World's first female prime minister dies

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The Independent Online

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world's first female prime minister, died of a heart attack today after voting in Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections, a government spokeswoman said. She was 84. Bandaranaije had retired last month to let her daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, appoint a hard-liner in the fight against Tamil separatists ahead of the elections. Bandaranaike had gone to her home town, Gampaha, 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of Colombo, to cast her vote. She died on the way home, spokeswoman Kusum Rodrigo said. "I believe it is time for me to quietly withdraw from the humdrum of busy political life, to a more tranquil and quiet environment," Bandaranaike said upon her retirement Aug. 10, ending four decades of political life. Born Sirimavo Ratwatte on April 17, 1916, Bandaranaike was a member of one of this Indian Ocean island's wealthiest families. In 1940, she married Soloman Dias Bandaranaike, a senior politician in the United National Party that was governing Sri Lanka, then called

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world's first female prime minister, died of a heart attack today after voting in Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections, a government spokeswoman said. She was 84. Bandaranaije had retired last month to let her daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, appoint a hard-liner in the fight against Tamil separatists ahead of the elections. Bandaranaike had gone to her home town, Gampaha, 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of Colombo, to cast her vote. She died on the way home, spokeswoman Kusum Rodrigo said. "I believe it is time for me to quietly withdraw from the humdrum of busy political life, to a more tranquil and quiet environment," Bandaranaike said upon her retirement Aug. 10, ending four decades of political life. Born Sirimavo Ratwatte on April 17, 1916, Bandaranaike was a member of one of this Indian Ocean island's wealthiest families. In 1940, she married Soloman Dias Bandaranaike, a senior politician in the United National Party that was governing Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. Her husband later broke away to form his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party and was elected prime minister in 1956. A deranged Buddhist monk assassinated him three years later. Bandaranaike was transformed from shy housewife into a political dynamo. She campaigned for her husband's party in the 1960 elections and became its leader. She was elected the first woman head of government on July 20, 1960, six years before Indira Gandhi became India's first woman prime minister. Her election was so unusual that newspapers weren't sure what to call her. "There will be need for a new word. Presumably, we shall have to call her a Stateswoman," London's Evening News wrote July 21. "This is the suffragette's dream come true. In Sept. 1961 at the Neutral Summit Talks in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, she made history by being the first national leader to say she was speaking "as a woman and a mother." Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi had a strong personal rapport. Both lost their husbands at a young age and came from upper class families. Bandaranaike governed until 1965, lost the next elections, then regained power in 1970. Reflecting a shift toward the left, Bandaranaike ordered the U.S. Peace Corps out of the country in 1970 and closed the Israeli Embassy. In May 1972, Bandaranaike made the country a republic. During her second term she nationalized private companies, church schools and newspapers and banned imports. She used the military to crush a 1971 insurrection by Marxist rebels, and up to 20,000 are believed to have died. Parliament expelled her in 1980, accusing her of misusing power while prime minister, and banned 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. Suffering from diabetes and a foot problem that put her in a wheelchair, Bandaranaike reduced her political activities. In 1993, Kumaratunga took over the party's leadership and was elected president a year later. She appointed her mother prime minister, now a mostly ceremonial post lacking administrative powers but carrying political clout with the people.

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