By Dalton De Silva

COLOMBO, Sept 16 Reuter: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, manned on Friday as the ruling party’s Presidential Candidate, will be the first leader to come from the lower classes if he wins the December election.

All Sri Lanka’s heads of Government have come from the upper classes since the Indian Ocean Island gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Premadasa comes from a low caste middle class family in Colombo’s slum ridden Kehelwatte district and makes the most of his origin

“He is widely travelled and has moved with Kings and Queens … even so he has not lost the common touch and is still very much a man of the masses,” says an official biography.

Known as a strong Sinhalese Nationalist, 64 year old Premadasa has criticised India for assisting Tamil separatist guerrillas on the island.

He opposed last year’s peace pact with India and boycotted functions when Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi flew to Colombo to sign it.

An astute politician, he has not criticised the accord publicly, but is known to have opposed some of its provisions within the confines of the cabinet room.

A teetotaler, non-smoker and vegetarian. Premadasa has won the hearts of thousands of people by providing houses for the homeless,

He has set up communities across Sri Lanka under what he terms the “village reawakening movement.” The model villages consist of housing projects with schools, medical units, playing fields, temples, mosques and churches.

The United Nations designated 1987 as International year of the homeless at his suggestion.

Born on June 23, 1924, he first studied under a Buddhist Monk but later attended a leading Roman Catholic School, St. Joseph’s College, in Colombo.

He entered politics in 1950 becoming a member of the Colombo Municipal Council. He was elected to Parliament in 1960.

He was elected Deputy Leader of the Rulino United National Party (UNP) in 1973.

When the UNP romped to power in 1977, Premadasa was appointed local Government Minister.

He became Prime Minister the following year succeeding Junius Jayewardene who assumed the Presidency after changing the constitution.

Jayewardene announced on Friday he would not seek election for a third term and nominated Premadasa as his potential successor.

Premadasa is married and has two children.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 23, 1988