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The BBC's Alistair Lawson
"The best and worst of Sri Lankan politics"
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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"She will be remembered for her socialist zeal"
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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Sirimavo Bandaranaike: First woman premier
Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Sirimavo Bandaranaike died shortly after voting
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 84, became the world's first elected woman prime minister on 20 July 1960.

Send us your tributes to Sirimavo Bandaranaike

She served for 12 years and then returned to the post in the 1990s.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Was thrust into limelight after husband's death
She was the widow of prime minister Solomon Bandaranaike, who was assassinated in 1959. The family dominated Sri Lankan politics for most of the second half of the century.

Born Sirimavo Ratwatte, on 17 April 1916, she was the eldest daughter among six children and came from a wealthy, aristocratic land-owning family.

Although a Buddhist, she was educated at a convent in Colombo run by Roman Catholic nuns.

'Weeping widow'

In 1940, when she was 24, she married Solomon Bandaranaike, who formed the nationalist Sri Lankan Freedom Party and led it to election victory in 1956.

Family dynasty
World's first woman leader
Widow of former prime minister
Daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga became president
Son Anura also a politician
But in 1959, Mr Bandaranaike was shot by a Buddhist monk.

Mrs Bandaranaike took over the presidency of his party and was dubbed "the weeping widow" for frequently bursting into tears as she pledged herself to continue her husband's vaguely socialist policies.

But within a year of her historic 1960 election victory, she declared a state of emergency after a prolonged civil disobedience campaign by the minority Tamil population, angered by her action in replacing English with Sinhala as the official national language.

President Kumaratunga
President Kumaratunga: Followed her mother's example
In 1964, she and her cabinet were defeated in a confidence vote, and lost the general election which followed.

But in 1970, she again became prime minister, after an electoral landslide by her left-wing coalition.

Her politics moved to the left, thanks to her strong personal ties with China and the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

She declared the country a republic in 1972, changing the name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.

She also nationalised some companies in the plantation sector and restricted some imports.

Crushing defeat

By 1976, despite high international standing, Mrs Bandaranaike's popularity at home was declining and she was losing more support on the left, with a faltering economy and allegations of corruption.

I believe it is time for me to quietly withdraw from the humdrum of busy political life, to a more tranquil and quiet environment

Sirimavo Bandaranaike
She suffered a crushing election defeat in 1977.

Parliament expelled her in 1980, accusing her of misusing power, and banning her from office for seven years. Her civic rights were restored in 1986, and she narrowly lost the election for the new, more powerful post of president in 1988.

Her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, became president of Sri Lanka in 1994 after leading the left-wing People's Alliance to an election victory, and reviving the fortunes of the Bandaranaike family.

She appointed her mother prime minister, a position that has become largely ceremonial.

But observers believed that Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her daughter did not always see eye to eye - largely over issues of leadership rather than policy.

Her daughter was known to be keen for her to leave to make way for a younger face.

Mrs Bandaranaike, having returned to the post of prime minister, reluctantly gave up the reins of power on 10 August 2000.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike suffered a heart attack while driving home after casting her vote in the general elections.

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See also:

10 Oct 00 | South Asia
Shadow over Sri Lankan poll
10 Aug 00 | South Asia
Veteran Sri Lankan PM resigns
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