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Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike

(1916—2000) Sinhalese stateswoman


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(b. 17 Apr. 1916, d. 10 Oct. 2000).

Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka from 1972) 1960–5, 1970–7, 1994–2000 Born in Balangoda, she married Solomon Bandaranaike in 1940. She became involved in politics only upon her husband's assassination, becoming president of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in May 1960. Despite her inexperience, the wave of sympathy was so strong that months later she was made the world's first woman Prime Minister. She developed her late husband's neutralist policies further to the left, bringing the main Marxist group out of opposition and into her government in 1964. In opposition, she formed the United Front together with the Marxists and other left‐wing groups, leading to her re‐election. She severed the country's ties with Great Britain and proclaimed a new, socialist constitution. The United Front collapsed in 1975, amidst signs of economic decline and civil unrest. She lost the 1977 elections, and in 1980 was expelled from parliament for her abuse of power. While she continued to command considerable respect, this was not enough to ensure success in her bid for the presidency in 1988. She became Prime Minister once again in 1994, after her daughter, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumatunga (b. 1945), had been elected President. She coordinated government policy, whose main lines were determined by Kumatunga. She died on election day, hours after casting her vote in the elections.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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