COLOMBO: Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who has been in the political wilderness since 2005 when the Supreme Court refused to extend her second and last term to November 2006, is now back again at the centre of the Lankan political stage.
It was Kumaratunga who made Maithripala Sirisena the Joint Opposition Candidate in the January 8 Presidential election and helped knit together the grand anti-Mahinda Rajapaksa alliance which put Sirisena in the Presidency.
While keeping out of the power struggle in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Kumaratunga continues to be a link between Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But most importantly, she is in charge of ethnic reconciliation, seen by other leaders as a poisoned chalice.
After failing to keep Rajapaksa out in 2005, Kumaratunga severed all ties with the SLFP and pledged not to return to “dirty politics”. But, she availed of every opportunity to tear into the Rajapaksa government, especially the callous way in which it treated Tamil civilians during Eelam War IV.
An end to her decade-long self-exile was brought about by a sharp turn in the Lankan situation in 2014, when euphoria over the war victory faded, and Lankans were yearning to see a less arrogant ruler. Rajapaksa’s decision to seek an early mandate in January 2015, provided the perfect setting for Kumaratunga’s return.
She secretly knit together an anti-Rajapaksa coalition, persuaded protégé Sirisena to contest, dissuaded United National Party (UNP) honcho Ranil Wickremesinghe from contesting, arguing that Sirisena, and not he, would match Rajapaksa’s religious and cultural appeal. Kumaratunga got the support of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), and the Muslim parties.
Having engineered the downfall of archrival Rajapaksa, Kumaratunga retreated from active politicking, but she is believed to be mediating between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Her main responsibility, however, is ethnic reconciliation.