International

Who is Sirisena?

Maithripala Sirisena.

Maithripala Sirisena.   | Photo Credit: DINUKA LIYANAWATTE

It has been a path of diverse political engagement for Sri Lanka’s newly-elected leader

All along his journey from a humble farmer’s home to the country’s Presidency, it has been a path of diverse political engagement for Sri Lanka’s newly-elected leader Maithripala Sirisena.

A huge crowd clapped and waved on Friday, as the mild-mannered politician began his first speech as President of the country. Attired in a traditional white sarong and a full sleeved shirt, he stood poised behind the podium, occasionally smiling through his rimless spectacles.

Born in Gampaha district of Sri Lanka’s Western Province, Mr. Sirisena grew up and lived in Polonnaruwa, the island’s rice bowl. As a student of agriculture, he was drawn to Marxist ideology, something he would academically pursue much later in his political career at the Maxim Gorky Academy in Russia.

Having served as a government officer in his village, Mr. Sirisena had opportunities to work with the peasant community closely. It was his support base in the region, the ancient town, that prompted leaders to field him as a common candidate who could potentially unseat Mr. Rajapaksa.

Mr. Sirisena had worked in the region for many years and began full-time political work with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the late 1970s. He rose in the ranks to eventually become the party’s general secretary.

Prior to serving as Health Minister in Mr. Rajapaksa’s cabinet, Mr. Sirisena had held other portfolios, including Irrigation and Parliamentary Affairs. While handling the Health portfolio, he made news spearheading an anti-tobacco campaign and mooting harsher legislations.

Considered part of the “SLFP old guard,” he was a close associate of the Bandaranaikes all through, which perhaps explains former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s support for him in this historic election.

Known to be an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr .Sirisena has adorned his living room walls with his photographs, in addition to framed pictures of Karl Marx and Lenin, according to a recent visitor.

The 63-year-old politician is married and has three children.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 11:56:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankan-presidential-elections/article6772455.ece

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