02/03/2015, 00.00
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Sri Lanka's new president says he was elected with the support of all ethnic groups

by Melani Manel Perera
In his first television interview, Maithripala Sirisena talked about the country's new course. He said he was a "regular guy" and dropped all honorary titles. He also gave up a number of perks that come with the job. Fundamental to his victory was getting votes from all the people.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - This victory "was possible thanks to the votes from all the ethnic groups that make up the people of Sri Lanka, who chose a political proposal based on good governance, democracy and moral society," said newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena in his first interview last Saturday on Rūpavāhinī, Sri Lanka's national TV channel.

The interview gave the president an opportunity to underscore the country's new course after the election, and distance himself from the former Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.

The venue gave Sirisena also an chance to project the image of a regular guy. "I will not stand above the people," he said. "From now on, all the honorary titles - Athi Garu [His Excellency] or Uthumanan (Your Highness) - used in the past to refer to the president will no longer be used. Even the term Aryawa for the First Lady will no longer be used. My wife and I will simply be Mr and Mrs Maithripala Sirisena."

Similarly, some of the fringe benefits that come with the presidency are slated to go. They include a number of presidential palaces around the country. Only the one in the capital Colombo will be kept, and this only for official functions. All the others will be turned into public spaces.

The president and his family will no longer use helicopters for transportation, with the exception of the most important ceremonies.

To those who accused him of winning without the support of the Buddhist majority, President Sirisena said, "This is false."

"Despite thuggery and the political use of military power by the opposition camp, people cast their vote for trust and confidence favouring what was said in my manifesto," he said.

"Buddhists monks, Catholic priests, and religious people prayed for my victory. They held prayers at churches, blessings at temples. It was amazing. People did this, not us."

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