Sri Lanka: Jayewardene will die during his six-year term — CIA declassified papers

Despite the law-caste origins, Ranasinghe Premadasa will be the successor 


(February 5, 2017, Boston — Hong Kong SAR, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Although we believe that Jayewardene enjoys good health, his advanced age increases the possibility that he will die during his six-year term”, a declassified document by CIA predicted.

“As the undisputed leader of the UNP’s Parliamentary contingent, we believe Premadasa would be the most likely candidate to be chosen to fill out Jayewardene’s term. In this event, we would expect him to continue the UNP’s free market, development­ oriented policies,” the paper released under the Freedom of Information Act, suggested.

Excerpts;

The Succession Issue

Although we believe that Jayewardene enjoys good health, his advanced age increases the possibility that he will die during his six-year term. Under the 1978 constitution, the Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa, would become Acting President until parliament chose a successor from among its members. As the undisputed leader of the UNP’s Parliamentary contingent, we believe Premadasa would be the most likely candidate to be chosen to fill out Jayewardene’s term. In this event, we would expect him to continue the UNP’s free market, development­ oriented policies.

Premadasa, 58, sees himself as Jayewardene’s heir apparent. Highly popular, capable, and hardworking, he displays a common touch that Jayewardene lacks and has proved himself a major vote getter for the party. According to Embassy reporting, Jayewardene holds Premadasa’s political skills in high regard, depends on the Prime Minister, and works closely with him.

Ironically, Premadasa’s low-caste origins, which have undoubtedly added to his popular standing, could derail his succession to the presidency. Sri Lanka has been governed since independence predominantly by members of the goigama (cultivator) caste, the high­est in status and numerically the largest. Premadasa is the only major political figure on the current scene who is of significantly lower caste, and Embassy reporting indicates that some elements in the UNP are anxious to prevent his succession. We believe recent suggestions that the constitution be amended to provide for an office of vice president reflect an attempt to thwart Premadasa’s candidacy by appointing a suitably high-caste vice president who would then automatically succeed Jayewardene.

The UNP has thus far displayed none of the debilitating infighting that has plagued Sri Lanka’s other major parties. Although presidential hopefuls are looking around for support, we see little prospect of any dramatic power plays as long as Jayewardene remains healthy.

NESA 83-10139
June 1983

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