LTTE had Targeted Sirisena Five Times
COLOMBO: Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka massively voted for joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena in Thursday’s Lankan Presidential elections, despite the fact that their erstwhile “National Leader” Velupillai Prabhakaran had tried to assassinate him five times.
Sirisena, a cabinet minister in the Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa governments, had been Acting Defense Minister on several occasions, and hence a target of the LTTE’s Black Tiger suicide squad.
The most dangerous of the attacks was staged in October 2008 at the Pirivena Junction in Colombo. A suicide bomber had struck at Sirisena’s convoy. One person was killed and seven were injured but Sirisena escaped unhurt. That was the fifth and the last time, the Tigers had tried to kill him.
Though soft spoken and low profile, Sirisena, now 63, had had a revolutionary past before he entered electoral politics in 1989. He was imprisoned for nearly two years for alleged involved in a putsch which the ultra-leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) tried to stage in 1971. His involvement with revolutionary politics is not strange because he belonged to a peasant family in the backward district of Polonnaruwa in North Central Sri Lanka. His father being a World War II veteran, Sirisena was exposed to various currents in world affairs.
But in the 1980s, Sirisena turned a new leaf and joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) whose leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike had imprisoned him for trying to overthrow her regime in 1971. The SLFP’s ideology fitted Sirisena’s mindset as it was a party of the Sinhalese rural folk of whom he was a part. His family has been into agriculture, milling and trade in agricultural products.
In 1989, he contested and won a parliamentary election from his home turf of Polonnaruwa and has been a long standing parliamentarian and cabinet minister holding important portfolios.
Sirisena was also General Secretary of the SLFP till he quit the Rajapaksa government late last year to contest the 2015 Presidential election as a joint opposition candidate. Sirisena quit because he could not tolerate the concentration of power in the hands of President Rajapaksa, his brothers, family members and a small non-family coterie.
When the mid-term Presidential election was announced, Sirisena was approached by the opposition, now led by former President Kumaratunga, to explore the possibility of his challenging Rajapaksa as the joint opposition candidate.
The reason for putting up Sirisena was that he is a Sinhalese Buddhist with a suitable peasant background and a mass base. He could also divide the SLFP and weaken Rajapaksa’s hold on it. Negotiations were kept a top secret. Sirisena deluded Rajapaksa by even doing a public puja for his victory in the coming election.
In his last meeting with Rajapaksa, Sirisena is believed to have made a demand, which he knew Rajapaksa would not meet – the post of Prime Minister. As expected Rajapaksa refused, and Sirisena stormed out.