Bandaranaike dynasty on the brink of victory

THE LEFT-WING Peoples' Alliance won most parliamentary seats in Sri Lanka's elections on Tuesday, but fell short of an outright majority. Both the alliance (PA) and its closest rival, the United National Party (UNP), were scrambling last night to secure support of the smaller ethnic parties to form a government.

After 17 years in opposition, the PA, led by Chandrika Kumaratunga, daughter of two former prime ministers, stood on the edge of victory over the autocratic UNP which she claimed had tried to assassinate her during last month's violent campaign.

Her party won 105 out of 225 parliamentary seats, while President D B Wijetunga's UNP took 94 seats. If Mrs Kumaratunga patches togther a majority among the Muslims, the Tamils and the far-left parties, it could be a weak and unstable government. A UNP government would be just as fragile. The President is expected to summon Mrs Kumaratunga to his residence today for consultations.

Authorities yesterday extended an island-wide curfew by 24 hours to avoid any violence arising from political uncertainty. In the capital, Colombo, where police and troops guard every major crossroad, the roads along the seafront are empty except for army jeeps. The precautions are to prevent Tamil separatists, who vowed to thwart the elections, from setting off bombs in the capital. More than 4,000 British holiday-goers are trapped by the curfew, most of them confined to seaside hotels.

Through an anomaly caused by the island's civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil ethnic minority - which meant that 20,000 voters in the besieged Jaffna district determined the fate of 10 crucial seats - the third most powerful party in Sri Lanka is the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party. It is more a paramilitary force, armed by the outgoing UNP-government, than a political party. Human rights monitors allege that the EPDP was used by the late President Premadasa to dispose of his enemies. Its revolutionary chief wears two pistols and likes to scare visitors by keeping a live grenade on his desk.

Mrs Kumaratunga is most likely to gain backing from the Muslim Congress, which won seven seats. She could win a majority of 113 with the Muslims' support, plus a few independent MPs and an ethnic party, the Tamil United Liberation Front. But the UNP is also courting the Muslims with the lure of cabinet portfolios. It is possible that Mr Wijetunga, using his leverage as President, will try by any means to finagle for his UNP another six-year term. Mr Wijetunga said yesterday he would choose as next prime minister the party leader who 'in his opinion' could best form a government.

The UNP's defeat came despite having the state machinery at its disposal. It also snatched the best party symbol - the elephant - while the PA was represented by a stiff-backed empty chair. More than 20 people died in campaign violence, nearly all members of the PA. But election day was calm. Opposition parties concede that the polling was impartial and fair.

Mrs Kumaratunga, 48, is a quick-witted woman who shied away from politics for as long as she could. Both her prime minister father, SWRD Bandaranaike, and then her husband were assassinated. It was only after the coaxing of her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, that she returned to do battle against the UNP.

She remained the dutiful daughter until the last election campaign began. Her ailing 78-year-old mother was forced to leave for medical treatment in Singapore, and Mrs Kumaratunga emerged as the PA's best crowd-puller. She was more charismatic than her mother, and her fighter's instincts are more finely honed. She had earlier driven her brother, Anura, from the party, but he was snapped up by the UNP and made a cabinet minister.

Under pressure from the PA lieutenants, Mrs Bandaranaike named her daughter as acting leader only a week before elections. Then her son and another daughter tried to persuade her to reverse her decision. Mrs Kumaratunga was left dangling until a compromise was agreed that, if elected, her mother would stand for president. Although a family of wealthy landowners, the Bandaranaikes nationalised the tea estates and private industries in the 1970s. Mrs Kumaratunga learned her politics while studying in Paris. She speaks wistfully of fighting on the barricades during the 1968 student uprising in Paris, but her socialism now is diluted by free-market capitalism.

In a show of solidarity, her mother joined Mrs Kumaratunga to vote in a village near the family home. It was difficult to see either woman, since they were surrounded by bodyguards. Fanatical Tamil suicide bombers are a worry for all Sri Lankan politicians. Tamils killed not only the late president Ranasinghe Premadasa but also India's Rajiv Gandhi.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz