President Maithripala Sirisena, the 6th President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, assumed his term of office on January 9, 2015, after the Presidential Election held the previous day.
His election came with the defeat of the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was seeking an unprecedented third term as Executive President. Contesting as the candidate of the Common Opposition, Mr. Sirisena obtained 6,217,162 votes (51.28%) while Mr. Rajapaksa obtained 5,768,090 votes (47.58%) of the total 12,264.377 votes polled with a turnover of 81.52%, obtaining a majority of 449, 072 votes.
Maithripala Sirisena is the first member of the rural agricultural population to be elected as President of Sri Lanka, and hails from Polonnaruwa, where is located the second ancient capital of the country, stablished in 1070 AD. Polonnaruwa remains a rural region largely populated by rice cultivators, and is the home of many irrigation reservoirs, historic places of Buddhist worship, and other monuments of the history of Sri Lanka, and the Ancient City of Polonaruwa is a declared World Heritage Site.
A person with no previous family links to politics, Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena comes with a long personal history in politics, especially as a representative of the rural people. The son of a middle-class farming family, whose father was a veteran of World War II, and cultivated five plus acres of paddy land in Polonnaruwa near the historic Parakrama Samudra. The son of Sinhalese Buddhist parents, Maithripala Srisena was born on 3rd September 1951, and brought up as a Buddhist, with close associations with the Buddhist temples.
A friendly and unassuming person, Maithripala Sirisena shows the traditional Buddhist values that prevail in the rural areas of Sri Lanka. He has shown a great commitment to duty, service to the people, an emphasis of simplicity in living and an attachment to family values that make the core of the Sri Lankan rural tradition to this day. His political life has its roots in his youth, from the time he was 16 years of age, and has since grown with a deep understanding of social and political issues. He has shown a demonstrable commitment to ease the economic and social burdens of the rural and working people who comprise the majority of the Sri Lankan people. This has brought him from the politics of youth leadership, to participation in protests, moving up to Parliamentary representation, leadership in political party organization, holding of important ministerial positions and now to the highest office of Executive President of Sri Lanka. His campaign for election as President, which was focused on the need to reduce the powers of the Executive Presidency and pave the way for good governance in a functioning democracy, with unity among all communities of Sri Lanka is the new challenge that he faces.
Having received his primary education at Lakshauyana School, Polonnaruwa, he moved for secondary education to Topawawa Maha Vidyalaya – Polonnaruwa and finally to Royal Central College – Polonnaruwa. Having a keen interest in academic studies, and the agriculture that surrounded him in his home region, he excelled in aesthetic studies – especially singing, dancing, music and cultural activities. In 1973 he obtained a Diploma in Agriculture from the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture at Kundasale, the premier center for agricultural training. His interests in political science later saw him obtain a Diploma in Political Science from the Maxim Gorky Academy in Russia, in 1980.
Although having an initial interest in the left wing politics of the Communist Party, his interest moved towards progressive and moderate politics, and in 1967 he joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the political party of the Middle Way, and soon became Secretary of the SLFP’s Youth Organization in Polonnaruwa, while completing his GCE (Ordinary Level) Examination at the Royal Central College, Polonnaruwa. In 1970, he was very active in the election campaigns of the SLFP that year.
During the extreme left wing youth uprising in 1971, led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), he was arrested and imprisoned on unproven allegations, at a time of widespread suspicion of youth in politics, although he was not involved with the JVP and its insurgent activities. He underwent much hardship while being incarcerated for nearly 15 months, until finally released with no charges against him.
He obtained his first employment as a Co-operative Purchasing Officer at Polonnauruwa in 1974, and in 1976 he became a “Grama Niladhai” or Chief Village Officer, attending to a wide range of localized administrative matters at the village level, which brought him into very close association with the rural people, and also sharpened his political thinking on rural issues.
Continuing his interest in politics with his links and concerns for the rural people and issues, saw him take a greater interest in the politics of the SLFP, and rose in its ranks, becoming President of the All Island SLFP Youth Organization in 1983. He has since continued his close association with the SLFP, which has seen his rise in politics and national service
Appointed Secretary of the SLFP’s Central Committee in the Polonnaruwa electorate in 1977, he played a leading role in the General Election campaign of the same year that saw a major defeat for the SLFP island wide, with a considerable post-election violence after the victory of the United National Party (UNP). He had to face much hardship due to this politically oriented violence of the ruling UNP at the time. This experience contributed much to his deciding to resign from his position as Grama Niladhari, and take to full time politics in 1978, during which year he attended the International Youth Congress held in Havana, Cuba.
The office of Executive President which he won in the recent national election was established by changes to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, by the government of the UNP that was elected with a huge majority in 1977, under the leadership of the late JR Jayewardene, the first Executive President of the country. Over the years he saw the many dangers to the democratic process through the Executive Presidency, and the changes made in the Parliamentary Electoral System, which were made worse after gathering of more powers to the Executive Presidency by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whom he served as Secretary of the SLFP and a Minister of the Cabinet. This experience led to his moving for major changes in the country’s political system, giving more strength to democratic processes, and full meaning to universal franchise that Sri Lanka obtained in 1931, the first country in Asia to do so.
The year 1979 was also of significance in his political life, being elected Secretary of the SLFP, Polonnaruwa District, at a time of considerable political hardship for the party. He was arrested and briefly held in judicial custody for taking part in public demonstrations of protest against the decision of the ruling UNP to strip the leader of the SLFP, former Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civic rights.
The following year he was appointed SLFP Polonnaruwa District Organizer, and began leading the party at the District Level. Very soon, in 1981, he was appointed Treasurer of the All Island SLFP Youth Organ