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Chandrika Kumaratunga

In office
November 12, 1994 – November 19, 2005
Preceded by Dingiri Banda Wijetunga
Succeeded by Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa

In office
August 19, 1994 – November 14, 1994
Preceded by Ranil Wickremesinghe
Succeeded by Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike

Born 29 June 1945 (1945-06-29) (age 64)
Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka
Political party Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Spouse(s) Vijaya Kumaratunga
Children Yasodhara and Vimukthi

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (born June 29, 1945) was the 4th Executive president of Sri Lanka, serving from November 12, 1994 to November 19, 2005. The daughter of two former Prime Ministers, she was also the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party until end of 2005. She is Sri Lanka's only female president to date.[1] [2]


Early life & education

Bandaranaike Family

Hailing from one of the most prestigious aristocratic families that has a long history in the socio-political arena of the country, her father, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was a government minister at the time of her birth and later became Prime Minister. He was assassinated in 1959, when Chandrika was fourteen. Chandrika's mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then became the world's first female prime minister in 1960 and her brother Anura Bandaranaike was a former Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and a former minister. Her grandfather, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranike was the Maha Mudaliyar, (the chief Ceylonese representative and advisor to the Governor) during British colonial rule.

She was educated at the St Bridget's Convent, Colombo and in 1965 she entered the Aquinas University College and gained a scholarship to the University of Paris in 1967, where she spent five years, graduating from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Science Po) in political science. While in Paris she obtained a Diploma in Group Leadership from the same University.Her Ph.D studies in Development Economics at the University of Paris were interrupted when she returned to Sri Lanka to enter politics, where her mother’s government had launched a wide ranging programme of socialist reform and development. During her days in France, she was active in the Student Revolution of 1968. She is fluent in Sinhala, English and French.[3]

Political career

After returning to Sri Lanka, she took up politics in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and in 1974 became an Executive Committee Member of its Women's League. Following the Land Reform in Sri Lanka in 1972- 1976, she was Additional Principal Director of the Land Reform Commission (LRC). In 1976 - 1977 she was Chairman of the Janawasa Commission , which established collective farms. In 1976- 1979 she acted as a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO).

She stayed in active politics supporting her husband's party Sri Lanka Mahajana Party by leaving the SLFP. After Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated she left the country for the UK,working for UNU-WIDER (United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research) during her time there, not returning till 1991.

Kumaratunga was elected as the Chief Minister of the Western Province of Sri Lanka in 1993 in a landslide election victory. Kumaratunga herself was elected Prime Minister of a People's Alliance (PA) government on 19 August 1994 and President in the presidential election held shortly thereafter in November. This ended 17 years of UNP rule. She appointed her mother to succeed her as Prime Minister. Early in her term she made conciliatory moves towards the separatist Tamil Tigers to attempt to end the on-going civil war. These overtures failed, and she later pursued a more military-based strategy against them.


In October 1999 Kumaratunga called an early presidential election[4]. She lost vision in her right eye (permanent optic nerve damage) in an assassination attempt, allegedly by the separatist Tamil Tigers, at her final election rally at Colombo Town Hall premises on 18 December 1999. President Kumaratunga defeated Ranil Wickremasinghe in the election held on 21 December and was sworn in for another term the next day.[2]

Kumaratunga (center) meeting with former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell (right)

In December 2001 she suffered a setback in the parliamentary election. Her People's Alliance lost to the UNP, and her political opponent Ranil Wickremasinghe took office as Sri Lanka's new Prime Minister. She continued as President of Sri Lanka although her relationship with the Wickremasinghe government was a strained one.

In February 2002 Wickremasinghe's government and the LTTE signed a permanent ceasefire agreement, paving the way for talks to end the long-running conflict. In December, the government and the rebels agreed to share power during peace talks in Norway. President Kumaratunga believed Wickremasinghe was being too lenient towards the LTTE. In May 2003 she indicated her willingness to sack the prime minister and government if she felt they were making too many concessions to the rebels. On 4 November 2003, while Prime Minister Wickremasinghe was on an official visit to the United States, Kumaratunga prorogued Parliament and assigned Defense Interior and Media ministries on her.

Kumaratunga's PA and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP (People's Liberation Front) formed the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in January 2004 and dissolved Parliament. Having won the election held on 2 April 2004 the UPFA formed a government with Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. This marked the first time in history that the JVP became a partner in a Sri Lankan government.[5]

However, in June 2005, the JVP left her government over a disagreement regarding a joint mechanism with LTTE rebels to share foreign aid to rebuild the tsunami-devastated Northern and Eastern areas of Sri Lanka.[6]

Kumaratunga's six-year term ended in 2005. She argued that since the 1999 election had been held one year early, she should be allowed to serve that left-over year. Mahinda Rajapaksa succeeded her as president, leading all 25 parties in the UPFA.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

Kumaratunga was recently (Nov 2009) appointed to the 12 member Board of Directors of the Club of Madrid. She is a frequent panellist and advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting held every September and is a member of the CGI.

Aftermath of presidency

Kumaratunga noted recently in 2007 "I sincerely tried to reach a political consensus to solve the ethnic question, and tried to introduce a pluralistic constitution that would cater to the political aspirations of the Tamil people without dividing the country".[7]

On 2009 September, Kumaratunga, was on a personal visit to Kerala, India told reporters "I too care for my life.Even though the current government is a government of my party (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) I don't feel safe,". "There is an overall lack of freedom and an atmosphere of fear prevails in the country.The basic rights of the people and media freedom are restricted in Sri Lanka" [8]

Family life

Chandrika married movie star and politician Vijaya Kumaratunga in 1978. Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated on 16 February 1988, outside his residence in the presence of Chandrika and their two children then aged 5 years and 7 years. The extremist Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) claimed responsibility for this act. Vijaya Kumaratunga's funeral, remains to date, the largest attended funeral of any politician or film idol in Sri Lanka. Their two children Yasodhara Kumaratunga Walker (born 1980) is a Medical Doctor (Corpus Christi College,University of Cambridge and St George's Medical School, University of London) and Vimukthi Kumaratunga (born 1982) is a Veterinary Surgeon University of Bristol, UK.Kumaratunga had a long feud with Lasantha Wickrematunge but the the two soon reconciled and became good friends.

See also


External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Dingiri Banda Wijetunge
President of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa
Preceded by
Ranil Wickremesinghe
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
Succeeded by
Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike


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