Sri Lanka’s First Female President

10 months ago / by Swarnendu Biswas
Chandrika Kumaratunga
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Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who is popularly known as Chandrika Kumaratunga, is a globally renowned politician from Sri Lanka. She is the only female President of Sri Lanka till now, and the second female Prime Minister of the island nation; the first being her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

While exploring about Chandrika Kumaratunga we can easily come to know that she was born on 29th June 1945 in Colombo, in a wealthy family with a rich track record of public service. The age of Chandrika Kumaratunga is 77 years. Her father Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike was the fourth Prime Minister of the Dominion of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and her mother was the world’s first female Prime Minister of a country.

Chandrika Kumaratunga completed her schooling from St Bridget’s Convent, Colombo. Thereafter she got admitted at the Roman Catholic Aquinas University College, Colombo to pursue a law degree. However, she left for France on a scholarship from the Institute of French Studies without completing her law degree. That was in 1967.

Academics Abroad

In France she studied for a year at the Institut d’études politiques d’Aix-en-Provence where she did a course in French language and culture. In 1968, she went to Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) from where she graduated with a diploma in political science two years later.

Following that she got admitted in a Phd program in Development Economics at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, University of Paris. She studied for the Phd program during 1970-73.

Induction to Public Service

After returning to Sri Lanka, she became enrolled in Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which her father founded in 1951. In 1974, she became an Executive Committee member of the party’s Women’s League.

Soon she was appointed as the Additional Principal Director in the Land Reforms Commission (LRC) in Sri Lanka, which acquired approximately 228,000 hectares of private land for the state under the Land Reform Law, a law which fixed a maximum ceiling of twenty hectares on privately owned land in Sri Lanka.

In fact, one can say that the land reforms initiated by the government led by her mother and the then PM of Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranaike gave the platform for Chandrika’s entry into active public service.

After leaving LRC she became the Chairwoman of the Janawasa Commission (1976-77) which did set up collective farms from the land acquired by LRC. The commission became instrumental in the settlement of several thousands of educated and undereducated youths.

After the trouncing of the SLFP party in the 1977 general election, Chandrika left her position with the Sri Lankan government and worked as a Consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations till 1979.

Leaving SLFP and the Country

Chandrika married Vijaya Kumaratunga in 1978, who was a prominent actor in Sri Lanka besides being a political activist of SLFP. She left SLFP in 1984 when her husband formed Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya party(SLMP). Chandrika served as the Vice President of SLMP.

Just four years later, on 16th February 1988, Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated in front of his home. Chandrika Kumaratunga briefly took over the leadership of SLMP, and eventually stitched up United Socialist Alliance with the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, and the Nava Sama Samaja Party. However, the alliance could not get much electoral success. Apprehending threat to her life, Chandrika fled from her nation and took refuge in the UK. During her absence SLMP was split into two factions and she was ousted from the party’s leadership.

Meteoric Rise to Power

Chandrika Kumaratunga re-entered politics of Sri Lanka in 1991 and re-joined Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Her growth in electoral politics is nothing short of meteoric. She entered electoral politics in the provincial council elections of Sri Lanka, which was held in May 1993. She was elected to the Western Provincial Council with a huge majority, and was appointed as the Chief Minister of the Western Province.

This was the just the beginning of her stupendous success story. Chandrika became the de facto leader of the SLFP and formed a coalition called People’s Alliance, which contested the general elections of 1994. In August 1994, Chandrika contested the general elections as People’s Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate and won with a majority. She became the second female Prime Minister of Sri Lanka when People Alliance’s government was formed a few days after the elections.

In the November month of the same year, the Presidential elections in the island nation was being held, for which she ran for the post of President as People Alliance’s candidate. Chandrika won 62.28 percent votes and became the first female President of Sri Lanka, just three years after her re-entry into politics. This accomplishment should be the most important aspect of the biography of Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Privatization and Grappling with Terror

As the fifth President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga emphasized on free market economy. Her first tenure as the President (1994-1999) was characterized by the privatization of state enterprises, many of which were already running in profit. She succeeded in getting the much-dreaded militant organization LTTE banned internationally, thereby impeding its funds flow. Despite the ongoing civil war and ethnic tensions, during her first tenure as the President Sri Lanka’s economy managed to grow.

She survived an assassination attempt by Tamil Tigers in December 1999 in which she lost vision in her right eye. That unfortunate incident happened when she was in her final election rally for her Presidential election. She was re-elected as the President of Sri Lanka for the second term by defeating Ranil Wickremasinghe.

During her second Presidential term, Sri Lanka slumped into recession in 2001, for the first time in its history. In December 2001, People’s Alliance lost the parliamentary election to UNP, and Ranil Wickremasinghe, who is her political opponent, became the PM of Sri Lanka’s though Chandrika continued to serve as the President of Sri Lanka till 19th November 2005, when her term ended.

To those who are curious to know about the net worth of Chandrika Kumaratunga, it would be interesting to know that according to her net worth is 6 million USD.


Who is Chandrika Kumaratunga married to?

She got married to Vijaya Kumaratunga in 1978.

What is the educational qualification of Chandrika Kumaratunga?

She is a graduate with a diploma in political science in 1970.

For how long Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President of Sri Lanka?

She served as the fifth President of Sri Lanka for two terms, that was from 12th November 1994 to 19th November 2005.