Kumaratunga, Chandrika Bandaranaike (1945—)

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Kumaratunga, Chandrika Bandaranaike (1945—)

President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka . Name variations: Chandra Bandaranaike. Born on June 29, 1945, in Colombo, Sri Lanka; daughter of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and prime minister of Sri Lanka from 1956 until his assassination on September 26, 1959) and Sirimavo Bandaranaike (b. 1916, first elected woman prime minister in the world); schooled at St. Bridget's Convent in Colombo, Sri Lanka; studied for LLB, law degree; awarded diploma in group leadership-EPHE

from the University of Paris; studied for Ph.D. in development economics at the University of Paris; granted degree in political science from the University of Paris; married Vijaya Kumaratunga (a leading opposition figure and film idol), on February 20, 1978 (assassinated February 16, 1988); children: daughter,Yasodara Kumaratunga ; son, Vimukti Kumaratunga.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was born on June 29, 1945, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike , who both served as prime ministers of Sri Lanka. Chandrika received an excellent education, mostly in France, and is fluent in Sinhala, English and French. On February 20, 1978, she married Vijaya Kumaratunga; the couple had two children, a daughter Yasodara and a son Vimukti.

No stranger to violence, Chandrika Kumaratunga has seen both her father and her husband assassinated for their political beliefs. Following S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's death in September 1959, Chandrika's mother, Sirimavo, assumed power. After holding a number of posts in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had founded, and serving as president of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), Kumaratunga emerged as a leader of the People's Alliance in the early 1990s. She was elected Sri Lanka's prime minister in August 1994 and a few months later, in November, became the first female president of Sri Lanka. She then appointed her mother to serve once again as prime minister. On December 21, 1999, Kumaratunga won a second term as president, although she was elected by a much smaller majority.

In 1994, Kumaratunga had campaigned with a promise to stop the bitter ethnic civil war between the Sinhalese, who are a majority of the population, and the Tamils (minority). She has met with mixed results. In 1995, talks with the Tamil Tigers, a separatist guerilla group also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), broke down and a cease-fire was called off. The result has been continued fighting in a war that has claimed more than 60,000 lives. Most seem to agree that any solution that keeps Sri Lanka whole will involve devolution of power to the Tamils. Failing to reach a peaceful solution, Kumaratunga vowed to wage an aggressive military campaign against the Tamils following her reelection in 1999. The outcome was an immediate upsurge in fighting with huge government losses of troops and territory.

Fearing for her life, Kumaratunga lives in a fortified house in Colombo. Her fears are well founded, for at her final campaign rally before the 1999 presidential elections, she was wounded in an explosion during a suicide bombing attack. After doctors removed shrapnel from her eye, she vowed to continue the fight against terrorism.


"Injured Sri Lankan Leader Urges Tamils to Help End Terrorism," in The New York Times. December 20, 1999.

Mydans, Seth, "Wounded Sri Lankan Sees 'Gift of Gods' in Re-election," in The New York Times. December 23, 1999.

"Sri Lanka Wants Peace, Perhaps," in The Economist. December 18, 1999.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont