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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk