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Jathika Hela Urumaya

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (Sinhala: ජාතික හෙල උරුමය, often approximated in English as National Heritage Party) is a political party in Sri Lanka which is led by Buddhist monks. The JHU was launched in February, 2004 by the lay-based, secular Sinhala nationalist political party Sihala Urumaya. Founding members include Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thero, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero, Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero and Mr. Thilak Karunaratne. Some Sri Lankan Buddhists, including the All Island Clergy Organization, denounced the decision by monks to enter politics. However, the party drew some support from the middle class conservatives and the Buddhist youth.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya contested its first parliamentary elections on April 2, 2004, which were Sri Lanka’s most recent legislative elections. All of its candidates were Buddhist monks. At these elections the party won 6.0% of the popular vote and nine out of 225 seats.

Since the election, the party has been involved in a number of controversial issues, such as the introduction of a law to criminalize unethical conversions andproselytism by foreign Christian fundamentalist groups. There has also been some quite dramatic infighting within the JHU parliamentary fraction, since the group which had been cobbled together just before the polls lacked unity on the issue of how to relate to government formation.

Two of its founding members, Theros Kolonnawe Sumangala and Uduwe Dhammaloka left the party after a conflict between the robed and lay members. The founder of the Sihala Urumaya also defected to the United National Party after seizing the party headquarters. After months of trouble, the party is strong again with the young monk Athuraliye Rathana Thero and the Sihala Urumaya member Champika Ranawaka leading the comeback. Ellawela Medhananda and Omalpe Sobhitha theros remain in the leadership. Other influential members include Dr Neville Karunatilake and Udaya Gammanpila. JHU is also affiliated with the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), SPUR, North-East Sinhala Organisation (NESO) and other local and international Sinhala nationalist groups.

Jathika Hela Urumaya successfully appealed the supreme court to cut President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s term short. In October 2005, former JHU member Uduwe Dhammaloka indicated that there was a growing sentiment among the monks of the JHU that a mistake had been made in directly entering the political realm. Dhammaloka indicated that he personally believed that monks could have a more positive impact on Sri Lankan society by focusing on religious work, and that the current crop of monk-parliamentarians intended to “ensure that monks will not enter politics again” (“Monks”). It is unclear if Uduwe Dhammaloka and other ordained members of parliament will resign their positions, or if legislation will be introduced to restrict monks from standing for public office (as is currently the case in Thailand). Jathika Hela Urumaya supported President Mahinda Rajapakse in the presidential election in 2005. In 2007, the JHU officially became part of the Rajapakse Government with one of its Buddhist monk MP resigning and in his place a lay member Patali Champika Ranawaka being made a MP and then the Cabinet Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.