President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday conceded defeat in Sri Lanka’s tightest-ever presidential race and left his official residence, with cumulative results showing opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena ahead. Sirisena who was at his native, Purulonawa, on Thursday has arrived at Colombo and shifted to a safe location until the security arrangements are confirmed. His spokesperson said Sirisena will meet the next Prime Minister Ranil Vickramaisnghe at 11 am at the Independence Square, Colombo to discuss the future course of action. Sirisena plans for the first 100 days will be discussed in the meeting besides his oath, which is likely to be held late in the evening.
The 63-year-old farmer-turned-politician deserted the incumbent President to take charge of the fractured opposition ahead of the polls with a promise to “end the Rajapaksa family rule” and romped home victorious.
With his peasant background, Sirisena appealed to the rural electorate while his main backer, the United National Party (UNP), enjoyed popularity in urban areas. Hailing from the rural north central province, Sirisena does not speak English, is ever seen in the national dress.
He has no background of hobnobbing with the Colombo elite and socialites. No old boy of a leading Colombo school, he was more than a match for Rajapaksa’s rural appeal.
Born on 3 September 1951, Sirisena joined mainstream politics in 1989 through the Sri Lankan Freedom Party. The son of a World War II veteran, Sirisena was in jail for almost two years after being arrested on suspicion of leading a revolt against the government in 1971. Sirisena contested the 1989 parliamentary election as an SLFP candidate in Polonnaruwa District and was elected to Parliament. He was re-elected at the 1994 parliamentary election, this time as a People’s Alliance (PA) candidate. He was re-elected to 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. Besides serving as Health Minister, he also served as the Acting Defence Minister on several occasions. During the height of the civil war, Sirisena said he was a soft target for the Tamil Tiger rebels with the separatists trying to assassinate him on at least five occasions.