Dubai: Referred to as the ‘Queen’ by many in Sri Lanka, and with politics running in her veins from a very early age, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was Sri Lanka’s first and only female president till date. Political traits and a determined spirit pushed her from being provincial chief minister to prime minister and finally to become Sri Lanka’s fifth president — all of these achieved within just two years.
When Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power as president of Sri Lanka for the first time in 1994, her family credentials for the job were undeniable. Born to one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent political families, and as second daughter to two prime ministers, her father, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, was prime minister (1956-59) of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka). Upon her father’s assassination in 1959, her mother, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, became the world’s first female prime minister — after her husband’s assassination in 1959. Politics clearly ran through the veins of the children. Kumaratunga’s younger brother, Anura Bandaranaike, was a politician as well. Yet, the family did not speak in one political voice.
In 1978, she married Vijaya Kumaratunga, a popular film star who founded Sri Lanka People’s Party with Chandrika as its vice-president. However, in February 1988, Vijaya was assassinated, leaving her as a single mother of two; Yasodhara Kumaratunga Walker (born 1980) and Vimukthi Kumaratunga (born 1982).
Although her father died when she was 14 and she was subjected to an assassination attempt on the eve of presidential elections which caused the loss of sight in one of her eyes, those difficulties never bogged her down.
When she was campaigning for presidency in 1999, she described her attitude to danger: “I have stopped worrying about my security because if I did, I wouldn’t do anything else. I would be shivering in my boots [laughs] — I leave that to my security people and hope for the best.”
She became president for the second time — four days after the assassination attempt.
During her time in power, entrepreneurs in northern Jaffna — the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka — manufactured bangles that came to be known as ‘Chandrika Bangles’. Indeed, Kumaratunga’s ability to attract the public and create awareness about the advantages of power-sharing is considered one of her biggest achievements, even by her most severe critics.
— The writer is an intern at Gulf News.