Sirimavo Bandaranaike and J. R. Jayewardene
Sirimavo Bandaranaike and J. R. Jayewardene

The ‘darkest day of democracy’ October 16, 1980, she faced with bravery and equanimity. On ‘unjust, unfair, and revengeful’ act by her opponent, Sirimavo made a short farewell speech and left her seat amidst cat-calls and indecent remarks from some government members; the expelled world’s first woman Head of State was leaving the chamber un-accompanied as the other six SLFP MPs boycotted the sittings; S. Sivasithamparam and A. Amirthalingam, the two gentlemen parliamentarians rose from their seats to escort her out of the floor of the House.

The process of judicial manoeuvring and political manipulations practised in carrying out the worst political faux pas of post-independent Sri Lanka represented yet another blow to parliamentary democracy.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman Head of State who made a tremendous contribution to the development of international relations was deprived of her civic rights. She was expelled from Parliament by JR, under a Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law No. 7 of 1978, which was passed in Parliament on October 16, 1980. At the Cabinet meeting, Gamini Dissanayake, Ananda Tissa de Alwis and S Thondaman spoke against imposing civic disabilities on Sirimavo. Sir John Kotalawala, the 85-year-old ailing ex-Prime Minister, personally made representations on behalf of her; but JR was adamant.

Abuse and misuse of power

President JR feared that people would rally round Sirimavo in the future, as she was gifted with the charisma that he totally lacked: This most influential and dangerous opponent had to be distanced from the political arena if the UNP rule were to continue unhindered, JR concluded. Further, removing Sirimavo from political activity, the splitting up within the SLFP would be motivated.

The old-fox in his own incomparable style designed his strategy. The sole objective of this post facto legislation was the removal of Sirimavo Bandaranaike from the political scenery. On March 29, 1978, the President appointed a Special Presidential Commission consisting of two Supreme Court judges and a member of the lower judiciary to inquire and report on quite a few matters stated in a warrant that enclosed the Sirimavo headed United Front government of 1970-77.

Sirimavo was indicted and was summoned before the Commission which held its sittings at Queen’s Club, Bullers Road, to answer charges of abuse and misuse of power and corruption. Her lawyers challenged seeking a Writ of Prohibition from Appeal Court on the jurisdiction of the Commission on several grounds. Sirimavo made a lengthy statement saying that she had rational grounds to believe that no practical purpose would be served by appearing in it and that she honestly believed it would not be a fair trial. The SPC continued proceedings ex parte.

She did not remain there but withdrew from the proceedings of the Commission.

A C de Zoysa led the team of lawyers that prosecuted Sirimavo before the Commission. In his opening address, he made more of a vituperative speech that fitted a political platform than for a commission of inquiry. He made accusations against the lady but failed to lead evidence. The Court of Appeal granted a Writ against the Commission, stating that the SPC inquiry Law was not retrospective in its function. A superior Courts may invalidate the laws and rules of the legislature if found incompatible with a higher norm. Accordingly, an inquiry of a period before the enactment of the law was declared beyond its jurisdiction.

The Appeal court verdict did not in any way discourage the fortitude of JR. He came back with distinctive swiftness. Two bills labelled as being “Urgent” were promptly presented and hurried through Parliament; the first quashing the Court of Appeal verdict and the second for an amendment to the new Constitution. The amendment, the first of its kind was made retroactive from 7th September 1978, deprived the higher Courts of its jurisdiction in any potential writ applications! A. Amirthalingam, Leader of the Opposition, speaking on the two bills said,

“…it is deplorable, the amendment has retrospective effect and, worse still, annulled a decision of the Appeal Court; in doing so the government was setting Parliament up as a court of Supreme Court.” – Hansard; Nov 10. 1978

In September 1980, the Commission found Sirimavo guilty of abuse or misuse of power in of six of the ten counts made against her. The Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry in terms of Section 9 of the Act recommended imposition of civic disability and consequent expulsion from the Parliament.

Sirimavo’s ‘way out’ from politics

The President was engaged in an exercise of demoting, promoting and even discontinuing Judges of SC and the High Court; he taught a lesson to the Court of Appeal bench who allowed Sirimavo’s writ application, by nullifying their verdict through the Parliament. JR also communicated an indirect but clear message to the rest of the gentlemen of judiciary when good fortune awaited the three members of the Special Presidential Commission, who suggested Sirimavo’s ‘way out’ from politics. Justice Weeraratne was placed 5th in the hierarchy, a jump of 4 places, and Justice Sharvananda leapt from fourteenth to the sixth position that helped him to become CJ before his retirement, which did not end there; he was made the Governor of Western Province on retirement. The other, the DC judge was honoured with a Court of Appeal posting, over many senior colleagues.

Participating in the debate on expulsion, Amirthalingam, leader of the Opposition and TULF stated that,

“…the only forum before which political offences of this type can be agitated is the forum of the hustings. The people have given the verdict. People have returned Sirimavo Bandaranaike to this House. You must respect the judgment passed by the masses of Attanagalla. You have no right now to sit in judgment on what the voters of Attanagalla have done. Retrospectively and retro-actively you are creating offences and are meting out punishment which is not in keeping with the fundamental rights you have guaranteed and which are a violation of the Universal Charter of Human Rights”.

Sirimavo took oaths as the PM of Sri Lanka in 1994, when the SLFP led People’s Alliance was back in the saddle, and this happened during the lifetime of J. R. Jayewardene, proving that no political movement with a mass base and charismatic leadership can be destroyed by attacking a leader; a lesson our politicos will never learn.


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Thank you for giving us a hint of history of politics in Srilanka.


Sirimavo was the bane of SL as was her husband who changed the course of this country to the detriment of the people.


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