Monday, Apr. 16, 1956

Surprising Defeat

At the Bandung conference of Afro-Asian nations last year, Ceylon's Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala earned the free world's gratitude by angrily and eloquently insisting that any denunciations of colonialism should include a denunciation of the one real imperialism in the world today—Communist Russia's. India's Nehru, who had hoped to introduce his friend, Communist China's Chou Enlai, to his fellow Asians in a benevolent atmosphere, was outraged (TIME, May 2). What gave Sir John's words added weight was that he was himself a neutrlalist, opposed to SEATO though devoted to the British Commonwealth.

Sir John surprised the world then. Last week his own countrymen surprised him. When Sir John recently dissolved Parliament and ordered new elections, no one expected real trouble. His United National Party had been in power for 25 years, held a comfortable 54 seats in the 95-member Parliament. Chief opposition to his United National Party was an unlikely coalition called the People's United Front, comprised of such uneasy partners as a Buddhist party, a Trotskyite group and the supernationalist Ceylon Freedom Party. The coalition demanded the nationalization of all tea and rubber plantations still in British hands, and the ejection of British forces from the new Commonwealth nation of Ceylon. (The naval base at Trincomalee and the air base at Negombo are the last remaining British bases between the Middle East and Malaya.)

Budding Buddhists. Sir John, himself a wealthy planter, always sought his political support chiefly among the middle class. For their votes, his opposition concentrated on the poor, the country villagers, the discontented. Soon the campaign turned into a contest in Buddhism. There are 5,500,000 Buddhists among Ceylon's 8,000,000 population, and each side strove to outdo the other in pledges of devotion to Buddha. Campaign cars careened through Ceylon's palms and rice fields loaded with saffron-robed monks, and each side accused the other of employing fake monks.

Voting was spread over three election days. In the hope of creating a bandwagon psychology, Sir John had arranged to have his "sure" candidates on the first-day list. The bandwagon never rolled; it was swamped under a torrent of opposition votes. Sir John lost two-thirds of his Cabinet, as his party held on to only eight seats out of 42 at stake. The coalition won 28, the Communists five. At the second-day election, Sir John failed to hold a single seat, while the coalition picked up 14.

The Unwild Men. The new government will probably be headed by a man impressively named Solomon West Ridgway Diaz Bandaranaike, a rich landowner who was a student with Sir Anthony Eden at Oxford. Once a member of Sir John's Cabinet, he broke away to form the Freedom Party. His program includes establishment of diplomatic relations with Red China and Russia, avoidance of "power blocs" and friendship for "all" nations, on the Nehru plan. In a post-victory interview, he predicted that Ceylon would become a republic within a year, though perhaps remaining in the Commonwealth. As for the British bases, which are both a profitable source of revenue and supply cheap defense, Bandaranaike declared that their evacuation seemed "rather crucial," but added: "We are not wild men. We are not antiWestern, and we are not hostile to the U.S. How could I be hostile to a country that produced Mark Twain?"