Chandrika Kumaratunga Biography

Chandrika Kumaratunga, the fifth President of Sri Lanka, is a prominent Sri Lankan politician who held office from late 1994 to 2005. As the only woman to have served as President of the country, she comes from a politically influential family, with both her parents having served as Prime Minister. Despite facing personal tragedies, including the assassinations of her father and husband, Kumaratunga led the Sri Lanka Freedom Party for over a decade. During her presidency, she focused on privatizing state enterprises and combating corruption through the implementation of new laws and institutions. Additionally, she advocated for a free market economy and worked towards mitigating the ongoing civil war through negotiations and peace talks, aiming to create a more multicultural society in Sri Lanka.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
  • Age: 78 Years, 78 Year Old Females
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Vijaya Kumaranatunga
    • Father: S. W. R. D. Bandaranaikemother
    • Mother: Sirimavo Bandaranaikesiblings
    • Siblings: Anura Bandaranaike, Sunethra Bandaranaike
    • Children: Vimukthi Kumaratunga, Yasodhara Kumaratunga Walker
  • Presidents
  • Prime Ministers
  • Notable Alumni: Institut D’études Politiques D’Aix-en-Provence, Institut D’Études Politiques De Paris
  • City: Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Education: Institut D’Études Politiques De Paris, Institut D’études Politiques D’Aix-en-Provence

Childhood & Early Life

Chandrika Kumaratunga was born on June 29, 1945, to S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike as one of their three children. Her father was serving as a senior minister at the time of her birth and later became the Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). She attended St Bridget’s Convent in Colombo. However, 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 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and became the Prime Minister of Ceylon on July 21, 1960, making history as the first woman to hold such a position in the world. Chandrika’s elder sister Sunethra is a renowned philanthropist, and her brother Anura was a former minister and Speaker of Parliament of Sri Lanka.

Education and Early Career

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. During her time in France, she remained active during the 1968 student occupation protests and underwent political journalist training from the Le Monde newspaper. She also pursued her PhD studies in Development Economics at the University of Paris from 1970 to 1973. However, she later returned to Sri Lanka and joined politics.


Chandrika became an active member of the SLFP and joined the party’s Women’s League in 1974 as an executive committee member. She gained a platform to enter active public service through the Land Reform Program launched by her mother’s government during the 1970s. From 1972 to 1976, she served as the Principal Director of the Land Reforms Commission, and from 1976 to 1977, she remained Chairman of the Janawasa Commission. She also worked as an Expert Consultant for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization from 1976 to 1979.

In 1984, Chandrika left the SLFP and supported her husband, actor cum politician Vijaya Kumaratunga, in setting up the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (Sri Lanka People’s Party). However, 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 center of the United Nations University. She returned to Sri Lanka in 1991 at the behest of her mother Sirimavo and rejoined the 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 with an unprecedented majority.

During the Parliamentary General Elections held on August 16, 1994, Chandrika contested as a member of the People’s Alliance party and 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 the United National Party (UNP). Subsequently, she contested for the presidential election held on November 9, 1994, and got a landslide victory, becoming the fifth President of Sri Lanka on November 12, 1994.

Presidency and Later Career

Initially, Chandrika 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 from the separatists continued unabated, she resorted to a strict strategy involving the military. She called for a presidential election in October 1999, ahead of the original schedule, and won the election held on December 21, 1999. During the election campaign, the Tamil Tigers made an assassination attempt on her, resulting in her losing vision in her right eye. She took charge of office from December 22, 1999.

During her tenure as President, the People’s Alliance lost parliamentary elections to the UNP in December 2001, paving the way for her political opponent Wickremasinghe to become the new Prime Minister. She had a strained political relationship with Wickremasinghe and his government, marked by frequent clashes. In pursuit of her goals, she called for a 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), resulting in the defeat of the UNP. Sri Lanka faced the devastating tsunami in 2004 during her tenure.

Chandrika 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, Chandrika married famous matinee idol and politician Vijaya Kumaratunga. However, on February 16, 1988, Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated outside his home in the outskirts of Colombo in front of his wife and children. The couple has 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.

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