“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”
– John Quincy Adams
Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena is the son from a farming family. His father was awarded five acres of paddy fields for his service during the World War II. His mother was a school teacher. He is the seventh and current President of Sri Lanka and he is in office since 9 January 2015. He is the first President to be selected from the North Central Province and does not belong to a traditional political elite. He is in word itself a man within the ordinary men.
He started his political career very young. While still studying at Royal College, Polonnaruwa, young Maithripala Sirisena became interested in communism and joined the Communist Party becoming closely associated with Party Leader N. Shanmugathasan in party activities. In 1968, he took part in Communist Party anti-government rally which was broken up by baton charging police.
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, Leelarathna Wijesingha. In 1971, aged 19, he was jailed for 15 months for alleged involvement in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurrection.
Following his release from the 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.
He climbed 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.
During the 1981 Presidential Poll, when Basil Rajapaksa joined the United National Party, he took over the responsibility of the Secretary of the organization. Subsequently, he was appointed the Polonnaruwa SLFP chief organiser by the SLFP hierarchy. He became president of the All Island SLFP Youth Organisation in 1983.
Maithripala Sirisena, contested the 1989 Parliamentary Election from the SLFP and was elected to the Parliament from the Polonnaruwa District. He was re-elected at the 1994 parliamentary election, this time as a People’s Alliance candidate. In 1997 he was appointed as the General Secretary of the SLFP for the first time. In August 2009, he was appointed as one of the Deputy Presidents of the SLFP. He became General Secretary of the SLFP in October 2001 following S.B Dissanayake’s defection to the United National Party.
He was appointed Deputy Minister of Irrigation in the new PA Government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994. In 1997 President Kumaratunga promoted him to the Cabinet, appointing him Minister of Mahaweli Development. He was re-elected to the Parliament at the 2000 Parliamentary Election and retained his ministerial portfolio. He was re-elected at the 2001 Parliamentary Election, but the PA lost the election and so Sirisena lost his ministerial position.
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).
Sirisena was re-elected at the 2004 Parliamentary Election as a UPFA candidate. President Kumaratunga appointed him Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development in the new UPFA government in April 2004.
He was also appointed Leader of the House. Sirisena’s ministerial portfolio was renamed as Minister of Irrigation, Mahaweli, and Rajarata Development in July 2005. He resigned as the Leader of the House in August 2005.
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.
Following a Cabinet reshuffle in January 2007 he was appointed Minister of Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services Development by President Rajapaksa. While serving his role as the Minister of Agriculture, he also served as the acting Defence Minister for several occasions during the Sri Lankan civil war.
He also 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. Maithripala Sirisena was re-elected at the 2010 Parliamentary Election and was appointed Minister of Health in April 2010.
On 21 November 2014, Sirisena announced that he would challenge incumbent President Rajapaksa at the 2015 Presidential Election as the common Opposition candidate. He was declared the winner after receiving 51.28% of all votes. Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s sixth Executive President on 9 January 2015.
His revolution against then President and the Government in 2014 was not about power. He observed that the country was heading towards a dictatorship with rampant corruption, nepotism and a breakdown of law and order.
He came forward knowing that his own life was at risk. Unlike all the previous Presidents he announced that he has no plans to serve a second term. His plan is for a country where the true democracy would serve.
After becoming the seventh and current President of Sri Lanka in 2015 he continues his legacy by spreading awareness throughout the nation regarding the importance of agriculture and encouraging all to take part in his vision for a prosperous & self-sufficient nation.
His decision to fight the drug mafia in Sri Lanka was one brave decision which was very unpopular among the few people who had their own agendas, but the general public always stood with the President for this firm decision.
His international relations has put Sri Lanka back on the map among all nations and we managed to win their trust and support in developing our nation. Most importantly unlike any other President of Sri Lanka he has managed to become neutral during the coming Presidential Election.
President Sirisena will be leaving soon. However, he will be leaving behind a great legacy. Moreover, he will continue to work towards the betterment of this country. Because a true leader does not need power to inspire a nation.
By Shanika Gamage