The inside story: How Maithripala Sirisena spent election night on a Dodangaslanda estate

‘There were plans to destroy my whole family’ – President tells Sandeshaya

by Suresh Perera

With President Maithripala Sirisena’s revelation to Sandeshaya, BBC’s Sinhala Service in London, that there were plans to “destroy his whole family” if he lost the presidential poll, political sources recalled how the then common candidate was escorted under cover of darkness to an estate owned by a close friend in the Kurunegala district.

Just days after the January 8 presidential election, The Sunday Island learnt how the drama unfolded at Dodangaslanda, a sleepy village at the far end of Kurunegala bordering the Matale district, but political sources politely declined to discuss details as the President himself had not referred to the episode earlier.

During his recent visit to London, President Sirisena told BBC Sandeshaya’s Saroj Pathirana in an interview that he wouldn’t know whether he and family would be alive today if the elections favoured the other side. “That was the democracy the Rajapaksas practiced. I know that only too well, he said.

On the day of the poll, Sirisena had cast his vote at Polonnaruwa and decided to leave home to a secret destination as there were credible reports that he and his family could be harmed if they remained in a location which could be easily traced after the outcome of the election was announced the following day (January 9), the sources recounted.

As darkness fell, the convoy of vehicles cut across Dambulla and headed towards a coconut plantation at Dodangaslanda owned by Kiran Atapattu, a close friend of Sirisena. The village was asleep as the black BMW vehicle carrying the common candidate approached the estate, the sources said.

Not leaving anything to chance, the vehicle snaked its way in pitch darkness along the narrow dark road leading to the sprawling plantation. The other vehicles in the convoy were halted at a point en route to prevent information of the exact location leaking out and also to ensure the villagers were not alerted, they recalled.

sdrh1Later, some other vehicles deemed “safe” sneaked up the estate road one by one and spread out to be parked under some coconut trees. Every possible precaution was taken to prevent word getting around, which, the sources explained, could have endangered the life of the common candidate and his family, if the worse came to the worst.

“After dinner, Sirisena, accompanied by his wife Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari and children Daham, Chathurika and Dharani, son-in-law Thilina and grandchildren, relaxed as news of the vote count filtered through.

Many were the calls that came through and some officials kept him abreast of the developments in Colombo, the sources said.

There were many who asked him where he was, to which he replied “Polonnaruwa”. Concerned about him remaining in his North Central province home base, he was advised to move to a safer location as there were reports of a sudden build up of troops in Colombo, they noted. “The situation was becoming increasingly tense as reports of a possible coup attempt also did the rounds”.

Sirisena was selective in answering telephone calls as many within the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime could not be trusted and giving away his hide-out would have been disastrous at that critical hour, the sources pointed out. “Some callers specifically wanted to know whether he was at home in Polonnaruwa.

It was a long night and as news emerged that the common candidate was steadily making headway and victory was predicted, a jubilant Sirisena decided to leave for Colombo the following morning. An aide fixed a Sri Lankan national flag on the front of the BMW car as he prepared to depart, the sources said.

The President-elect thanked Kiran Atapattu and his family for their courageous efforts and the bold resolve to offer him protection, despite the horrendous reprisals the move would have triggered if Sri Lanka’s voters had decided otherwise.

Villagers of Dodangaslanda gaped as Sirisena’s car, with the Lion flag fluttering in the gentle breeze, cruised down the estate road after it became clear that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on his way out, the sources elaborated.

It was ironical that Sri Lanka’s incumbent Executive President had to remain under cover fearing for his life until the final outcome of an election in a country which was at one time described as a “five-star democracy”, they pointed out.

President Sirisena also told the BBC Sandeshaya program that everybody now harps on democracy, but if he was defeated in the presidential poll, how many people would have been killed by now. “In addition, we know how many people would have had their limbs broken, how many would have been jailed and how many would have been thrown out of their jobs”.

“If I lost the election, there was a plan to imprison my whole family and destroy us”, he asserted.