20th July 1997


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Anura: celebrating 20 years in the political arena


‘Politics, politics and politics’

Anura Bandaranaike, MP, completes 20 years in politics next month. To mark the event a felicitation ceremony has been organized at the BMICH on July 25. Mr. Bandaranaike has many firsts to his credit-he is the only son of two Prime Ministers to enter Parliament anywhere in the world. He and his mother Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike were the first mother and son in the world, to sit in the same parliament
By Hiranthi Fernando

Anura Bandaranaike’s first entry into Parliament was at the General Elections in 1977. "I got nomination for the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya seat just two days before nominations closed," he said. "Felix Dias Bandaranaike promised me the Dompe seat but let me down in the end. I did not know anyone in the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate."

At this election he was elected to Parliament as the second MP for the Nuwara Eliya - Maskeliya seat with 49,000 votes.

The only son of two elected Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and brother of the current President, Anura Bandara-naike has been immersed in politics since his young days. He has had an eventful political career. An able orator and well known figure in the Sri Lankan political scene, 48 year old Anura completes twenty continuous years as a Member of Parliament, in August this year. During these twenty years, he has served as an opposition Member of Parliament, Leader of Opposition as well as a brief spell as a Cabinet Minister. A series of events planned to celebrate this achievement, culminates in a colourful felicitation ceremony at the BMICH on the July 25.

Amidst a whirl of preparations, Anura Bandaranaike spoke to The Sunday Times at his residence in Rosmead Place.

"From the time I was born it was politics, politics and more politics," he said.

"For me as well as for Chandrika, it seemed predestined, although Sunethra opted to stay out of it."

Speaking of events that made the deepest impression on him, Anura said his father’s assassination was the greatest shock to him.

"I was ten years old at the time and I still remember it very vividly," he said. "My mother’s entry into politics also made a deep impression on us. Chandrika and I were all for it but Sunethra was against it. I feel that if she did not come in just then, it would have been the end of the SLFP."

Casting his mind back to his early years in politics, he said that during the election campaign of 1965, when he was sixteen years old, he, along with his sister Chandrika campaigned for his mother. His elder sister Sunethra was then out of the country.

He addressed his first political meeting in 1966 at the Balangoda by-election. Since then he has been involved in all the campaigns of the party. He had played a key role in the Devinuwara by-election in 1967, through which Ronnie de Mel first entered parliament. His mother’s election campaign in 1970 was handled single handed by Anura as both his sisters were abroad.

"My mother was busy campaigning all over the country, and came only for the last meeting," he recalled. "She won by 21,000 votes."

Tracing the events of his political life, Anura said that on his return to Sri Lanka after his graduation in London, he became the organiser of the SLFP Youth League. "At that time, the government was getting very unpopular in the aftermath of the JVP uprising in 1971," Anura Bandaranaike said. "It was a Herculean task organising the youth but nevertheless quite interesting."

Going back to his first campaign he recalled that the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate is in fact one of the largest stretching seventy miles from one end to the other. Starting at Kitulgala, 700 feet above sea level, the electorates soars up to 8,000 feet above sea level.

"Forty percent of the voters are lndian Tamils. A total of seventeen candidates, including, the former SLFP Member for Maskeliya, contested the three seats. All my personal friends, who knew nothing about politics, campaigned for me. I was able to spend only ten days in the electorate as I was busy campaigning for others as well."

Being appointed Leader of the Opposition in 1983 was one of the highlights of his political career. Anura Bandaranaike said. At 34 years of age, he was the youngest Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth.

"It was interesting and quite hilarious too at times," he commented. "By then 1 was well seasoned and up to the challenge. We had only eight MPs against the government’s 145. We had to fight giants of the UNP such as Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Anandatissa de Alwis, Nissanka Wijeratne and Ronnie de Mel. They were outstanding debaters unlike the members of the Cabinet today .

Anura expressed his gratitude to parliamentarians who helped him at that time. "I am very grateful to Lakshman Jayakody who stood by me like the Rock of Gibraltar. as well as to Anil Moonesinghe and Halim Ishak," he said. Dinesh Gunewardene and Sarath Muttetuwegama who were outstanding debaters, also helped me immensely although they were not in the SLFP."

The visit of Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister of the UK, in 1985 was another highlight of his political career, according to Anura. "As the Leader of the Opposition, I seconded the vote of thanks. I remember Lalith and Gamini rushed across the floor of the house as soon as I had finished my speech, saying that I had saved them." I was very touched by it."

"The deprival of my mother’s civic rights was a most dramatic time for us," Anura said. "It was a most unfair act. I told JR. Jayewardene so several times. Anyway, the party managed to survive it."

Anura says the most traumatic experience of his entire life was his resignation in October 1993, from the SLFP, the political party founded by his father. It was a very difficult decision to make and he thought over it for several months. "I was suspended for 90 days with no reason given," he said.

"Those who conspired against me then are the very people talking about human rights and decency today. I do not regret my ultimate decision since I have to say the SLFP is full of vicious schemers and back stabbers. They were also involved in my father’s assassination. The UNP basically are mostly decent guys."

Speaking on his role in the UNP, Anura said that his forte is Foreign Policy and he is the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs. His interest in Foreign Affairs goes back to his young days when he had the opportunity to meet and associate with many well known world leaders as well as opposition leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi of India, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai of China, Sukarno of Indonesia, Tito of Yugoslavia, Harold MacMillan and Harold Wilson of Britain, Nasser of Egypt, Yasser Arafat of the PLO, the Cuban President Fidel Castro, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khalida Zia of Bangladesh are among the foreign dignitaries he has been fortunate to meet. At his home is an interesting collection of photographs of Anura at various ages, featured with world leaders, opposition leaders and religious leaders. Among the leaders he has met he says that Jawaharlal Nehru, Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai made a tremendous and lasting impression on him.

In his political life Anura Bandaranaike has several firsts to his name. He is the only son of two Prime Ministers to enter Parliament anywhere in the world. He and his mother Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike were the first mother and son in the world, to sit in the same parliament. The Bandaranaike family also has the distinction of being the only family to produce three opposition leaders.

When asked about newspaper reports that members of the UNP were planning to boycott his felicitation ceremony, Anura dismissed them as being totally fictitious. He said that on the contrary, there had been an enthusiastic response from UNP members of Parliament. "Ranil is speaking at the ceremony and he has sent an extremely nice message," he remarked. "I did not read this news report until my mother called to ask me about it. I told her, your daughter’s Lake House is worse than Premadasa’s Lake House."

Finally, speaking of his visions for Sri Lanka, he said, "A decent, honest, accountable government is what everybody expects for the country. Unfortunately, it has not been so. I would like to see a Sri Lanka which moves forward economically, with the benefits trickling down to the average man. Wealth does not percolate down and the lives of the average people have remained unchanged under successive governments. I would like to see the institutions of democracy strengthened. For that, the abolition of the Executive Presidency is the primary necessity."

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