Sri Lanka’s current crisis is not of recent origin. It developed over a couple of decades and took a turn for the worse about one and a half years ago, culminating in the bankruptcy of the economy. The blame for what has befallen the country and the people’s suffering should therefore be apportioned to successive governments and their leaders, albeit to varying degrees, the worst culprits being the present-day leaders.

There have been eight Executive Presidents in this country, and five of them are among the living—Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK), Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe. There is no way they could absolve themselves of responsibility for the country’s predicament. So, the public tends to take the boastful claims of these leaders and their gratuitous advice with a pinch of salt.

CBK has her fair share of critics, who level various allegations against her, but her reading of the current situation is of interest. She has, in a recent interview with Sirasa TV ( provided some perceptive insights into the ongoing political debate on what needs to be done for the country to come out of the present crisis. She also offered some unsolicited advice to President Wickremesinghe. This comment is based on the salient points of the interview.

What should Ranil do?

CBK thinks President Wickremesinghe is a prisoner of the SLPP, and has had to work with a bunch of corrupt politicians the people are desirous of getting rid of. Of the politicians rejected by the people, only the members of the Rajapaksa family are not in the current administration, according to her. What she has not mentioned is that the Rajapaksas have retained control over the government through the SLPP parliamentary group. In fact, they are still wielding power without holding ministerial positions.

Kumaratunga’s assessment of President Wickremesinghe’s political difficulties is accurate. He is dependent on the SLPP for parliamentary support, without which he will become a mere figurehead to all intents and purposes. He therefore cannot act independently.

What does CBK think President Wickremesinghe should do? She has said that if she were in his position, she would not hesitate to go for a general election. President Wickremesinghe is now constitutionally empowered to dissolve Parliament at a time of his choosing. But she thinks he is wary of doing so for fear of an electoral setback; he is laboring under the perception that the IMF bailout will help stabilize the economy to a considerable extent in a year or so, and then the time will be opportune for an election.

Devolution dilemma

Why has President Wickremesinghe chosen to implement the 13th Amendment fully. Has he got his priorities mixed up? Or, is he trying to win over the Tamil political parties with an eye to the next presidential election he is going to contest? CBK has advocated the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and this is the best time for doing so.

CBK has said, in the aforesaid interview, she sees no reason why the Provincial Councils should not be given the land and police powers, which the Constitution provides for. A former Chief Minister, she is of the view that the fear that the devolution of those powers will provide a boost to secessionist forces is baseless, for there are robust constitutional safeguards that ensure government control over them.

CBK has questioned President Wickremesinghe’s wisdom of offering to implement the 13th Amendment fully while the Provincial Councils are without elected representatives. She thinks he should hold the Provincial Councils elections—at least in the North—so that the police and land powers can be devolved, by way of a reassurance to the Tamil people that their interests are being taken care of.

Since the 13th Amendment is part of the Constitution, it has to be implemented, and all that is necessary for its implementation is political will, CBK has said. She however stopped short of explaining why she, as the President (1994-2005), did not do what she is asking the incumbent President to do. That question should have been put to her. She only said she tried to introduce a new Constitution in 2000, but failed because the UNP had reneged on its pledge to vote for it, following a series of discussion on it for five to six months. She said she had needed only seven more votes to secure the passage of the draft Constitution in the parliament with a special majority.

The Opposition MPs, especially the UNP members, threw the House into turmoil in protest, and some of them literally set the copies of the draft Constitution on fire in the parliament. Their noisy protests did not help CBK from speaking, but she failed to muster enough votes.

Missed opportunities

CBK has said Wickremesinghe squandered an opportunity to get rid of the SLPP politicians and be in a position to serve the interests of the people much better. She thinks he should have waited a week or so without taking over the reins of government so that the SLPP politicians would have had to ‘plunge into the sea’ amidst mass protests; he would have become the people’s choice for the presidency anyway, as the most experienced alternative leader. Today, he has his hands tied. If he had been wise enough to wait a little longer, he would have had a clean slate to work on without being dependent on some disgraced politicians for parliamentary support, CBK has argued.

The country would have gained tremendously if a truly national government had been formed instead of the continuation of the same old SLPP administration under a new President, CBK has said, claiming that she worked out a plan to achieve that goal. Her plan, she says, included the establishment of an institution similar to the Council of State in France to accommodate the representatives of the protesting youth, professional organizations such as the FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations), trade unions and civil society outfits. Such an arrangement would have been the best response to the protesters’ call for ousting all 225 MPs.

Kumaratunga has said that on April 11, 2022, she convened a meeting at the BMICH to discuss ways and means of forming a national unity government for a period of six months to one year, and all political parties except the JVP and the UNP had been represented there.

Admission of mistake

CBK was one of the political leaders who were instrumental in forming the Yahapalana government with Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President and the Prime Minister respectively in 2015. But that administration failed to live up the people’s expectations and stood accused of corruption.

What has CBK got to say about her choice of Sirisena as the President? She has said she made a big mistake. She said she had come under pressure from the then Opposition, civil society organizations and religious dignitaries including the Mahanayake Theras to run for President again and dislodge the Rajapaksa rule, but she did not want to re-enter active politics and therefore handpicked Sirisena for that role only to realize that she had made a very unwise decision.

CBK and Sirisena are currently clashing over the SLFP leadership, with the former accusing the latter of having ruined the party.

CBK’s recovery formula

Although protests have fizzled out, the pressure build-up remained in the polity and the possibility of another uprising cannot be discounted, CBK says. The next wave of agitations could be far more destructive than what we witnessed last year, she has warned. The best way to prevent such a disastrous situation is to effect the radical changes the protesting public has demanded. There is a pressing need to increase youth participation in governance, and ideally it should be about 50%, but initially it could be about 40%, she has said, claiming that she has taken the initiative to train young leaders, and an academy will be set up soon for that purpose.

The task of hoisting the country out of the present crisis is extremely difficult but not impossible, CBK has said, stressing that she is optimistic about putting it right. First of all, the ethnic and religious issues have to be solved once and for all, good leaders elected and policies, robust systems built and procedures and processes put in place to prevent corruption and usher in good governance.

Easier said than done, one may say.