Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, Sri Lankan politician (born Feb. 15, 1916, Polgahanga, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]—died Sept. 21, 2008, Kandy, Sri Lanka), brought stability to Sri Lanka as the country’s head of state (May 7, 1993–Nov. 12, 1994) during the crucial period immediately following the assassination on May 1, 1993, of Pres. Ranasinghe Premadasa. Wijetunga joined the United National Party (UNP) in 1946 and twice (1956, 1960) ran unsuccessfully for Parliament before being elected in 1965. He lost his seat in 1970 but returned in 1977 as part of a UNP electoral majority. Wijetunga held several ministerial portfolios and served a stint (1988–89) as governor of North Western Province. On March 3, 1989, Premadasa unexpectedly appointed him prime minister. This put Wijetunga in position to take over as acting president upon Premadasa’s death, and Parliament quickly and unanimously elected him to complete the remainder of Premadasa’s term. The unassuming Wijetunga eased restrictions and introduced economic and social reforms; he retired when the UNP lost the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Karen Sparks, Director and Editor, Britannica Book of the Year.
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