Several political analysts are of the view that any person writing about the political history of Sri Lanka would have to write about the history of the UNP and vice versa.
The United National Party was launched on the 6th of September 1946 but its roots date back to 1912 where the Non-alcoholic Movement was launched to carry out the fight against British Imperialists to liberate the country.
Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero, Venerable Migettuwaththe Gunananda Thero, Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisingha Harischandra, F.R. Senanayaka, D.S. Senanayake and Sir D.B. Jayathilaka were the founders of the Non-alcoholic movement. At a time the locals were driven towards the consumption of alcohol following influence from Imperialists, these leaders took the initiative to enlighten the people about the consequences of the use of alcohol and also reiterated the value of an independent country. However once several leaders of this movement were arrested by the British, a need of a national movement to fight against them to free the country was felt more by the leaders of the movement.
Accordingly in 1918 the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya was instated and intellectuals from all races joined the movement. The movement was launched under the patronage of father of Former President J.R. Jayawardana, Late E.W. Jayawardana and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Mohommad Markan Markar, Sir James Peiris and E.W Perera were also a part of it.
Due to the struggles carried out by this movement, the State Administrative Council was established in 1931 according to recommendations made by the Donomor Commission, but it had a negative influence on the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya. That is because of the emergence of other political movements like the Samasamaja Party and Sooriyamal Movement.
However, by then several young leaders of the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya felt the need for a new political movement and D.S. Senanayaka, Dudley Senanayaka, J.R. Jayawardana and Albert.F.Peiris gave it the necessary backing.
As a result of that on the 6th of September 1946a political movement by the name of United National Party commenced after State Council Member T.B. Jayah seconded a proposal made by State Council member S. Nadeshan, at a meeting that was held at the Farmcourt palace in Colombo. The Sinhala Maha Sabhawa, Tamil Union, Muslim Front and Associations representing European races as well joined this new political party, thus widening its base in the country.
Thereafter the United National Party commenced its political journey and obtained a majority of seats in the Parliament at the 1st General election that was held in 1947 and were elected as the government. This government was able to bring about Independence to this country on the 4th of February 1948.
D.S. Senanayaka joined the history books of Sri Lanka as the 1st Prime Minister of the country. Thereafter a massive service was rendered to the country but once Prime Minister D.S. Senanayaka collapsed at the Galle face ground on the 22nd of March 1952, the 1st disruption was caused to this journey. After his demise there was a heated battle between Dudley Senanayaka and Sir John Kothalawala for the post of Party leader, but eventually Dudley Senanayaka made it to the positions of Prime Minister and Party leader both.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaka who joined the UNP with the Sinhala Maha Sabhawa, left the party in the year 1952 due to a conflict with the party thus becoming the first group to breakaway from the party.
However, due to protests by Leftist leaders in the year 1953 Mr. Dudley Senanayaka resigned from the post of Prime Minister and Party leader and Sir John Kothalawala took over the reins and continued till 1956.
Although the United National Party was instated to create a United Sri Lanka, due to the pro Sinhala stance of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaka who left the UNP, the Lankan nation suffered a set back. But with a majority agreeing with Mr. Bandaranayaka’s stance, the UNP suffered a huge loss in the General election that was held in 1956.
However, all forces of the party were brought together and a massive protest march was held from Colombo to Kandy under the leadership of J.R. Jayawardana with the motive of instating a UNP government, but it was disrupted near Imbulgoda due to state suppression.
Several incidents took place in the local political arena from 1960-65 but eventually the UNP came back in to power in 1965 and under the Premiership of Dudley Senanayaka several important steps were taken for the betterment of the country during their tenure which lasted until 1970.
But in the year 1970 the Unity Alliance (Samagi Peramuna) emerged victorious defeating the UNP which contested as a single political party. J.R. Jayawardana who held the Opposition Leaders position was appointed as the Leader of the party in the year 1973 after the demise of Dudley Senanayaka.
As a responsible opposition the UNP provided the necessary support to the government during the 1971 riots carried out by the JVP but didn’t forget to take to the streets against the wrongdoing of the Unity Alliance government. J.R. Jayawardana led the fight against the government which treated the people as slaves and eventually got back power in 1977.
The UNP gained a 5/6th majority in parliament in the election that was held in 1977 and then created a new constitution and economic policy to mould Sri Lanka as a country that is ready to conquer the world. J.R. Jayawardana became the 1st Executive President of Sri Lanka and the UNP strengthened as a political party. However, the UNP had to face certain difficulties due to JVP riots in 1988/89.
Amidst such difficulties the UNP managed to face the Presidential and General elections in 1989 strongly and Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected as the 2nd Executive President following the retirement of J.R. Jayawardana. This showed that a person from any class or level could make it to the top in the UNP and R. Premadasa introduced several changes to the party and country as well.
However, it was in this era that internal issues of the party were made public for the 1st time. The no-confidence motion brought forward by 2 leaders of the UNP it self – Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka was the first major division within the party.
Lalith and Gamini left the party along with another 1 million supporters but leaders like D.B. Wijethunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe did not leave President Premadasa because they understood the value of the UNP. However, the bad spell of the UNP did not end as President Ranasinghe Premadasa fell victim to a suicide bomber on the 1st of May 1993, bringing about a huge loss to the party and country.
Thereafter Prime Minister D.B. Wijethunga was appointed as the President and also as the party leader. During his tenure the party that was divided was once again brought together as Gamini Dissanayaka and son of S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaka, Anura Bandaranayaka joined the UNP.
The UNP lost the 1994 General election by just one seat, and then Opposition Leader Gamini Dissanayaka contested at the Presidential election but several top level leaders including him were killed by brutal terrorists.
Amidst such setbacks Ranil Wickremesinghe became the leader of the party and carried out party reorganizing work to make the party the single largest political movement.
Meanwhile Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a strong fight at the 1999 Presidential election against Chandrika Bandaranayaka Kumarathunga, but when victory was within grasps it went away after President Kumarathunga was attacked by a suicide bomber.
However, hopes of UNP supporters were revived with the Janabala Meheyuma protest that was held from Kandy to Colombo where around 1 million participated. However, 2 youth sacrificed their lives after being victims of a brutal crackdown by the government, but they signified the need for a UNP government as they laid down their lives for the party and for the country. Several top level leaders of the government also defected to the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe made the dreams of UNP supporters come true by winning the election in 2001.
However, President Kumarathunga who fell for the enticing wordplay of the JVP and Patriotic National Movement at a time where the UNP had laid the foundation for a prosperous future for the country and also to bring about peace, dissolved parliament violating political traditions as well.
Then in 2005 Ranil Wickremesinghe contested the Presidential election and was the clear winner from the beginning but at the last minute when the LTTE understood that they cannot make him dance according to his tune, they took measures to defeat him and once again the hopes of several Sri Lankans were shattered.
The UNP came forward amidst various challenges since 2005 and is the single largest Political party. No matter what sort of conspiracies are brought forward they will be unsuccessful as Ranil Wickremesinghe is a leader who would give first priority to the party itself.