COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has conceded defeat in his bid for a third term in office, his spokesman said on Friday. Rajapaska has bowed to the people’s decision and left Temple Trees, his official residence, said Wijeyanda Herath, his media secretary.
In a result unthinkable just weeks ago, Rajapaksa lost to his former friend and health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, who defected from the ruling party and turned the election into a referendum on the president and the enormous power he wields over the island nation of 21 million.
Here are 10 important things we know about Sri Lanka’s president-elect:
1. Sri Lanka’s Maithripala Sirisena was a low-profile minister when a rudderless opposition chose him to spearhead a campaign to topple the president.
2. The son of a World War II veteran, Sirisena entering parliament in 1989 after settling in the eastern district of Polonnaruwa, where he had worked as a local government official. At the time his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was struggling to find candidates willing to risk attacks by Marxist Sinhalese militants who wanted an elections boycott.
3. Sirisena was also a soft target for the Tamil Tiger rebels during the height of fighting and says the separatists may have tried to assassinate him on at least five occasions.
4. Sirisena was jailed for nearly two years after being arrested on suspicion of leading a revolt against the government in 1971 when he was just 20.
5. 63-year-old farmer-turned-politician had become a rallying point for disaffected Sri Lankans. He rejected the president’s accusation of backstabbing, promising to “end the Rajapakse family rule”.
6. Dressed in the white sarong and tunic favoured by Sri Lankan politicians, Sirisena appeals to a rural electorate while his main backer, the centre-right United National Party (UNP), is more popular in urban areas.
7. Maithripala Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days and return the country to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy where the police, the judiciary, and the civil service will be independent institutions.
8. The government has accsued Sirisena of being a proxy of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, who came out of retirement to boost his electoral fortunes by asking her loyalists to vote for him.
9. Maithripala Sirisena says he will make UNP leader and former premier Ranil Wickremesinghe his prime minister if he wins, and together they pose a a serious threat to Rajapakse.
10. Sirisena’s vision for the country ties in closely with the free-market, investor-friendly policies of the opposition UNP which provided him with the political base to challenge Rajapaksa.
(With inputs from agencies.)