World's First Woman Prime Minister Resigns

ByABC News
August 10, 2000, 7:03 PM

C O L O M B O, Sri  Lanka, Aug. 10 -- Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who became the worlds first woman prime minister when she was elected head of Sri Lankas government four decades ago, retired from office today at the age of 84.

Bandaranaike, a dominant force in Sri Lankan politics, served three terms as prime minister and is the mother of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Even during her most recent term, in an era when the countrys prime ministership is mostly a ceremonial post, she wielded enormous power.

But Bandaranaike has been in poor health for months, and she stepped down to let her daughter reorganize the Cabinet ahead of elections. A stunned parliament was today told that her post will be filled by Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, the countrys minister of public administration and home affairs.

In her resignation letter, Bandaranaike said she was stepping down to allow the president to appoint a suitable person who could actively campaign in the elections.

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

Suffragettes Dream Come True

The resignation appears to end a four-decade run of victory, disgrace and redemption for a woman who took power six years before Indira Gandhi became Indias first woman prime minister.

The election of a woman head of government was so unusual on July 20, 1960, that newspapers werent sure what to call her.

There will be need for a new word. Presumably, we shall have to call her a Stateswoman, Londons Evening News wrote the next day. This is the suffragettes dream come true.

Born Sirimavo Ratwatte on April 17, 1916, Bandaranaike was a member of one of this Indian Ocean islands wealthiest families. In1940 she married Soloman Dias Bandaranaike, a senior politician in the United National Party that was governing Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon.