Death hangs over election in Sri Lanka: Tim McGirk reports from Colombo on the blood-spattered campaign which ends tomorrow

IT IS difficult to find a candidate in the Sri Lankan elections who does not have a murder in the family. On this seemingly tranquil island of coral sand beaches and sleeping Buddhas, politics is a deadly game.

It is also a game played by widows. Campaigning in tomorrow's general election are four women whose husbands, all politicians, have been assassinated either by terrorists or rivals. Nor is chivalry much in evidence. Several of the widows believe they too could die as viciously as their men did.

Foremost among them is Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is leading the Peoples' Alliance effort to unseat the United National Party (UNP), which has ruled Sri Lankan politics for the past 17 tumultuous years. Her prime minister father, S W R D Bandaranaike, was shot dead in 1959, and so was her husband in 1988. Now, as her party stands on the brink of sweeping the UNP out of office, she is convinced that her foes have hired two contract killers to finish her off.

'I ask myself why I'm doing this,' said Mrs Kumaratunga yesterday. She is an earthy woman, 48, with a wry laugh and has a weakness for saris of vivid turqouise and gold. 'Afraid is not the word. But I'm constantly aware that I could be killed in the next few minutes.' She claimed the police stopped their hunt for the two would-be assassins when the trail seemed to be heading towards the Colombo palace of the UNP President of Sri Lanka, D B Wijetunga.

The UNP have dismissed Mrs Kumaratunga's allegations as paranoia, yet the ruling party has a legacy of thuggishness that lingers from the Premadasa era when tens of thousands were killed in a crackdown on island left-wingers. Nearly all the 19 murder victims in this month-long campaign for 225 parliamentary seats were workers of Mrs Kumaratunga's party, gunned down on jungle roads.

The race is close. Some opinion polls predict a hung parliament; if so, it will be the first since Sri Lanka achieved independence from Britain in 1948. But the left-wing Peoples' Alliance claim that if they do not win it is because the voting will be rigged against them. The excuse is convenient but perhaps correct. Many of the senior police and army officers, who will oversee the voting, are worried that if Mrs Kumaratunga wins, she will prosecute them for atrocities during the 1988-89 left-wing uprising.

Even if the balloting is fair, Mrs Kumaratunga is not guaranteed a victory. Her Peoples' Alliance has been weakened by a three-way dynastic struggle. The Bandaranaike family has towered over Sri Lanka, but is now wrenched apart by a feud between mother, daughter and son.

The three may live in the same posh estate of colonial mansions, called Rosmead Place in Colombo, but Mrs Kumaratunga has few words to share with her mother - a former prime minister, now 78 - and even fewer with her Oxford-educated brother, Anura. He crossed over to the UNP party in a huff when it became apparent that his charismatic sister was gaining control of the party.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn