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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor