Maithripala Sirisena

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Maithripala Sirisena
මෛත්‍රීපාල සිරිසේන
மைத்திரிபால சிறிசேன
Maithripala- Russia (portrait).jpg
7th President of Sri Lanka
Assumed office
9 January 2015
Prime MinisterRanil Wickremesinghe
Mahinda Rajapaksa (Disputed)
Preceded byMahinda Rajapaksa
Minister of Defence
Assumed office
12 January 2015
PresidentHimself
Prime MinisterRanil Wickremesinghe
Mahinda Rajapaksa (Disputed)
Preceded byMahinda Rajapaksa
Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment [N 1]
Assumed office
12 January 2015
PresidentHimself
Prime MinisterRanil Wickremesinghe
Mahinda Rajapaksa (Disputed)
Preceded bySusil Premajayantha
In office
23 November 2005 – 23 April 2010
PresidentMahinda Rajapaksa
Prime MinisterRatnasiri Wickremanayake
Succeeded byMahinda Yapa Abeywardena
Cabinet posts
Minister of Health
In office
23 April 2010 – 21 November 2014
PresidentMahinda Rajapaksa
Prime MinisterD. M. Jayaratne
Preceded byNimal Siripala de Silva
Succeeded byTissa Attanayake
Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli and Rajarata Development[N 2]
In office
10 April 2004 – 23 November 2005
PresidentChandrika Kumaratunga
Prime MinisterMahinda Rajapaksa
Minister of Mahaweli Development and Parliamentary Affairs
In office
1997–2001
PresidentChandrika Kumaratunga
Prime MinisterRatnasiri Wickremanayake
Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Preceded byS. B. Dissanayake
Succeeded byA. H. M. Azwer
Leadership positions
5th Chairman of BIMSTEC
Assumed office
31 August 2018
Preceded byKhadga Prasad Oli
6th Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Assumed office
15 January 2015
Preceded byMahinda Rajapaksa
12th Commonwealth Chair-in-Office
In office
9 January 2015 – 27 November 2015
HeadElizabeth II
Preceded byMahinda Rajapaksa
Succeeded byJoseph Muscat
19th Leader of the House
In office
3 May 2004 – 9 August 2005
PresidentChandrika Kumaratunga
Prime MinisterMahinda Rajapaksa
Preceded byW. J. M. Lokubandara
Succeeded byNimal Siripala de Silva
General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
In office
October 2001 – 21 November 2014
ChairpersonChandrika Kumaratunga
Mahinda Rajapaksa
Preceded byS. B. Dissanayake
Succeeded byAnura Priyadharshana Yapa
Constituencies
Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
for Polonnaruwa District
In office
9 March 1989[1] – 9 January 2015
Succeeded byJayasinghe Bandara
Majority90,118
Personal details
Born
Pallewatte Gamaralage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena

(1951-09-03) 3 September 1951 (age 67)
Yagoda, Dominion of Ceylon
NationalitySri Lanka
Political partySri Lanka Freedom Party
(1968–Present)
Communist Party of Ceylon
(1966-1968)
Other political
affiliations
United People's Freedom Alliance
(2004 – present)[N 3]
New Democratic Front
(2014–2015)[N 4]
People's Alliance
(1994–2004)
Spouse(s)Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari
ChildrenChathurika
Daham
Dharani
Alma materAgriculture School, Kundasale
Maxim Gorky Literature Institute
OccupationPolitician
Signature
WebsiteOfficial website

Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena (Sinhalese: පල්ලෙවත්‍ත ගමරාළලාගේ මෛත්‍රීපාල යාපා සිරිසේන; Tamil: பல்லேவத்த கமரலகே மைத்திரிபால யாப்பா சிறிசேன; born 3 September 1951) is a Sri Lankan politician, the seventh and current President of Sri Lanka, in office since January 2015.[2][3] Sirisena is Sri Lanka's first president from the North Central Province of the country and does not belong to the traditional Sri Lankan political elite.[4]

Sirisena joined mainstream politics in 1989 as a member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and has held several ministries since 1994.[5] 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".[6][7] 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.[4][8][9][10] Their votes were more anti-Rajapaksa than pro-Sirisena.[11] Maithripala Sirisena pledged to implement a 100-day reform program where he 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 Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.[12][13][14] He later was reported to have publicly disavowed this program, claiming that he did not know where it originated.[15][16]

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.[17][18] Immediately afterwards he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new Prime Minister.[19][20] After being sworn in Sirisena stated that he would only serve one term.[21] Sirisena voluntarily transferred significant presidential powers to parliament on 28 April.[22][23]

He is well known for surprising Sri Lankans by issuing gazettes every Friday since 26 October 2018. In 2018, Sirisena appointed the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (his former rival) as the Prime Minister, wrote a letter firing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (with whose major support he became the president in 2015) and prorogued Parliament, all in apparent contradiction to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, instigating a constitutional crisis.[24][25][24][26] This marks Sirisena's second, and most successful attempt to bring Rajapaksa to power.[27][28]

Early life and career[edit]

Maithripala Sirisena was born on 3 September 1951 in Yagoda, a village in present-day Gampaha District.[29][30] His father Pallewatte Gamaralalage Albert Sirisena was a World War II veteran who was awarded five acres of paddy land in Polonnaruwa near Parakrama Samudra by D. S. Senanayake, which resulted in the family moving from Yagoda to Polonnaruwa.[30][31] His mother, Yapa Appuhamilage Dona Nandawathi, was a school teacher.[32]

He was educated at Thopawewa Maha Vidyalaya and Royal College, Polonnaruwa where he first developed an interest in politics.[31][32][33] 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.[32] In 1968, he took part in a communist party anti-government rally which was broken up by baton charging police.[4]

At the age of 17, he was chosen as the secretary of the SLFP Youth Organisation in Polonnaruwa by the SLFP Member of Parliament for Polonnaruwa, Leelaratna Wijesingha.[31][32] In 1971, aged 19, he was jailed for 15 months for alleged involvement in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Insurrection.[34][35] 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.[32] In 1974 Sirisena started working at the Palugasdamana Multi Purpose Cooperative Society as a purchasing office and in 1976 he became a grama sevaka niladhari (village officer) but resigned in 1978.[36][37][38] 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.[31] 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.[32] He became president of the All Island SLFP Youth Organisation in 1983.[37]

Sirisena studied for three years at the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture, Kundasale from where he earned a diploma in agriculture in 1973.[36] In 1980 he earned a Diploma in political science at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Russia.[37][39]

Legislative career (1989–2015)[edit]

Sri Lankan Parliament[edit]

Sirisena contested the 1989 parliamentary election as one of the SLFP's candidates in Polonnaruwa District and was elected to the Parliament.[40] He was re-elected at the 1994 parliamentary election, this time as a People's Alliance (PA) candidate.[41] In 1997 he was appointed as the General Secretary of the SLFP for the first time, from which he later resigned.[32] In August 2000 Sirisena tried to become general-secretary of the SLFP but was beaten by S. B. Dissanayake.[42][43] Sirisena was instead appointed one the Deputy Presidents of SLFP.[44] He became general-secretary of the SLFP in October 2001 following Dissanayake's defection to the United National Party (UNP).[45]

Minister of Mahaweli Development

Sirisena was appointed Deputy Minister of Irrigation in the new PA government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994.[31] In 1997 President Kumaratunga promoted him to the Cabinet, appointing him Minister of Mahaweli Development.[31] While in this office he initiated many concessionary grants to improve the standard of the farming community. He was also responsible for influencing the government's decision to give farmers a bag of fertilizer for Rs. 350 in order to combat the food crisis at the time. He also saved the Paddy Marketing Board from privatization converting it into a government institution when he became the Agriculture Minister, in 2005. The Paddy Marketing Board continues to regulate the prices of paddy to this day.[32] He also began important irrigation projects such as Moragahakanda, Kalu and Walawe rivers.[46] He was re-elected to Parliament at the 2000 parliamentary election and retained his ministerial portfolio.[47][48]

Opposition[edit]

He was re-elected at the 2001 parliamentary election but the PA lost the election and so Sirisena lost his ministerial position.[49]

In January 2004 the SLFP joined forces with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to form a political alliance called the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).[50] Sirisena was re-elected at the 2004 parliamentary election as a UPFA candidate.[51] President Kumaratunga appointed him Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development in the new UPFA government in April 2004.[52][53][54] He was also appointed Leader of the House.[55][56] Sirisena's ministerial portfolio was renamed as Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli and Rajarata Development in July 2005.[57][58] He resigned as Leader of the House in August 2005.[59]

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.[60][61] On 27 March 2006 Sirisena's personal secretary M. L. Dharmasiri was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Aranangawila.[62] Following a cabinet reshuffle in January 2007 he was appointed Minister of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services Development by President Rajapaksa.[63][64]

In order to combat the 2007–08 world food price crisis, Sirisena initiated a plan under the scheme ‘Api Wavamu – Rata Nagamu’ to improve local food production on national scale. Festivals of tilling were conducted in each divisional secretariat every year leading to the re cultivation of more than 1 million abandoned paddy fields under the programme. The project was considered a great success being acknowledged as his green revolution.[32][46]

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.[65][66] He was acting defence minister during the last two weeks of the civil war when some of the worst alleged war crimes were committed.[67][68]

Sirisena has claimed that LTTE may have tried to assassinate him on at least five occasions.[69] 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.[70][71] One person was killed and seven injured.[72]

Minister of Health

Sirisena was re-elected at the 2010 parliamentary election and was appointed Minister of Health in April 2010.[73][74][75] During his time Sirisena sought to combat cigarette and alcohol consumption within the country. He introduced a National Medicinal Drug Policy based on that of the Sri Lanka National Pharmaceuticals Policy of Seneka Bibile and brought the Cigarette and Alcohol act to parliament against cigarette packaging that include pictorial warnings. The act recommended 80% of packaging include the pictorial warnings, however this was reduced to 60% due to pressure form many multinational companies and from some areas of the government itself.[32][46] In May 2014 Sirisena was elected as one of the Vice Presidents of the World Health Assembly.[76]

Committees[edit]

Committees Involved[77]
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Irrigation and Water Resources Management
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Health
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Agriculture
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Co-operatives and Internal Trade
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Livestock & Rural Community Development
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Defence
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Consultative Committee on Defence and Urban Development
Committees Served[77]
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Committee on Parliamentary Business (14th Parliament)
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Committee of Selection (14th Parliament)
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Committee on High Posts (14th Parliament)
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Select Committee of Parliament on Traffic Accidents (14th Parliament)
  • Parliament of Sri Lanka Select Committee of Parliament to Recommend and Report on Political and Constitutional Measures to Empower the Peoples of Sri Lanka to Live as One Nation (14th Parliament)

Presidency (2015–Present)[edit]

Presidential Standard adopted by Maithripala Sirisena

Presidential campaign[edit]

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.[78][79] 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.[80][81] 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.[12][13][14] Following the announcement Sirisena, along with several other ministers who supported him, were stripped of their ministerial positions and expelled from the SLFP.[82][83][84] His ministerial security and vehicles were also withdrawn.[85][86]

Sirisena released his manifesto, titled A Compassionate Maithri Governance — A Stable Country, on 19 December 2014 at a rally at Viharamahadevi Park.[87][88] 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.[89] 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.[89] Parliamentary elections will be held in April 2015 after the constitution has been amended.[90] Independent commissions would be established to oversee the judiciary, police, elections department, Auditor-General's Department and Attorney-General's Department.[91][92] The Commission on Bribery and Corruption would be strengthened and political diplomatic appointments annulled.[91][92][93] 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.[92][94][95][96] 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.[97][98] 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.[99][100] Political victims during Rajapaksa's rule, including Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake, would be re-appointed.[94][101] 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.[92][102]

Sirisena was declared the winner after receiving 51.28% of all votes cast compared to Rajapaksa's 47.58%.[103][104] Sirisena was the winner in 12 electoral districts whilst Rajapaksa was victorious in the remaining 10.[105][106] On the contrary Rajapakse won in 90 electorates while Sirisena managed to win only in 70 electorates.[107] The result was generally seen as a shock.[108][109][110] When Rajapaksa called the election in November 2014 he had looked certain to win.[111][112][113]

Transition

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.[114][115] 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.[116] Rajapaksa allegedly pressured the three officials to deploy troops, annul the election results and declare a state of emergency but they refused.[10][117] According to the Colombo Telegraph Rajapaksa also wanted to dissolve parliament.[118] It was only then Rajapaksa decided to concede defeat and summoned Ranil Wickremesinghe to assure him of a smooth transition of power.[119]

A spokesman for Rajapaksa has denied the allegations as baseless.[120][121] The army and police have also denied the allegations.[122] The new government is to investigate the alleged coup attempt.[123]

Sirisena 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.[17][18] It is custom for the president to be sworn in before the chief justice but Sirisena 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.[124][125] Immediately afterwards, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new prime minister before Sirisena.[19][20] After being sworn in Sirisena stated that he would only serve one term.[21]

100-day reform program[edit]

Sirisena's 100 days Program cabinet
10 most senior members
OfficeNameTerm
Prime MinisterRanil Wickremesinghe°Jan-Aug
Minister of Foreign AffairsMangala Samaraweera°Jan-Aug
Minister of DefenceMaithripala SirisenaJan-Aug
Minister of FinanceRavi Karunanayake°Jan-Aug
Minister of JusticeWijeyadasa Rajapakshe°Jan-Aug
Minister of Home AffairsJoseph Michael PereraJan-Aug
Minister of Industry and CommerceRishad BathiudeenJan-Aug
Minister of Health and Indigenous MedicineRajitha Senaratne°Jan-Aug
Minister of EducationAkila Viraj Kariyawasam°Jan-Aug
Minister of AgricultureDuminda Dissanayake°Jan-Aug
*Retained from previous administration
°Retained after August elections

With an interim cabinet formed on 12 January, Sirisena called the Parliamentary elections, taking the defence portfolio for himself, and appointing Ranil Wickremesinghe as minister of reconciliation, policy development and economic affairs, to go with his Prime Ministership.[126]

In his election manifesto Sirisena had promised a 100-day reform program planning to dissolve the parliament and holding new elections on 23 April 2015.[113][127][128] Some reforms, such as the curtailing of presidential powers and re-introducing the two term limit, were introduced by the passing of the nineteenth amendment. In addition, Sirisena enacted a Right to Information bill. Other changes, notably electoral reforms, were not carried out.[129] With electoral reforms stalled and the 100-day reform program falling behind schedule, the UNP started calling for parliamentary elections.[130][131] Sirisena dissolved parliament on 26 June 2015 and called for early elections.[132][133][134] However, when faced with criticism concerning the reforms, Sirisena publicly disavowed the 100-day reform program.[15][16]

Parliamentary elections[edit]

In his election manifesto Sirisena had promised a 100-day reform program planning to dissolve the parliament and holding new elections on 23 April 2015.[113][135] However, Srisena and his government faced opposition from a large contingent of legislators loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa, and, although some reforms, such as the curtailing of presidential powers and re-introducing the two term limit, were introduced by the passing of the nineteenth amendment, others, notably electoral reforms, were not carried out.[129] With electoral reforms stalled and the 100-day reform program falling behind schedule, the UNP started calling for parliamentary elections.[136][137] Sirisena dissolved parliament on 26 June 2015.[138][139][140]

The date of the election was set for 17 August 2015, with the new parliament is expected to convene on 1 September 2015.[141][142] Nominations took place between 6 July 2015 and 13 July 2015.[143] The UPFA/SLFP Mps who remained loyal to former President Rajapaksa called for Rajapaksa to be made the UPFA's prime ministerial candidate for the election.[144][145][146] This alarmed those members of the UPFA/SLPF who had supported Sirisena during the presidential election. They urged Sirisena to prevent Rajapaksa's return to politics but Sirisena remained silent on the matter.[147][148] After the parliamentary election was called it was announced that Rajapaksa would contest but not as the prime ministerial candidate which would be decided after the election.[149][150][151][152] Feeling "betrayed" by Sirisena, his supporters in the UPFA/SLFP allied themselves with the UNP to form the United National Front for Good Governance.[153][154][155] On 8 July 2015, several factions accused Sirisena of having betrayed the mandate that was given to him by the people in the 2015 presidential election over nominating his predecessor Rajapaksa, who faces various allegations of human rights violations, to contest in this election. Despite his assurances to the media that he would not grant nominations to pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians who were involved in various criminal activities, some were nominated.[156][157][158] On 14 July 2015, at a special press conference, Sirisena announced he would remain impartial during the elections after granting the nomination to Rajapaksa, hinted that Rajapaksa could be defeated in the parliamentary election similar to the presidential election.[159][160]

The United National Front for Good Governance became the largest group in Parliament after securing 45.66% of votes and 106 seats whilst the UPFA won 42.38% of votes and 95 seats.[161][162] Rajapaksa quickly conceded defeat in his attempt to become Prime Minister.[163][164] The result left the UNFGG seven seats short of a majority in Parliament.[165][166] However, on 20 August 2015 the central committee of the SLFP agreed to form a national government with the UNP for two years.[167][168] Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister on 21 August 2015.[169][170] Immediately afterwards a memorandum of understanding to work together in Parliament was signed by acting SLFP general secretary Duminda Dissanayake and UNP general secretary Kabir Hashim.[171][172]

The elections saw minor violence and violations of election laws but was generally incident free, peaceful, free and fair.[173][174] Sirisena was praised for "shepherding an inclusive process" during the elections by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.[175] The European External Action Service spokesperson also stated that the election was "genuine, well administered and peaceful."[176][177]

National government (2015–2018)[edit]

On 20 August 2015 the central committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main constituent of the UPFA, agreed to form a national government with the UNP for two years.[167][168] Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister on 21 August 2015.[169][170] Immediately afterwards a memorandum of understanding to work together in Parliament was signed by acting SLFP general secretary Duminda Dissanayake and UNP general secretary Kabir Hashim.[171][172]

Three UNFGG cabinet ministers were sworn in on 24 August 2015.[178][179] A further 39 cabinet ministers, 28 from the UNFGG and 11 from the UPFA, were sworn in on 4 September 2015.[180][181] Three more cabinet ministers, one from the UNFGG and two from the UPFA, were sworn in on 9 September 2015.[182][183] 19 state ministers (11 UNFGG, 8 UPFA) and 21 deputy ministers (11 UNFGG, 10 UPFA) were also sworn in on 9 September 2015.[184][185] Two more deputy ministers, both from the UPFA, were sworn in on 10 September 2015.[186][187]

Constitutional crisis[edit]

On the evening of 26 October 2018, Sirisena, in a sudden move, sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister after the United People's Freedom Alliance withdrew from the unity government. Immediately following the move, media institutions in the country were suppressed in what is now being termed a hostile takeover[188]. Wickremesinghe refused to accept the dismissal, stating that it is illegal and unconstitutional. Sirisena promptly prorogued Parliament and appointed a new Cabinet of Ministers, in effect creating a parallel government to what was operational in the country at the time, a series of events referred to by the BBC as "somewhere in between House of Cards, Game of Thrones and Shakespeare's darkest Roman plays".[24][189][190]. This resulted in a constitutional crisis, with analysts referring to Sirisena's actions as a coup.[191][192] Sirisena has issued presidential gazettes each Friday since 26 October 2018.[citation needed]

The crisis created significant fears as to the state of democratic institutions in the country, with former Ministers refusing to step down from their posts[192]. Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker for the Parliament, refused to acknowledge the legality of this move, stating that the ousted Wickramasinghe is the lawful Prime Minister and urging the President to convene Parliament to resolve the issue. However, since then the Speaker's office also issued statements expressing that they will not prevent Rajapaksa from occupying the Prime Minister's seat in Parliament. [193] [194][195] A reported ten thousand people mobilized in a protest in Colombo, demanding that Sirisena reconvene Parliament. [196][192].

On 13 December 2018, the full bench (seven judge bench) of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on that President Sirisena's decision to dissolve parliament on 9 November, before the completion of four and half years, was unconstitutional and illegal.[197]

Following the Supreme court ruling, Rajapaksa backed down and Wickremesinghe was re-appointed Prime Minister.[198]

Controversy[edit]

Nepotism and corruption[edit]

Despite pledges made during the presidential campaign, Sirisena has himself been accused of nepotism since becoming president.[199][200][201] A few days after Sirisena took power in January 2015, his brother Kumarasinghe Sirisena was appointed chairman of the state-owned Sri Lanka Telecom.[202][203] The appointment came despite objections from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and several other cabinet ministers.[204][205] Sirisena's son-in-law Thilina Suranjith Wewelpanawa (Chathurika's husband) was appointed public relations officer at the Ministry of Defence in February 2015 – Sirisena is Minister of Defence.[206][207][208] In September 2015 Sirisena's son Daham accompanied his father as he visited New York City for the Seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly.[209][210]

Despite having no official role, Daham Sirisena sat with the Sri Lankan delegation in the United Nations General Assembly and accompanied his father as he met world leaders such as Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga.[211][212][213] Sirisena's daughter Chathurika, who also has no official role, has been the guest of honour/chief guest at several Ministry of Defence events.[214][215][216][217] At another event where Chathurika was chief guest, she was accompanied by members of the Presidential Security Division.[218] In September 2015 Chathurika was accompanied by government officials and police officers as she went on a private "fact finding mission" to Mahawelithenna near Welikanda.[219][220]

In 2018 his Chief of Staff I.H.K. Mahanama was arrested by officials of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) while accepting a bribe of Rs.20 million from an Indian businessman as a part of a Rs.100 Million bribe for helping the acquisition of the Kantale Sugar Factory. Mahanama, the Chief of Staff of the President, in his previous role as Secretary to the Ministry of Lands had secured Cabinet approval to auction scrap material of the factory, assets which were claimed by M G Sugars Lanka (Pvt) Ltd under the agreement. The company then filed arbitration proceedings in a Singapore tribunal to stop the Government of Sri Lanka from selling the machinery and scrap. The investors sent letters to PM's office which recommended them to complain to the CIABOC which launched investigations. However, despite the investigations Mahanama was appointed by Sirisena as his Chief of Staff. Centre for Human Rights (CHR) question how Sirisena appointed Mahanama as his Chief of Staff while he was under corruption investigations.[221][222][223]

Comments about Enrique Iglesias concert[edit]

In 2015, Maithripala Sirisena criticised and called for the organisers of an Enrique Iglesias concert in Colombo to be whipped, after the behaviour of some female fans. Sirisena stated "I don't advocate that these uncivilised women who removed their brassieres should be beaten with toxic stingray tails, but those who organised such an event should be."[224][225]

Media freedom[edit]

Media freedom increased under Sirisena compared to previous governments.[226] However, in June 2018 the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission closed down transmission towers operated by TNL TV after a negative commentary about a president's speech. The TRC claimed that the reason was not paying the licence fee but was criticized by both government allies and opposition MPs. Joint Opposition MR Dinesh Gunawardana presented irregularities of the action in the parliament citing that the TRC violated the Telecommunication Act by closing down the tower as licence could be cancelled and a station could be sealed only after giving due notice which was not carried out by the TRC. The claim of not paying the fees was also called to doubt as the station had made the payments up to 2017 and issues pertaining to licence fees were being negotiated by the TNL.[227][228][229]

Airline cashew nut remarks[edit]

In September 2018, Sirisena remarked upon the quality of cashew nuts served to him in a Sri Lankan Airlines flight: "When I returned from Nepal, they served some cashew nuts on the plane [that], let alone humans, even dogs can't eat, who approves these things?".[230] It was unclear as to what exactly was offensive about the said nuts, but the outburst which was much remarked upon, led to comments that Sirisena had "come unhinged".[231] The airline promptly stopped serving cashew nuts.[232]

Alleged assassination plot[edit]

In October 2018, while addressing the cabinet, Sirisena alleged that the Indian Research and Analysis Wing was plotting his assassination. This comment was made after Sri Lankan CID arrested an Indian national late in September for the alleged assassination of Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.[233]. After Sirisena's comment on this local media reported that the Indian High Commissioner met with Sirisena and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation with Sirisena.[234]

Homophobic remarks[edit]

In November 2018, in the midst of the Constitutional Crisis[235] set off by the President's actions on 26 October 2018, President Sirisena took the stage with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a rally organized by the SLPP. In his speech, he heavily criticized Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, and referred to Wickramasinghe and his close allies as 'butterflies' and claimed they had resorted to a 'butterfly lifestyle', placing it above all other duties to the state and to the people. This was widely recognized as a homophobic remark by Sri Lankan LGBT activists and other civil society actors.[236]

A strongly worded statement was written and signed by numerous members of the Sri Lankan LGBT+ community within hours of Sirisena's remark being made, and was widely shared online. In it they said: "By trivialising homophobia in this fashion, President Sirisena should be held responsible for any homophobic incidents that Sri Lankan citizens may experience in the coming days".[237]

A citizen's protest – which had been happening consistently in the heart of Colombo city every evening since the President's declaration that he had appointed Rajapaksa as the country's Prime Minister – paid special attention to Sirisena's 'Butterfly' remark the next day, making a butterfly out of lit lamps.[238]

Sri Lanka's Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera also responded on Twitter, stating: "I would rather be a butterfly than a leech Mr. President!!!"[239]

Domestic policy[edit]

Death penalty[edit]

Sirisena commented in October 2015, after a series of high-profile incidents of rape, killing and sexual abuse, that he supports a dialogue on the introduction of the death penalty should it be approved by Parliament.[240][241]

Taxation[edit]

In 2018, the government introduced changes to the taxation system, including changes to the Pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE). In May, Sirisena is reported to have stated in a cabinet meeting the Government Ministers and MPs are not subjected to PAYE as MPs have honorific before their names as such receive honorariums and not salaries from the State.[242]

Foreign policy[edit]

President Maithripala Sirisena on a State Visit to India, February 2015

With the country becoming ever closer to China, during the previous administration, while departing from the traditional ally of India, Sirisena says he will treat key Asian countries, India, China, Pakistan and Japan equally.[11] 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 met with Sirisena in New Delhi stated that: "India is Sri Lanka's closest neighbor and friend. Our destinies are interlinked."[243][not in citation given] Sirisena has outlined the general foreign policy goals of his government as being cooperation with all nations, with an emphasis on Asia.[244]

Recognition and public image[edit]

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".[245]

Family and personal life[edit]

Sirisena is married to Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari, they have two daughters, Chathurika, Dharani, and a son, Daham.[36][38]

Sirisena is a teetotaler, vegetarian[246], and a Buddhist.[4]

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 (134 mi) north-east of the capital Colombo. Priyantha was immediately transferred to hospital in a critical condition, where he died from severe head injuries; Sirisena was in China on a state visit at the time.[247][248]

Sirisena's daughter Chathurika Sirisena launched her first booked title Janadhipathi Thaththa in 2017. This is the first biography written by a daughter of a President of Sri Lanka.[249] The book, which was praised for its command of Sinhala, was later revealed to have been ghostwritten by an employee of Media Gang, a marketing agency owned by Chathurika Sirisena.[250][251] Meanwhile, Sirisena's son, Daham, has been cited in multiple assaults and been named in leading a mob attack on a nightclub. Charges against him have been since withdrawn.[252][252]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Minister of Agriculture, Environment, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development (November 2005 - January 2007)
    Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services (January 2007 - April 2010)
  2. ^ Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development (April 2004 - July 2005)
  3. ^ Except for the 2015 Presidential Election
  4. ^ Only for the 2015 Presidential Election

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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
2015–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
Mahinda Rajapaksa
Minister of Defence
2015–present
Preceded by
Susil Premajayanth
Mahaweli Development and Environment
2015–present
Preceded by
Nimal Siripala de Silva
Minister of Health
2010–2014
Succeeded by
Tissa Attanayake
Preceded by
Minister of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services
2005–2010
Succeeded by
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena
Preceded by
W. J. M. Lokubandara
Leader of the House
2004–2005
Succeeded by
Nimal Siripala de Silva
Preceded by
Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli and Rajarata Development
2004–2005
Succeeded by
Preceded by
S. B. Dissanayake
Mahaweli Development and Parliamentary Affairs
1997–2001
Succeeded by
A. H. M. Azwer
Parliament of Sri Lanka
Preceded by
Member of Parliament
for Polonnaruwa

1989–2015
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mahinda Rajapaksa
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
2015–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
S. B. Dissanayake
General-Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
2001–2014
Succeeded by
Anura Priyadharshana Yapa
Preceded by
General-Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
1997–?
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Mahinda Rajapaksa
Chairperson of the Commonwealth of Nations
2015
Succeeded by
Joseph Muscat