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The Legislative Council building in Janadhipathi Mawatha (then called Queen Street), Colombo Fort. The building later housed the Senate (after Independence) and is presently occupied by the Foreign Ministry.

(This simplified version of the fifth chapter of Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka, presents the constitutional history of Sri Lanka in light of the principles discussed in the earlier chapters).

The main complaint of Ceylonese politicians with regard to the Manning-Devonshire Constitution was that, while the Legislative Council in theory had authority over the government, since it could introduce and amend laws, and controlled the budget and public spending, it had no executive powers. Two representatives on the executive council, without responsibility for any specific area, could not really influence governmental action.

In response to these complaints, and also inasmuch as Britain had in the 1920s a Labour Prime Minister, with at least some members of the cabinet and the parliament keen on reforms in the colonies, another Commission was sent out at the end of that decade to draw up a new Constitution. The Donoughmore Constitution, as it was known after the Chairman of the Commission, Lord Donoughmore, moved in radical new directions. It introduced universal suffrage, which was in fact opposed by most Sri Lankan politicians, Ponnambalam Ramanathan and James Peiris, E W Perera and D B Jayatilaka, D S Senanayake and S W R D Bandaranaike. Only two minor politicians, including the Labour Party leader, A E Goonesinha, spoke in its favour.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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