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President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had more than her fair share of personal tragedy in life. She was a school girl when her father Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by political opponents. Her charismatic film idol cum politician husband Wijaya Kumaratunga whom she married in 1978 was also slain by political opponents in 1988. The president and her brother Anura have had a troubled, jealous relationship, for various reasons.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was born to one of Sri Lankas most distinguished families on 29th June 1945. Her father, SWRD Bandaranaike, was a senior Minister of the Government at the time of her birth. He was later to become the Prime Minister of the country, while her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was to become the worlds first woman Prime Minister in 1961.

The Land Reform Program in the 1970s under the government of her mother Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike provided the avenue for President Kumaratungas entry into active public service. She served as a Director and as the Principal Director of the Land Reforms Commission (1972-1976), subsequently becoming Chairman of the Janawasa Commission (1976-1977). This Commission was responsible for the settlement of several thousands of educated and under-educated youths under the Janawasa Commission law. During the years from 1976 to 1979, Kumaratunga also served as one of the FAOs panel of Expert Consultants.

President Kumaratunga inherited the liberal political philosophy of her father, the late SWRD Bandaranaike. In her student days in Paris, she was also greatly influenced by the radical student movement of the 1960s. The abiding element of that influence in today's vastly changed world circumstances was her deep commitment to the welfare of the deprived, the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. Her unshakable commitment to the imperatives of a plural society was the other consistent strategy in her approach to politics. She had been a full time political activist from her early youth, establishing grass root contacts far and wide throughout the country.

The Provincial Council Elections held in May 1993 represented President Kumaratunga's first entry to electoral politics. She was elected to the Western Provincial Council with an unprecedented majority, and was appointed the Chief Minister of the Province, the country's largest. In August 1994, she contested the Parliamentary General Elections as a member of the Peoples Alliance party, and as the People's Aliance's Prime Ministerial candidate. She was elected to Parliament by an overwhelming majority, and was appointed Prime Minister in the Peoples Alliance government that was formed on August 19th, 1994. In the Presidential Elections held shortly thereafter in November 1994, she contested as the Peoples Alliance candidate. She was elected President obtaining a record 62% of the votes cast.

She called for early presidential elections on December 21, 1999 after only five years in office, a move permitted under in the Constitution. Winning her second term against United National Party (UNP) challenger Ranil Wickremesinghe, the President took her second oath of office immediately on December 22, 1999. She had been injured on December 18 in an assassination attempt by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and many interlocutors say, at the time, there had been a question of her fitness to rule. Kumaratunga lost her eye in the attack and immediately went abroad for medical treatment.

Kumaratunga had a reputation for volatile and unpredictable behavior, making her position even more difficult. Observers said that while she was always mercurial that trait has gotten worse since the LTTE's failed attempt to assassinate her in December 1999 (she lost an eye in the bomb attack). The President's behavior fluctuated since the attack, but has generally veered toward vitriolic, hard-edged attacks on those who somehow displease her. By 2003 this trend was only getting worse. That said, she could have good days.

Kumaratunga gave a speech on 14 October 2003 at the World Economic Forum in which she criticized developed nations, stating, in part: "We do not comprehend how rich nations demand of us to abandon to the whims of the global markets vulnerable sectors of our society when they practice extensive protectionist policies in their own countries." The speech received considerable local publicity and was contrasted with the cooperative approach of the Sri Lankan delegation at the recent World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun. In the face of domestic criticism of the speech, the president's advisers later backpedaled a bit, asserting that she was not speaking out against bilateral or regional free trade agreements.

The President and her aides complained that the government had not involved them in the peace process with the LTTE although she began the effort when she came to power in 1994 and brought the Norwegian facilitators in to work on the matter. The President also complained that she was not asked her opinion of the ceasefire accord with the LTTE before it was signed. Feeling little ownership of the process, the President and her advisors felt free to attack how it is being run, asserting that the Tigers are regularly violating the ceasefire accord with impunity even as their military forces grow in size and strength.

President Kumaratunga's 4-5 November 2003 bombshell moves of firing ministers, suspending Parliament, and declaring an emergency have placed the spotlight on Sri Lanka's deep cohabitation divisions. Although Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had been the most dynamic political leader in the country since his United National Party (UNP) was elected to power in December 2001, it is the case that the Constitution gave the President's office overwhelming executive powers. Without Parliament being in session, the PM did not have the ability to proceed with long-prepared plans to try to impeach the President and the Chief Justice on abuse of power charges. With the President's imposition of a state of emergency on 05 November 2003, no demonstrations or rallies or other political work could take place without the approval of the Interior Ministry, which is now under her control.

The President had a bitter relationship with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for years. They do not get along for many reasons: their personal chemistry is awful; they are of different political persuasions; they each come from political dynasties that have opposed each other since even before the country gained independence in 1948, etc. Given their horrific relationship, many neutral observers believed that the President was deeply jealous that the PM is getting the credit for the peace process.

The PM was known to be upset by the President's semi-regular verbal assaults on his government: She characterized the PM's desire to take back the Defense Ministry as "a joke," for example; In the past, she also referred to members of his government as "donkeys," "dogs," and "clowns in a circus." A group of the PM's ministers -- G.L. Peiris, Ravi Karunanayake, S.B. Dissanayake, and others -- had been at the forefront of the drafting of impeachment articles against the President on corruption and abuse of power charges. Although these charges had not been brought before Parliament (the UNP knew it cannot get the two- thirds support needed for passage at this time), the President was known to be extremely angry over the whole matter.

By early 2004 a dispute had arisen as to the exact length of President Kumaratunga's term in office. The details were confusing, but the President was sworn into office for her second, and final, six-year term in December 1999. Her call for presidential elections in the fall of 1999, however, came one year prior to the end of her first presidential term (1994-2000). While it was widely assumed that her second term would end in late 2005 (six years from the 1999 election), the President apparently believed that she was entitled to the full six years of both terms (i.e., her current term in office would end in late 2006).

On 26 August 2005 a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that presidential elections must take place between October 28 and November 22, 2005. Presidential elections were held in November 2005, with Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming President, and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake becoming Prime Minister.

In taking the steps she had, and assessing the ramifications, however, it was questionable whether the President was receiving accurate information. Kumaratunga was in a bit of a cocoon, which was partly due to very real security concerns and partly of her own choosing. One aspect of this was that she was not out and about meeting new people and seeing things first hand. Rather, she appeared highly reliant on a small network of supporters who basically seemed to tell her only what she wanted to hear. Her supporters, for example, may have been telling her that her party can win elections, a proposition that most observers saw as doubtful. Armed with information that she thought was reliable, but may well be flawed, Kumaratunga -- a fiercely proud person with a volatile personality -- did not appear set to back down.

On 10 December 2006, former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her brother Anura Bandaranaike, currently the Minister of Tourism, hosted a lunch for 200 supporters in the Gampaha District 30 miles north of Colombo. Kumaratunga complained about her ouster as chairperson of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and said she will re-enter the political arena by April 2007. Many presumed this to mean Kumaratunga will make a bid for leadership of the SLFP, a party the Bandaranaike clan have historically dominated.

Kumaratunga was often criticized (usually with good grounds) for short-term, ad hoc thinking, impulsiveness and inattention to detail. This proclivity usually put her at a disadvantage with adversaries like the LTTE and JVP, both masters of long-term, strategic planning.

One encountered a regal attitude in CBK often. It was very annoying. Did she ever think anything that she didn't say? Sometimes, indeed, CBK seemed to be speaking in the arrogant manner of one who believes every thought she has is expressible. The assessment of her by John Hume, the Irish Nobel laureate, was to the point: "The woman is crazy, as self-absorbed as any human being I've ever met!" Observers did not think she was nuts because she frequently coud be cogent but she did seem occasionally to be diagonally parked across sanity's border. Perhaps that is understandable given the personal tragedies she had endured in her life, including a near-death experience with an LTTE suicide bomber.

While she was not anti-U.S. per se, President Kumaratunga -- who shared a very tense cohabitation relationship with the PM -- was not particularly friendly to US international positions on issues as diverse as Iraq, climate change, the ICC, general North/South affairs, etc. Kumaratunga's stance seemed to be strongly influenced by the fact that her parents, who were both prime ministers, were advocates of NAM-type thinking on the international stage. The president's Sorbonne education also appears to have affected her and she is quite pro-French. As could be expected, the president's PA party basically mirrored her perspectives.





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