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SRI LANKA-POLITICS: KUMARATUNGA IS FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT

RITA SEBASTIAN

COLOMBO, Nov 10 1994 (IPS) - PRIME MINISTER CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA THURSDAY BECAME SRI LANKA’S FIRST WOMAN EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT, DEFEATING HER NEAREST UNITED NATIONAL PARTY (UNP) RIVAL, SRIMA DISSANAYAKE, BY AN OVERWHELMING MARGIN OF MORE THAN TWO MILLION VOTES.

THE COUNTRY REVERBERATED WITH THE SOUND OF FIRECRACKERS AS KUMARATUNGA’S PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE (PA) COALITION SUPPORTERS CELEBRATED HER LANDSLIDE WIN THAT SAW HER ROMP HOME WITH NEARLY 63 PERCENT OF THE TOTAL VOTE.

ADDRESSING THE NATION SOON AFTER ELECTION COMMISSIONER CHANDRANANDA DE SILVA DECLARED HER ELECTED, KUMARATUNGA SAID, “THIS VICTORY IS NOT MY VICTORY BUT THE VICTORY OF THE PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED POLITICAL INTIMIDATION, VIOLENCE AND THE TERROR TACTICS PERPETRATED BY THE FORMER REGIME.”

“THE VERDICT AT THIS ELECTION IS CLEARLY FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS,” THE NEW PRESIDENT SAID, PROMISING TO KEEP TO HER JULY 15, 1995 DEADLINE OF ABOLISHING THE PRESIDENCY THAT CONFERS AUTHORITARIAN POWERS ON THE INCUMBENT.

KUMARATUNGA, WHO IS THE NATION’S FOURTH EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT AFTER J R JAYEWARDENE, RANASINGHE PREMADASA AND D B WIJETUNGA — ALL OF WHOM BELONGED TO THE UNP — HAD PROMISED TO ABOLISH THE POST BEFORE THE AUGUST PARLIAMENTARY POLLS THAT SAW HER BECOME PRIME MINISTER.

MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, THE NEW PRESIDENT INTERPRETED HER VICTORY AS A CLEAR MANDATE TO CONTINUE THE PEACE PROCESS THAT SHE HAD INITIATED WITH MINORITY TAMIL TIGERS WAGING AN 11-YEAR-OLD WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE IN THE COUNTRY’S NORTH AND EAST.

PEACE TALKS WITH THE TIGERS HAD TO BE SUSPENDED FOLLOWING THE OCT 24 ASSASSINATION OF UNP LEADER AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, GAMINI DISSANAYAKE, WIDELY BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN KILLED BY A TIGER SUICIDE BOMBER.

THE UNP’S NEW CANDIDATE, GAMINI DISSANAYAKE’S WIDOW, SRIMA, AND THE ENTIRE PARTY LEADERSHIP HAD SLAMMED KUMARATUNGA FOR “GIVING TOO MANY CONCESSIONS” TO THE TIGERS AND HAD MADE THE TIGER ISSUE ONE OF THE MAJOR PLANKS IN THEIR ELECTION CAMPAIGN.

“THIS (VICTORY) IS SIGNIFICANT IN THE FACE OF THE DANGEROUS CAMPAIGN BY THE OPPOSITION UNP TO GAIN A FEW VOTES,” KUMARATUNGA SAID.

BUT KUMARATUNGA ALSO SAID POLICE HAD BEEN GIVEN STRICT INSTRUCTIONS TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST THE PERPETRATORS OF THE ASSASSINATION AND PROMISED TO ABOLISH TERRORISM TO “BUILD A SOCIETY OF HUMANE VALUES”.

 
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