Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena (pronounced [pallewat̪t̪ə ɡaməraːləlaːɡeː majt̪ɾiːpaːlə jaːpaː siɾiseːnə]; known as Maithripala Sirisena or also referred to as “Maithri”; Sinhalese: මෛත්රිපාල සිරිසේන; Tamil: மைத்திரிபால சிறிசேன; born 3 September 1951) is a Sri Lankan politician who has been President of Sri Lanka since 2015. Although born in the Western Province, Sirisena hails from the North Central Province of the county, the first president from that province. He is a farmer and agriculturist and does not belong to any of the Sri Lankan political elite.
Sirisena joined mainstream politics in 1989 as a member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and has held several ministries since 1994. He was the general-secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and was Minister of Health until November 2014 when he announced his candidacy for the 2015 presidential election as the opposition coalition's "common candidate". His victory in the election is generally viewed as a surprise, coming to office through the votes won from the alternative Sinhala-majority rural constituency and the Tamil and Muslim minority groups that have been alienated by the Rajapaksa government on post-war reconciliation and growing sectarian violence. Their votes were more anti-Rajapaksa than pro-Sirisena. Maithripala Sirisena has pledged to implement a 100-day reform program where he has promised to rebalance the executive branch within 100 days of being elected, by reinforcing Sri Lanka’s judiciary and parliament, to fight corruption and to investigate allegations of war crimes from 2009, repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment, re-instate the seventeenth amendment and appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister.
Sirisena was sworn in as the sixth executive president before Supreme Court judge K. Sripavan in Independence Square, Colombo at 6.20pm on 9 January 2015. Immediately afterwards he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new Prime Minister. After being sworn in Sirsena stated that he would only serve one term.
Although legally entitled to use the style His Excellency as the President of Sri Lanka, he requested the media and the people of Sri Lanka, avoid using the style and also to avoid using the word First Lady for his wife, and requested only to use "President's wife". On April 28, 2015, Sirisena voluntarily transferred significant presidential powers to parliament.
Early life and career
Maithripala Sirisena was born on 3 September 1951 in Yagoda, a village in present day Gampaha District. He is the son of World War II veteran Albert Sirisena, who was awarded five acres of paddy land in Polonnaruwa near Parakrama Samudra by D. S. Senanayake. His mother was a school teacher.
He was educated at Thopawewa Maha Vidyalaya and Royal College, Polonnaruwa where he first developed and interest in politics. While still in school, as a teenager, Sirisena became interested in communism and joined the Communist Party becoming closely associated with party leader N. Shanmugathasan in party activities. In 1968 he took part in a communist party anti-government rally which was broken up by baton charging police.
At the age of 17 years he was chosen as the secretary of the SLFP Youth Organisation in Polonnaruwa by the then (SLFP) Member of Parliament for Polonnaruwa, Leelaratna Wijesingha . In 1971, aged 19, he was jailed for 15 months for alleged involvement in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Insurrection. Following his release from prison, Sirisena joined All Ceylon SLFP Youth Organization led by Anura Bandaranaike and joined politics at the national level. After serving at a number of state institutions, Sirisena obtained the SLFP membership in 1978. In 1974 Sirisena started working at the Palugasdamana Multi Purpose Cooperative Society as a purchasing office and in 1976 he became a grama niladhari (village officer) but resigned in 1978. He rose up the SLFP ranks, joining its politburo in 1981, where he was chosen as the President of the All Island SLFP Youth Organisation, and also later served as Treasurer. During the 1981 Presidential poll, when Basil Rajapaksa joined the United National Party, he took over the responsibility of the Secretary of the organisation. Subsequently, he was appointed the Polonnaruwa SLFP chief organiser by the SLFP hierarchy. He became president of the All Island SLFP Youth Organisation in 1983.
Sirisena studied for three years at the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture, Kundasale from where he earned a diploma in agriculture in 1973. In 1980 he earned a Diploma in Political science at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Russia.
Sri Lankan Parliament
Sirisena contested the 1989 parliamentary election as one of the SLFP's candidates in Polonnaruwa District and was elected to the Parliament. He was re-elected at the 1994 parliamentary election, this time as a People's Alliance (PA) candidate. He was appointed Deputy Minister of Irrigation in the new PA government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga. President Kumaratunga promoted him to the Cabinet in 1997, appointing him Minister of Mahaweli Development. In 1997 he was appointed as the General Secretary of the SLFP for the first time, from which he later resigned. In August 2000 Sirisena tried to become general-secretary of the SLFP but was beaten by S. B. Dissanayake. Sirisena was instead appointed one the Deputy Presidents of SLFP. He was re-elected to Parliament at the 2000 parliamentary election and retained his ministerial portfolio. He became general-secretary of the SLFP in October 2001 following Dissanayake's defection to the United National Party (UNP).
In January 2004 the SLFP joined forced with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to form a political alliance called the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Sirisena was re-elected at the 2004 parliamentary election as a UPFA candidate. President Kumaratunga appointed him Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development in the new UPFA government in April 2004. He was also appointed Leader of the House. Sirisena's ministerial portfolio was renamed as Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli and Rajarata Development in July 2005. He resigned as Leader of the House in August 2005.
Minister of Agriculture
After the 2005 presidential election newly elected President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Sirisena Minister of Agriculture, Environment, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development in November 2005. On 27 March 2006 Sirisena's personal secretary M. L. Dharmasiri was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Aranangawila. Following a cabinet reshuffle in January 2007 he was appointed Minister of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services Development by President Rajapaksa.
While the serving as the Minister of Agriculture Sirisena also served as the acting Defence Minister for several occasions during the Sri Lankan civil war. He was acting defence minister during the last two weeks of the civil war when some of the worst alleged war crimes were committed.
- Assassination attempts
Sirisena has claimed that LTTE may have tried to assassinate him on at least five occasions. Sirisena narrowly escaped death on 9 October 2008 when a convoy he was part of was attacked by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's suicide bomber at Piriwena Junction in Boralesgamuwa, Colombo. One person was killed and seven injured.
Minister of Health
- Presidential campaign
Following days of speculation in the media, Sirisena announced on 21 November 2014 that he would challenge incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 presidential election as the common opposition candidate. Sirisena claimed that everything in Sri Lanka was controlled by one family and that the country was heading towards a dictatorship with rampant corruption, nepotism and a breakdown of the rule of law. He has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment, re-instate the seventeenth amendment and appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister. Following the announcement Sirisena, along with several other ministers who supported him, were stripped of their ministerial positions and expelled from the SLFP. His ministerial security and vehicles were also withdrawn.
Sirisena released his manifesto, titled A Compassionate Maithri Governance — A Stable Country, on 19 December 2014 at a rally at Viharamahadevi Park. The main pledge in the manifesto was the replacement of the executive presidency with a Westminster style cabinet but the manifesto acknowledged that Sirisena would need the support of the parliament to amend the constitution. The manifesto also made a commitment to replace the open list proportional representation system with a mixture of first-past-the-post and PR for electing MPs. Parliamentary elections will be held in April 2015 after the constitution has been amended. Independent commissions would be established to oversee the judiciary, police, elections department, Auditor-General's Department and Attorney-General's Department. The Commission on Bribery and Corruption would be strengthened and political diplomatic appointments annulled. Populist measures in the manifesto included a commitment to write-off 50% of farmers' loans, reduce fuel prices by removing taxes and a salary increase of Rs.10,000 for public servants. Public spending on health would increase from 1.8% of GDP to 3% of GDP whilst that on education would increase from 1.7% of GDP to 6% of GDP. The manifesto also stated that the casino licences granted to Kerry Packer's Crown Resort and John Keells Holdings's Water Front will be cancelled. Political victims during Rajapaksa's rule, including Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake, would be re-appointed. In a separate document Sirisena pledged that, whilst resisting any international investigation, he would establish an independent domestic inquiry into the alleged war crimes during the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Sirisena was declared the winner after receiving 51.28% of all votes cast compared to Rajapaksa's 47.58%. Sirsena was the winner in 12 electoral districts whilst Rajapaksa was victorious in the remaining 10. On the contrary Rajapakse won in 90 electorates while Sirisena managed to win only in 70 electorates. The result was generally seen as a shock. When Rajapaksa called the election in November 2014 he had looked certain to win.
|Wikinews has related news: Sri Lanka to investigate alleged coup attempt by outgoing president|
According to Mangala Samaraweera and Rajitha Senaratne, senior figures in the Sirisena campaign, Rajapaksa attempted to stage a coup in order to stay in power when it became clear he was going to lose the election. They alleged that Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary, summoned Commander of the Army Daya Ratnayake, Inspector General of Police N. K. Illangakoon and Attorney General Yuwanjana Wanasundera to Temple Trees at around 1 am on 9 January 2015. Rajapaksa allegedly pressured the three officials to deploy troops, annul the election results and declare a state of emergency but they refused. According to the Colombo Telegraph Rajapaksa also wanted to dissolve parliament. It was only then Rajapaksa decided to concede defeat and summoned Ranil Wickremesinghe to assure him of a smooth transition of power.
A spokesman for Rajapaksa has denied the allegations as baseless. The army and police have also denied the allegations. The new government is to investigate the alleged coup attempt.
Sirsena was sworn in as Sri Lanka's sixth executive president before Supreme Court judge K. Sripavan in Independence Square, Colombo at 6.20pm on 9 January 2015. It is custom for the president to be sworn in before the chief justice but Sirsena had refused to be sworn in before Chief Justice Peiris who had been appointed by Rajapaksa after the controversial impeachment of the previous chief justice. Immediately afterwards, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new prime minister before Sirsena. After being sworn in Sirisena stated that he would only serve one term.
100-day reform program
10 most senior members
|Prime Minister||Ranil Wickremesinghe||2015-present|
|Minister of Foreign Affairs||Mangala Samaraweera||2015-present|
|Minister of Finance||Ravi Karunanayake||2015-present|
|Minister of Justice||Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe||2015-present|
|Minister of Defence||Maithripala Sirisena||2015-present|
|Minister of Home Affairs||M. Joseph Michael Perera||2015-present|
|Minister of Industry and Commerce||Risad Badhiutheen*||2015-present|
|Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine||Rajitha Senaratne||2015-present|
|Minister of Education||Akila Viraj Kariyawasam||2015-present|
|*Retained from previous administration|
On 10 January 2015 former minister Nimal Siripala de Silva announced that the UPFA would support Sirisena's 100-day programme unconditionally. Addressing the nation from Temple of the Tooth the following day, Sirisena invited all political parties to join to form a national unity government. Shortly afterwards a group of 21 SLFP MPs pledged their support for Sirisena. According to Sirisena's team he has enough support in parliament to secure a majority.
With an interim cabinet formed on the 12 January, Sirisena called the Parliamentary elections two years ahead of schedule for 23 April. It is to be carried out after the 100-day reform program against corruption. The president will establish a stable cabinet after the elections. Sirisena has taken the defence portfolio for himself, and appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as minister of reconciliation, policy development and economic affairs, to go with his Prime Ministership.
Sirisena has also lifted a ban on news websites, blocked under his predecessor, and promised to enact a Right to Information bill. Reports also say he is ready to reinstate Shirani Bandaranayake, the former Chief Justice whose Impeachment Mahinda Rajapaksa engineered two years ago.
With the country becoming ever closer to China while departing from the traditional ally of India, during his predecessor, Sirisena says he will treat key Asian countries, India, China, Pakistan and Japan equally.
In recent years Sri Lanka has moved closer to China, especially in terms of naval agreements. India and Sri Lanka in February 2015 signed a nuclear energy deal to improve relationships. Recently elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with Sirisena in New Deli stated that: "India is Sri Lanka's closest neighbor and friend. Our destinies are interlinked."
President Maithripala Sirisena says the foreign policy of the current government is to work cooperatively with all nations.
|India||New Delhi||15 – 18 February 2015||State visit||
See also: India-Sri Lanka relationsThis is the first overseas visit made by President Maitripala Sirisena. It was started 15 February to 18 February 2015 by Invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
|United Kingdom||London||7–11 March 2015||State visit||
See also: Sri Lanka–United Kingdom relationsVisited the UK as Chair in Office of the Commonwealth as part of the Commonwealth Day celebrations. Met with Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister David Cameron, Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.
|China||Beijing, Boao||26–29 March 2015||Asia Annual Conference and State visit||
See also: China–Sri Lanka relationsPresident Maithripala Sirisena visited China on the invitation of President of China Xi Jinping. President Sirisena also participated to Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Boao.
|Pakistan||Islamabad, Taxila Museum||5–7 April 2015||State visit||
See also: Pakistan–Sri Lanka relationsAt the invitation of President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, President Maithripala Sirisena paid a State visit to Pakistan. This is the Fourth foreign visit of President Sirisena. President visited the Taxila Museum that is contained many statues of Lord Buddha.
Family and personal life
Sirisena is married to Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari, they have two daughters (Chathurika and Dharani) and a son (Daham). He is a teetotaler, a practising Buddhist and has a reputation for honesty and hard work.
President Sirisena's youngest brother, Priyantha Sirisena, died on 28 March 2015 after an axe attack two days earlier in his hometown of Polonnaruwa, 215 kilometres north-east of the capital Colombo. Priyantha was immediately transferred to hospital in a critical condition, where he died from severe head injuries. At that time, President Sirisena was in China on a state visit.
- Agriculture, Environment, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development (November 2005 - January 2007)
- Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development (April 2004 - July 2005)
- Only for the 2015 Presidential Election
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