On Tuesday, March 19, the Siam Nikaaya’s Malwatte Chapter will bestow on Speaker Deshabandhu Karu Jayasuriya (78) the “Sasana Keerthi Shri Deshabhimani” award — the highest honour it awards to a layperson for services to the Buddha Sasana and, more broadly, to the nation as a patriot. Mr. Jayasuriya, who is the lay president of [...]


Malwathu Chapter’s highest layperson honour to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya


On Tuesday, March 19, the Siam Nikaaya’s Malwatte Chapter will bestow on Speaker Deshabandhu Karu Jayasuriya (78) the “Sasana Keerthi Shri Deshabhimani” award — the highest honour it awards to a layperson for services to the Buddha Sasana and, more broadly, to the nation as a patriot. Mr. Jayasuriya, who is the lay president of the Ramanna Nikaaya, belongs to a tiny minority of political leaders even their political rivals have never accused of bribery and corruption or encouraging petty ethnic or other tribal divisions. He is a Buddhist who lives a life that is guided by Buddhist precepts.

Karu Jayasuriya: A soldier, entrepreneur, diplomat, and statesman-politician, all rolled into one

There is a saying that “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.” Mr. Jayasuriya is one of the few Sri Lankan politicians, perhaps the only one currently in parliament, who can be called a statesman without devaluing the meaning of that term. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, diplomat, and statesman-politician, all rolled into one. There are a few if any in the country with such a remarkable resume and career.

Professional career

After finishing his school education at Ananda College, Colombo, Mr. Jayasuriya embarked on a professional career. In 1965, at the age of 25, he qualified as an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (ACIS) and later got the higher qualification (MCIS) of the Institute. He got additional training in maritime trading at the Baltic Institute in London and advanced management training at the prestigious European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD). The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (London) made him a Fellow of the Institute.

Military duty

Mr. Jayasuriya, who is often described as a mild-mannered person, actually has a military background, something that few politicians who boast about their patriotism can claim. At the age of 25, he joined the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force and was commissioned in the rank of second lieutenant. He was deployed for active duty during the first JVP insurrection in 1971 and left the army in 1972 following the end of the insurrection.

Private Sector

He joined the private sector in 1972, and quickly rose to the top, serving in the highest positions in some of Sri Lanka’s major companies. In recognition of his service in the private sector, he was elected/appointed Chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce, the SAARC Chamber of Commerce, the Colombo Rubber Traders’ Association, the Sugar Importers Association and the Sri Lanka Business Development Centre. He also served as a director of the Export Development Board.

Diplomatic career

In 1992, President R. Premadasa appointed him as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Germany. He served in this position until 1994.


Mr. Jayasuriya entered politics relatively late in life at the age of 55, when, at the invitation of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, he took over as Chairman of the party. In 1996, the party nominated him as the mayoral candidate for the Colombo municipal election which the party won. Mr. Jayasuriya served as mayor for three years until 1999.

In 1999, he contested the Western Provincial Council Election as the UNP’s chief ministerial candidate. The party lost the election but Mr. Jayasuriya served as the council’s opposition leader.

In 2000, he contested the parliamentary elections and won a seat from the Gampaha District, polling 378,328 preferential votes (62.7% of the UNP’s total District vote). In the following three parliamentary elections, he held his seat from the district. In 2015, he returned to parliament as a UNP National List member.

During his tenure as MP, he held cabinet portfolios thrice; Minister of Power and Energy (2002-04), Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs (2007-08), and Minister of Public Administration and Buddha Sasana (2015 January to August). One of the more notable legacies of Mr. Jayasuriya as cabinet minister was the Ceylon Electricity Board’s reforms which he initiated in 2002. To the great relief of the electricity consumers, he managed to drastically reduce random and frequent power cuts. The reforms could not be successfully completed because the UNP government came to an abrupt end in 2004.


Although Mr. Jayasuriya is generally regarded as a person who avoids unnecessary political fights, he is no stranger to political controversy. In 2007, he wanted the UNP to cooperate with the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration by forming a coalition government and accepting cabinet portfolios. The goal was to form a united front against the LTTE. Mr. Wickremesinghe disagreed. Mr. Jayasuriya together with 17 other members of the UNP crossed over to the government. But he returned to the fold of his old party one year later, but a section of the UNP leadership did not forgive him for his action. Others believe that the UNP can claim at least some credit for the last phase of the war against the LTTE because Mr. Jayasuriya and the others who crossed over strengthened the hand of Mr. Rajapaksa.

In Sri Lanka’s politics of crossovers, Mr. Jayasuriya is not alone. Crossovers have a great pedigree. S W R D Bandaranaike crossed over to the opposition in 1951, accompanied by, among others, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s father D. A. Rajapaksa. Chandrika Kumaratunga left the SLFP that her mother led and rejoined the SLFP later. Maithripala Sirisena left the SLFP to contest the 2015 presidential election as the candidate of the UNF.

Pride of Asia Award

Earlier this month the Abdul Kalam Institute of Technological Sciences, Telangana, India – the institute carries the name of India’s former President and renowned scientist Abdul Kalam — bestowed the “Pride of Asia” award on Mr. Jayasuriya for his lifetime services to Sri Lanka and South Asia.

That this award was made a few weeks after Mr. Jayasuriya played a decisive role in thwarting the October 26 “Constitutional Coup” is most notable. India almost certainly does not wish to see an authoritarian regime in Sri Lanka. Few expected Mr. Jayasuriya, as Speaker, to act the way he did to pave the way for the Supreme Court to declare that the sacking of the government was null and void. But, by his action, Mr. Jayasuriya proved that he was made of sterner stuff than what his opponents thought.

The honour and recognition that the Malwathu Maha Vihara will bestow on Mr. Jayasuriya on March 19 in Kandy is another signal that Mr. Jayasuriya commands the respect and trust of not only the international community but also of those who occupy the highest echelons of the Sangha in Sri Lanka.

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