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1956 Ceylonese parliamentary election

General elections were held in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1956. They were a watershed in the country's political history, and was the first elections fought to challenge the ruling United National Party. The former Leader of the House, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was passed over after the death of the first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, crossed over to the opposition to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to launch his bid for Prime Minister.

3rd Ceylonese parliamentary election

← 1952 5–10 April 1956 1960 (March) →

95 seats to the House of Representatives of Ceylon
48 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
  Official Photographic Portrait of S.W.R.D.Bandaranayaka (1899-1959).jpg No image.svg No image.svg
Leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike N. M. Perera John Kotelawala
Party Mahajana Eksath Peramuna Lanka Sama Samaja Party United National Party
Leader since 1956 1945 1953
Leader's seat Attanagalla Ruwanwella Dodangaslanda
Last election 9 Seats, 15.52%[a] 9 Seats, 13.11% 54 Seats, 44.08%
Seats won 51 14 8
Seat change Increase42 Increase5 Decrease46
Popular vote 1,046,277 274,204 738,810
Percentage 39.52% 10.36% 27.91%

Prime Minister before election

John Kotelawala
United National Party

Prime Minister-designate

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna


The UNP government of John Kotelawala had been rapidly losing steam. It faced widespread criticism over Ceylon's poor economic performance. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party now championed a popular socialist platform, calling for English to be replaced by Sinhala as the island's official language.

The UNP resisted this out of deference to Ceylon's Tamil minority, but changed its position in early 1956. This only served to cost the UNP its Tamil support while gaining it little among the Sinhalese.

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party campaigned for parity of status between Sinhala and Tamil, with both to jointly replace English as the official language.

The Tamil parties campaigned to keep English as the official language.

SLFP leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike assembled a coalition with a group of small Marxist parties to form the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna.


Bandaranaike's coalition obtained a solid majority government and he became prime minister.

e • d Summary of the 1956 Ceylonese parliamentary election[1]
Party Candidates Votes % Seats
  Mahajana Eksath Peramuna 60 1,046,277 39.52% 51
  Lanka Sama Samaja Party 21 274,204 10.36% 14
  Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi 14 142,758 5.39% 10
  United National Party 76 738,810 27.91% 8
  Communist Party of Ceylon 9 119,715 4.52% 3
  All Ceylon Tamil Congress 1 8,914 0.34% 1
Others 68 316,569 11.96% 8
Valid Votes 249 2,647,247 100.00% 95
Rejected Votes
Total Votes Polled
Total Electors Polled[b] 2,391,538
Registered Electors 3,464,159
Turnout 69.12%


The SLFP campaign of 1956 was the first in Ceylon's history where communal feelings against the minority Tamil community were deliberately stirred up by Sinhalese politicians for electoral gain. The SLFP tried to blame the high unemployment Sinhalese youth faced on the Tamils and in effect promised not to correct injustices but to openly discriminate against Tamils via a policy of official unilingualism.[citation needed]

The hard feelings from this campaign contributed towards the eruption, nearly three decades later, of the path to civil war.[citation needed]

However, it also changed the character of politics in the country from the elitism that had characterised it hitherto. Members of Parliament from other parties than the Left were middle class, working class or farmers. Henceforth electorates were addressed in their mother tongue at election meetings (as the LSSP and CP had done from inception) instead of English.[citation needed]


  1. ^ As Sri Lanka Freedom Party
  2. ^ Total electors polled is less than total votes polled due to multiple-member seats where electors can cast more than one vote.


  1. ^ "Table 33 Parliament Election (1956)". Sri Lanka Statistics. 10 February 2009.