|Friday, 13 February 2004|
Dingiri Banda Wijetunga - Third Executive President
by M.B. Dassanayake
The eighty-second birth day of Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, the third Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka falls on February 15, 2004. He bowed out gracefully paving the way for others to contest the presidential election.
"Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.
In the strife of Truth and Falsehood, for the good and evil side.
Mr. Wijetunga was appointed Prime Minister in 1989 by President Premadasa which was a surprise to the country. Mr. Wijetunga who had never sought the limelight or high office, himself reacted with surprise to the announcement. He also held the Ministries of Finance and Labour and Vocational Training in addition to being the State Minister of Defence in the Premadasa administration.
At the untimely death of President Premadasa by the unanimous decision of (members of Parliament - both Government and Opposition) he was appointed third Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to serve the rest of President Premadasa's term. He retained his previous portfolios (Finance and Labour) and took over the ministries President Premadasa held (Defence, Buddha Sasana, Education and Higher Education).
Mr. Wijetunga's chequered life having his beginnings in an ordinary up-country village family without the command of a clan or class power or the attraction or prestige of economic or social assets, is known to everyone.
He started his life almost in the manner of any ordinary man would do, with all the disadvantages in life posing a challenge.
If he wanted to gain anything, any education, a job, a place in society etc., he had to work hard and by his own dint of hard work realised it. There was no one to offer him such rewards on a golden platter.
Perhaps, it is this quality that finally moulded his character and shaped its selective philosophy. What he learned in the formal way was epitomised by him, by his own effort based on his own experience.
Mr. Wijetunga has seen the rise and fall of governments elected with overwhelming majorities.
"Do not be afraid of greatness,
These were the farewell words of Prime Minister Wijetunga who addressed his colleagues in Parliament in a speech following his unanimous appointment as the country's third Executive President.
Mr. Wijetunga was born on February 15, 1922 to a middle class Sinhala Buddhist family living on the outskirts of the then Udunuwara electorate. On completion of his secondary education he joined the Co-operative Department as an Inspector.
He closely associated with veteran politicians like George E. de Silva and A. Ratnayake. A. Ratnayake who was then Minister of Food and Co-operatives in the D.S. Senanayake Cabinet took him as his Private Secretary.
He joined the Untied National Party in 1946. He entered Parliament for the first time when he successfully contested the Udunuwara seat at the 1965 general election and quickly made a reputation for himself as a fine constituency member of Parliament ever mindful of the needs of his electors. In terms of meeting the needs of his constituents, he was considered the most effective MP in that Parliament.
He lost Udunuwra in 1970 and was returned in 1977 UNP, landslide, being appointed Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the J.R. Jayewardene administration. He later served the same administration as Minister of Posts and Telecommunication, Minister of Power and Highways and Minister of Agricultural Development.
He served briefly as the Governor of NWP in 1988 before returning to parliamentary politics a few months later. In the last general election he contested - Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, grass roots Kandyan who always saw to the welfare of the Kandyan peasantry and was a very popular politician scored the largest number of votes in the Central Province.
Historic Udunuwara, the stronghold of President Dingiri Banda Wijetunga cover scenery so varied as to include ravines and streamlets and acres and acres of sparkling paddy-fields vanishing into the purple distant mountains. Backward villages in the Udunuwara electorate were provided with roads and neglected roads repaired enabling far-flung villages access to development and modern amenities. With the assistance of officials and with the co-operation of constituents he implemented several schemes for the development of Udunuwara.
Within Udunuwara are four ancient and historic devales, viz, Lankatilleke, Gadaladeniya, Embekke and Wallahagoda. In the past, these Devales were neglected and needed the attention of the Archaeological Department. As Member of Parliament for Udunuwara, with the assistance of the Basnayake Nilames who made representations he forged ahead to get these devales renovated, monuments and frescoes maintained.
Produced by Lake House