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First Citizen

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He was one of the few seniors in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to openly back Mahinda Rajapaksa when the latter first ran for President in 2005.  Although by dint of seniority, popularity within the party, dynamism and energy, and proven organizational skill he ought to have been in the running for the post of Prime Minister whenever it was considered ‘up for grabs’ (i.e. after a Presidential or General Election), he was overlooked in favor of others. 

One reason was what could be called the D.B. Wijetunga Principle.  ‘DB’ was picked as PM by Ranasinghe Premadasa after the latter succeeded J.R.Jayewardene as President in 1988.  It was believed that Premadasa didn’t want to be overshadowed by equally dynamic and popular leaders such Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake.   ‘DB’ was aging.  Safe.  Chandrika Kumaratunga’s choice of Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s persistence with Wickramanayake and later opting for another ‘vintage’ party man, D.M. Jayaratne are all seen as leaves out of the Premadasa book. 

However, as the longest serving General Secretary of the SLFP, Sirisena had the keys to the party machinery and the network of organizers.  He had standing.  He was respected.  He was loyal to his leader, until the end. 

So when he broke ranks, he wrecked the political equation.  Whereas in 2010 Sarath Fonseka was expected by some to split the Sinhala vote, the man didn’t have a party and party still counted.  In this instance, Sirisena’s decision to challenge Rajapaksa with the support of the main opposition, the tacit support of the JVP and the special skills of Rev Athureliye Rathana and Champika Ranawaka of the JHU amounted to a challenge that had a much better chance than in Fonseka’s efforts five years previously.  
The rest, as they say, is history.

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