COLOMBO: Facing a major challenge from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to his authority as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a challenge which could affect his chances in the crucial local bodies’ elections to be held early next year, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena went on a two-day pilgrimage to Tirupathi, which concluded on Sunday.
Sirisena visited the shrine of Lord Venkateswara twice, accompanied by his wife Jayanthi and son Daham.
The President who had spent Saturday night in the hill town, took part in the Suprabhatha Seva performed at 3 am on Sunday. He visited the shrine again later in the day at the time set apart for Very Very Important Persons. The President was accompanied by his wife Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari and and son Daham Tharaka, all three clad in white as per the Sri Lankan Buddhist custom.
The President and his entourage had spent more than fifteen minutes inside the sanctum sanctorum according to reports reaching here. The Chief priest who honored him with the 'Silk Vastram' of the Lord also explained to him the importance of
Sirisena is currently facing a serious challenge within his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Rajapaksa group in parliament, calling itself the “Joint Opposition” is trying to stall every move of the coalition government Sirisena is heading. There is also a move to spoil the party convention on September 4 through a boycott.
As party Chairman Sirisena has taken strong steps to stem the revolt. Earlier week he sacked 40 electorate and district level party leaders. Two pro-Rajapaksa organizers, Dullus Alahaperuma and Bandula Gunawardene, subsequently resigned in protest against the purge.
Sirisena will be facing a political test when the local bodies’ elections are held in the first half of 2017. Party dissidents are bound to put up rebel candidates and Sirisena will have to face the rebels alone because he cannot have an alliance with his coalition partner United National Party in the local bodies elections. He has to show that he can win the elections on his own. At any rate, the UNP will not go for an alliance with him as it will have to sacrifice too many seats to accommodate Srisena’s candidates.
It is in this context that Sirisena went to Tirupathi. According to Ceylon Today, one of the high priests of the temple had called on the President while he was on a visit to Sri Lanka and invited him to visit the temple. Sirisena had gone to Tirupathi on a pilgrimage earlier too when he was elected President in 2015.