Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in Asia. The Donoughmore Constitution, drafted by the Donoughmore Commission in 1931, enabled general elections with adult universal suffrage (universal adult voting) in the country. It was the first time a non-white country within the empires of Western Europe was given one man, one vote and the power to control domestic affairs. The first election under the universal adult franchise, held in June 1931, was for the Ceylon State Council. Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka was elected as Leader of the House. In 1944, the Soulbury Commission was appointed to draft a new constitution. During this time, struggle for independence was fought on “constitutionalist” lines under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake. The draft constitution was enacted in the same year, and Senanayake was appointed Prime Minister following the parliamentary election in 1947. The Soulbury constitution ushered in Dominion status and granted independence to Sri Lanka in 1948
Current politics in Sri Lanka is a contest between two rival coalitions led by the centre-leftist and progressivist United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), an offspring of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and the comparatively right-wing and pro-capitalist United National Party (UNP). Sri Lanka is essentially a multi-party democracy with many smaller Buddhist, socialist and Tamil nationalist political parties. As of July 2011, the number of registered political parties in the country is 67. Of these, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), established in 1935, is the oldest. The UNP, established by D. S. Senanayake in 1946, was until recently the largest single political party. It is the only political group which had representation in all parliaments since independence.
SLFP was founded by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who was the Cabinet minister of Local Administration before he left the UNP in July 1951. SLFP registered its first victory in 1956, defeating the ruling UNP in 1956 Parliamentary election. Following the parliamentary election in July 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the prime minister and the world’s first elected female head of government.
G. G. Ponnambalam, the Tamil nationalist counterpart of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, founded the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) in 1944. Objecting to Ponnambalam’s cooperation with D. S. Senanayake, a dissident group led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam broke away in 1949 and formed the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), also known as the Federal Party, becoming the main Tamil political party in Sri Lanka for next two decades. The Federal Party advocated a more aggressive stance toward the Sinhalese. With the constitutional reforms of 1972, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) created a common front called the Tamil United Front (later Tamil United Liberation Front). Following a period of turbulence as Tamil militants rose to power in the late 1970s, these Tamil political parties were succeeded in October 2001 by the Tamil National Alliance. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Marxist-Leninist political party founded by Rohana Wijeweera in 1965, serves as a third force in the current political context. It endorses leftist policies which are more radical than the traditionalist leftist politics of the LSSP and the Communist Party. Founded in 1981, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is the largest Muslim political party in Sri Lanka.