On this day July 21, 1960

Sirimavo Bandaranaike is elected prime minister of Sri Lanka and becomes the first woman in the world to held this position.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (April 17, 1916 – October 10, 2000) was a Sri Lankan politician and she served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, from 1960 to 1965, 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 2000 and was long time leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

On her husband Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike’s assassination, Bandaranaike took over the leadership of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party kept it for forty years until her death, became a Senator and lead her party to an election victory in 1956.

She became prime minister on July 21, 1960 as a member of the Senate and ruled her country on and off throughout the 1960s and 1970s until she was crushingly defeated in a general election in 1977. In 1980, she was expelled from parliament for abuse of power, and banned from public office for seven years.

A staunch socialist, Bandaranaike continued her husband’s policies of nationalizing key sectors of the economy, such as banking and insurance, and also nationalizing all schools then owned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1961.

Unfortunately, she was on a roller-coaster ride from the moment she took office and within a year of her 1960 election victory she declared a state of emergency. This followed a civil disobedience campaign by part of the country’s minority Tamil population who were outraged by her decision to drop English as an official language and her order to conduct all government business in Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese. This they considered a highly discriminatory act and an attempt to deny Tamils access to all official posts and the law. This led to an increase in Tamil militancy which escalated under succeeding administrations.

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