child, he was an Officer in the Sri Lanka Army and served as the Presidential Security Adviser. He was a notable marksmen, pilot and the founder of the elite Special Task Force.[12]

Further reading

See also


Government offices
Preceded by
William Gopallawa
President of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Ranasinghe Premadasa
Preceded by
Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Ranasinghe Premadasa
Political offices
Preceded by
William Gopallawa
Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement
Succeeded by
Fidel Castro

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