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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

PASSAGE

DIED JUNIUS RICHARD JAYEWARDENE, 90, former prime minister and president of Sri Lanka, affectionately called "J. R." during his 50-year political career; from heart failure stemming from cancer; in Colombo on November 1. The eldest son of a wealthy family -- his mother came from one of Sri Lanka's richest and most politically powerful clans -- Jayewardene became one of the best-known political figures in post-independence South Asia.

In his early years he was a conciliator. At the 1951 San Francisco conference to settle peace terms, Jayewardene favored pardoning Japan for its war-time activities. Grateful, Tokyo supported his administration. Jayewardene became a close friend of the Imperial family.

After seven years in opposition, a rejuvenated United National Party with Jayewardene, a former cabinet minister, at its head returned to power in 1977, taking a four-fifths majority in Parliament. He soon changed the British-style system to an executive presidency, giving himself sweeping powers. He suppressed political dissent and cracked down on trade unions, policies that resulted in frequent civic turmoil. During his 11-year administration, Jayewardene also oversaw wide-ranging constitutional reforms that introduced proportional representation and further established a strong executive branch. But in 1982 he called a presidential election 16 months early and then held a referendum to extend Parliament's term by six years without a general election, despite widespread protests.

He came under criticism for his handling of the early stages of the tensions with Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. His failure to effectively deal with the uprising gave momentum to the separatist movement that ultimately led to the 1983 insurrection that continues today.

J. R. was widely praised as an economic visionary. His free market reforms brought sound economic growth to Sri Lanka, prompting predictions that it would rival East Asia's dragon economies before the millennium. Creaky colonial-era infrastructure was upgraded, irrigation and power projects were built, and manufacturing for the first time beat tea and agriculture as the country's main export-earner. "Let the robber barons come in," was his rallying cry as the country opened to foreign investors.

Having served his legally-limited two six-year terms he formally retired on December 31, 1988. Jayewardene left the country with two full-blown rebellions: the Tamils in the north and a Sinhalese youth insurrection in the south. In his last year in office the country's economic growth rate, which had never dropped below 6% during his tenure, fell to just 2%.

After 50 years in public life, Jayewardene survived a final assassination attempt in 1987. In his old age, he said, "I climbed the winding staircase to the top and didn't fall off. And I came down in my own time."


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