Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias


Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias
▪ 2001

      Sri Lankan political leader (b. April 17, 1916, Ratnapura, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]—d. Oct. 10, 2000, Gampaha, Sri Lanka), became in 1960 the first woman in the world to serve as a prime minister. She was a member of a family dynasty that dominated Sri Lankan politics in the last half of the 20th century. Born Sirimavo Ratwatte, she married S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, an official in the United National Party (UNP), in 1940. Her husband formed the nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1951 and became prime minister in 1956. Three years later he was assassinated, and in the following year his widow replaced him, serving as prime minister from 1960 to 1965. She became a leader in the movement of nonaligned nations in the 1960s. During a second term, from 1970 to 1977, Bandaranaike moved to the left and nationalized a number of industries and institutions. She used the military to put down a Marxist uprising, transformed the country (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972) into a republic with an executive presidency, favoured Buddhism, and made Sinhalese the official language. These last acts further angered the Tamil-speaking Hindu minority and helped lead to a bloody civil war beginning in the early 1980s. In 1980 she was expelled from Parliament and banned from holding office for seven years, although her rights were restored in 1986. She lost a bid for the presidency in 1988, but her younger daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who succeeded her as head of the SLFP, won the office in 1994 and appointed her mother prime minister, by this time a largely ceremonial post. Bandaranaike's son, Anura, defected to the opposition UNP when his sister took over the SLFP. Bandaranaike, suffering from ill health, resigned her post in August 2000 and died shortly after voting in parliamentary elections.

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