Childhood & Early Life
She was born on June 29, 1945 to S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike as one of their three children. At the time of her birth, her father was serving as a senior minister and later became Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
She attended ‘St Bridget's Convent’ in Colombo. While she was in school her father was assassinated by a Buddhist monk on September 26, 1959.
After her father’s death, her mother Sirimavo led ‘Sri Lanka Freedom Party’ (‘SLFP’). On July 21, 1960 Sirimavo became the Prime Minister of Ceylon, making history as the first woman to hold such position in the world.
Chandrika’s elder sister Sunethra is a renowned philanthropist, who operates the ‘Sunera Trust’ and brother Anura, who died in March 2008, was a former minister and also remained Speaker of Parliament of Sri Lanka. She had a strained relationship with her brother.
Chandrika studied law at ‘Aquinas University College’ in Colombo. She received a scholarship at the ‘University of Paris’ and studied political science and international relations at the ‘Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris’. In 1970 she completed her graduation and also did a diploma course from the university.
She remained active during the 1968 student occupation protests in France.
She underwent a political journalist training from the ‘Le Monde’ newspaper.
During 1970 to 1973 she pursued her PhD studies at the ‘University of Paris’ in Development Economics, but later came back to Sri Lanka and joined politics.
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She became an active member of ‘SLFP’ and joined the party’s ‘Women’s League’ in 1974 as an executive committee member.
The ‘Land Reform Program’ launched by her mother’s government during the 1970s gave her a platform to enter in active public service. From 1972 to 1976 she served as Principal Director of the ‘Land Reforms Commission’.
Thereafter from 1976 to 1977 she remained Chairman of the ‘Janawasa Commission’.
She also remained an Expert Consultant for the ‘United Nation’s’ ‘Food and Agriculture Organization’ from 1976 to 1979.
She left ‘SLFP’ and supported her husband, actor cum politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, in setting up ‘Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya’ (Sri Lanka People's Party) in 1984.
After her husband’s assassination in February 1988, she left Sri Lanka and went to the UK with her children. There she served the ‘World Institute for Development Economics Research’, the first training and research centre of the ‘United Nations University’.
She returned to Sri Lanka sometime around 1991 at the behest of her mother Sirimavo and rejoined ‘SLFP’. She played an active role in helping her party achieve a historic win at the May 1993 Southern Provincial Council Elections marking her entry into electoral politics.
In 1993, she was elected the Chief Minister of ‘Western Province of Sri Lanka’, the largest province of Sri Lanka, with an unprecedented majority.
During the Parliamentary General Elections held on August 16, 1994, Chandrika contested as the ‘People’s Alliance’ party member as also its Prime Ministerial candidate. The ‘People’s Alliance’ won by a huge margin and Chandrika became the Prime Minister on August 19, 1994, marking an end to the seventeen years rule of ‘United National Party’ (‘UNP’).
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Subsequently she contested for presidential election held on November 9, 1994 and got a landslide victory defeating ‘UNP’ candidate Late Gamini Dissanayake’s widow, Srima Dissanayake.
On November 12, 1994, she officially gave up the post of Prime Minister and took charge as the fifth President of Sri Lanka. On November 14, 1994 she inducted her mother Sirimavo as the Prime Minister.
Initially she took conciliatory and diplomatic steps by initiating negotiation and peace talks to tackle the ongoing civil war between the separatist terror group the ‘Tamil Tigers’ (LTTE’) and the government. However, when violence of the separatists continued unabated, she resorted to a strict strategy involving military.
She called for a presidential election in October 1999, ahead of original schedule and accordingly election was held on December 21, 1999. During an election campaign the ‘Tamil Tigers’ made an assassination attempt on her on December 18, 1999 at the Town Hall premises in Colombo due to which she lost vision in her right eye.
She won the presidential election defeating Ranil Wickremasinghe and took charge of office from December 22, 1999.
During her tenure as President, the ‘People’s Alliance’ lost parliamentary elections to ‘UNP’, held in December 2001 that paved way for her political opponent Wickremasinghe to become the new Prime Minister.
She had a strained political relation with Wickremasinghe and his government that was marked with frequent clashes. She attacked Wickremasinghe and his government for showing too much leniency in tackling the ‘LLTE’.
In this pursuit she called for fresh election which was held on April 2, 2004. It saw a historic coalition of her ‘People’s Alliance’ with the ‘Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’ forming the ‘United People's Freedom Alliance’ (‘UPFA’) that resulted in defeat of ‘UNP’. Mahinda Rajapaksa became the new Prime Minister replacing Wickremasinghe.
Sri Lanka was faced the devastating tsunami in 2004 during her tenure.
She made a formal announcement of her comeback in active politics in a press conference on November 21, 2014.
She is one of the members of the ‘Council of Women World Leaders’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1978 she married famous matinee idol and politician Vijaya Kumaratunga.
On February 16, 1988, Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated outside his home in the outskirts of Colombo in front of his wife and children by one Lionel Ranasinghe alias Gamini. The responsibility of the murder was claimed by extremist Marxist ‘Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’ (‘JVP’).
The couple have two children - Yasodhara Kumaratunga Walker, born in 1980, is a doctor and Vimukthi Kumaratunga, born in 1982, is a veterinary surgeon. Both of them live in the UK.