“Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. Some have greatness thrust upon them” Reflections of President Ranasinghe Premadasa
Ranasinghe Premadasa was born on June 23, 1924 in Colombo. He completed his education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10. He was interested in social service for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden. He was the architect of the Sri Sucharitha Movement, an organization with the objectives of uplifting the economic, social and spiritual development of the low income people. These youth who enrolled in his development movement refrained from taking liquor and avoided smoking and gambling. R. Premadasa was a teetotaller.
He had been the Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council. He was elected second Member of Parliament at the general election held in 1965 for the same seat and was appointed Chief Government Whip besides being appointed Parliamentary Secretary of Local Government. Later he was raised to the position of Minister of Local Government. In the following general election held in 1970, he was elected first MP for Colombo Central and sat in the Opposition with late J.R. Jayewardene, the then Leader of the Opposition.
Premadasa was elected first MP for Colombo Central in 1977 and became the Leader of the House and the Minister of Local Government. He was appointed the Deputy Leader of the UNP. When JR Jayewardene became the first Executive President of the country, Minister Premadasa became the Prime Minister on February 23, 1978.
Part of his political programme was shelter for the poor, after the United Nations declared a Year of Shelter. Other policies included Jana Saviya, the instrument he used to help the poor, a foster parents scheme, the Gam Udawa project, the mobile secretariat whereby he took the central government bureaucracy to the peasants, the Tower Hall Foundation for drama and music, and the pension schemes he initiated for the elder artistes. On the economic front, the garment industry project that he initiated became a forerunner in earning foreign exchange and provision of employment in the villages.
He was elected second Executive President of the country when late JR Jayewardene stepped down. He led the UNP to victory at the general election held in 1989. He survived the attempted impeachment by some of his party men together with opposition Members of Parliament. He focussed on building the economy, in which exercise too he was successful as seen by the improved position of the country’s economy during his tenure.
However, Premadasa’s greatest achievements were in the field of housing, poverty alleviation and the upliftment of the down- trodden. He was the architect of many innovative development schemes, such as, the Gam Udawa, Presidential Mobile Service, 200 Garment Factories programmes amongst others.
Premadasa proposed at the UNO in New York to declare a year as International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The proposal was unanimously accepted at the 37th session of the United Nations General Assembly and 1987 was declared the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.
He launched the Gam Udawa scheme all over the country. He was the founder of the Janasaviya, now the Samurdhi scheme.
During his presidency, Premadasa took action to reduce poverty in the country. He encouraged the building of model villages with clean water, decent roads, schools and health centres. He encouraged the placement of small-scale industries, mostly garment-related, in poor areas by giving factory owners low-interest loans and a share in textile quotas for the United States and Europe.
Premadasa was well known for the humble life led by him in his simple home, away from his luxurious official residence. He perhaps travelled less than anyother leading Sri Lankan politicians.
President Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993 at a May Day rally in Colombo. Even after 25 years since his death, he is still remembered for his simplicity and great vision.