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.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • 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: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'