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Don Stephen Senanayake (October 20, 1884–22 March 1952), first Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1947 to 1952.

(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)

It was D S Senanayake who presided over negotiations towards independence, with the Commission led by Lord Soulbury, which was sent to Ceylon to commence discussions during the war, in recognition of the loyal service to the British war effort made by Ceylon and the Board of Ministers. Though initially what was planned was simply a larger measure of self-government, the logic of history, and the imminent independence of India, prompted Britain to agree also to the Ceylonese request for independence.

The new Constitution, under which Ceylon became independent in February 1948, abolished the State Council principle of encouraging a sense of responsibility regarding government in all members of the Legislature. It introduced instead an oppositional system based almost entirely on the British cabinet system. After Parliament was elected, the person who commanded the confidence of a majority of the members of parliament was appointed Prime Minister, and he then appointed a Cabinet to exercise executive power.

Though in the first Parliament that was elected there was no clear majority, D S Senanayake managed to put together a coalition, consisting of his own United National Party (into which S W R D Bandaranaike had already merged his Sinhala Maha Sabha), Goonesinha’s Labour Party, G G Ponnambalam’s Tamil Congress, and some other independent politicians. The British system (or Westminster, as it is termed, after the site of the British Parliament), institutionalizes oppositional politics, and accordingly Sri Lanka too now had a leader of the Opposition, who was N M Perera, leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Pakshaya, a Trotskyist grouping. The opposition included other Marxist parties, and also a breakaway group from the Tamil Congress, the Federal Party led by S J Chelvanayakam.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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