Maithripala Sirisena

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Sirisena: A timeline

Rise to Presidency

Karthigaichelvan S., January 10, 2015

The Times of India

To escape five attempts on one's life by LTTE is virtually a matter of providence.But it wasn't luck that took Pallawatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena to the presidential throne in Sri Lanka. The smiling Buddhist felt the public pulse, and pulled the rug from under the feet of his former boss Mahinda Rajapaksa on November 21, just weeks before the election to emerge as an alternative to the `known devil'.

Sirisena, 63, has projected a mild persona throughout his four-decade political career, even while remaining a hardline Sinhalese.From a communist sympathizer in his college days to a god-fearing Buddhist, he has transformed himself much. Now, his friends and foes agree, he has to transform a country that nurses deep scars of ethnic conflict.

A volleyball player in his school days, Sirisena had suddenly become a smashing hit. This he achieved through clever reading of the situation. And he lost no time in rebelling against Rajapaksa for his economic and foreign policies, corruption and dynastic politics. Riding on anti-incumbency factors, the election results show, Sirisena became the natural choice for not just the majority Sinhalese, but minority Tamils, Muslims and Christians too.

The seventh president of Sri Lanka, always clad in the traditional long-sleeved shirt and sarong, is a regular visitor to Buddhist temples, and solicits blessings from monks. Like Rajapaksa, he is a strong believer of astrology . His friends say he has several Indian astrologers' mobile phone numbers on speed dial. He speaks very little English and rarely socializes with the Colombo elite. “He is anything but flashy ,“ said a former colleague of Sirisena. “It was his simplicity that earned him people's support.“

Son of a World War II veteran Albert Sirisena, he plunged into politics at an early age, becoming SLFP youth wing secretary of his home town Polonnaruwa in 1967. In 1971 he was jailed on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. He went to Russia to study political science at Maxim Gorky Literature Institute, where he was drawn by communism.

He became more active in politics from 1989 and was rewarded with ministries including health and defence since 1994. During the height of the civil war, Sirisena said he was a soft target for the Tamil Tigers who tried to assassinate him on at least five occasions. In 2008, Sirisena escaped unhurt when his convoy was attacked by an LTTE suicide bomber in Colombo.

His inner circle vows that the new President will not repeat his predecessor's mistakes. “He will never encourage family politics,“ said Sirisena's media secretary K Ashraf. But will he also keep his promise to partly demilitarize the north and east and rein in Budo Bala Sena, a radical Buddhist organization? Will he turn around the economy stifled by inflation? TNA MP Suresh Premachandran is hopeful.“He will not be a dominant leader. He has been campaigning for democracy and eradication of family politics,“ he says.

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