Monday, Aug. 01, 1960

Tearful Ruler

At an hour chosen by astrologers as auspicious, Ceylon's Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke last week swore in history's first female Prime Minister of an independent country. Coolly dignified in a plain white cotton sari, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. 44, stepped to the balcony to give a pressed-palm salute to the crowd below, and then, predictably, burst into tears. That was just how she had won last week's election.

Beloved Husband. Prime Minister Sirimavo is the weeping widow of a much-loved man. Solomon West Ridgeway Bias Bandaranaike, known to all Ceylon as "Banda," who ruled Ceylon for three years as a benevolently bumbling leftist, then was shot to death last September by a Buddhist monk. When elections were called for March, the hack politicians of Banda's Sri Lanka Freedom Party paraded his widow about the country not as a candidate but as a figurehead, and backed her up with the dead man's recorded speeches. Sri Lanka nonetheless managed to get only enough seats to splinter the House of Representatives so that no party could rule effectively.

When new elections were called, the widow agreed after long hesitation to become the candidate for Prime Minister. Opposing her was the United National Party's able, Cambridge-educated Barrister Dudley Shelton Senanayake, 49, who has been serving as caretaker Prime Minister since April. Senanayake could brag that his party had soundly run Ceylon's tea-rubber-coconut economy in their days of power (1948-56). Under the United National Party's administration, Ceylon had achieved a per-capita income double neighboring India's.

But the United Nationalists had no weeping widow. Mrs. Banda turned up at rallies all over Ceylon to recall her husband's greatness in a small, flat voice—and then burst into a torrent of tears. Senanayake's party actually led by a narrow margin in total ballots. But Mrs. Banda won 75 seats to 30 for the United Nationalists. Six appointive seats will give her a majority in the 157-man House, even without her wide support among Trotskyite and Communist representatives.

Favorite Nephew. Descended from wealthy, upper-caste Singhalese, the Prime Minister is emotional but intelligent. Though she was educated in a Roman Catholic convent and sends her three children to Catholic schools, she is a practicing Buddhist and Ceylon's chief advocate of birth control. She took office promising to ''carry out my husband's program" — the main trouble with this being that her husband never really had one.

Like Banda, she talked of nationalizing the foreign (mostly British) holdings in banking, insurance companies and plantations, and investors wondered if, unlike shrewd old Banda, she might actually try to put such disastrous ideas into effect.

But she insisted that "I'm no Marxist," and she named no Marxists to her ten-man Cabinet. The real danger lay in the fact that she had not the foggiest idea of how to run a government. She kept the man-sized Ministries of Defense and For eign Affairs for herself. To the key post of Finance Minister she named her favorite nephew, Felix Reginald Bandaranaike. 29, like herself a political novice.

"I'm going to lean heavily on Felix," she confided. "He is very intelligent, though young."