Giant Slayer

Surviving five assassination attempts, he has endured the tumultuous politics of Sri Lanka for 25 years.

With an impeccable track record, untainted by either violence or fraud, he became the symbol of the island nation’s fight against corruption.

A devout Buddhist from the majority Sinhalese community, he is soft spoken, humble and a teetotaler.

Childhood

Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena was born on September 3, 1951. His father, a World War II veteran was awarded five acres of paddy land in Polonnaruwa where he was raised as well.

He was educated at Royal College, Polonnaruwa. He then went on to study for three years at the Sri Lanka School of Agriculture, Kundasale.

In 1980, he earned a Diploma in Political science at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Russia.

Career beginnings

As a teenager Sirisena became interested in communism and in 1967 joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) youth league.

He was 16 when he first took on the establishment, joining an anti-government rally organised by a Communist party that ended within minutes as police waded in. He ran for safety through the unknown streets of Colombo, before taking an overnight train to his village.

When he was 20, he was jailed for 15 months in 1971 for alleged involvement in an insurrection led by Marxists.

He rose up the SLFP ranks, joining its politburo in 1981. He became president of the All Island SLFP Youth Organization in 1983.

Career

Sirisena joined mainstream politics in 1989 after getting elected to the Parliament. He was re-elected in 1994 as a People’s Alliance (PA) candidate where he held the position of Deputy Minister of Irrigation.  

He was promoted to the Cabinet in 1997 by the President who appointed him as the Minister of Mahaweli Development.

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

Sirisena was re-elected at the 2004 parliamentary election and was appointed Leader of the House. Sirisena’s ministerial portfolio was renamed as Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli and Rajarata Development in July 2005.

Sirisena was offered the prime minister’s post by Rajapaksa’s predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga but he refused. Accused of being a proxy of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, who asked her loyalists to vote for him, Sirisena vowed to root out corruption and bring constitutional reforms to weaken the power of the presidency.

He was also a soft target for LTTE rebels during the height of fighting and reports suggest the separatists may have tried to assassinate him on at least five occasions.

In 2008, Sirisena escaped unhurt when a convoy he was part of was attacked by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s suicide bomber at Piriwena Junction in Colombo. One person was killed and seven injured in the attack.

He was re-elected at the 2010 parliamentary election and was appointed Minister of Health. Besides serving as health minister, he also served as the acting defence minister on several occasions.

Sirisena for President

Sirisena announced in November 2014 he would challenge incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 presidential election as the common opposition candidate.

Following his announcement to run for President, 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

He claimed everything in Sri Lanka was controlled by one family and the country was heading towards a dictatorship with rampant corruption, nepotism and a breakdown of the rule of law.

His page on Facebook was listed by ‘Social Bakers’ as one of the fastest growing politics pages in the world, a few days before the election.

On 9 January 2015, he assumed office as the 7th President of Sri Lanka after winning 51.3% of votes.

Personal Life

Sirisena is married to Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari and the couple has two daughters and one son. A family man, he is passionately opposed to smoking and liquor.

Dressed in the white sarong and tunic favoured by Sri Lankan politicians, Sirisena appeals to a rural electorate. He has reportedly never been seen in a suit.

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