Move seen as an attempt by Myanmar's president to take control of party before election
A silent coup in Myanmar’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) yesterday ousted its leader Shwe Mann, who was considered by analysts to be not tough enough to go up against Aung San Suu Kyi in the general election later this year.
The purge, which also ousted Shwe Mann’s friend, Maung Maung Thein, the party’s secretary-general, was regarded as an attempt by President Thein Sein and his allies to take control of the party in order to run in the November 8 polls against Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Shwe Mann was tipped to be Thein Sein’s successor but the president has not clarified his political future. He had indicated that he would quit but later retracted and decided to continue his political career for another term.
Shwe Mann has been replaced as party chairman by Htay Oo, who will also retain his position as vice chairman, according to the Chiang Mai-based Irrawaddy Online.
Htay Oo is an ally of Thein Sein, it said.
Shortly before military guards surrounded the USDP headquarters in Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday night, President Thein Sein announced the resignation of many ministers in his administration, enabling them to run in the election.
One of Thein Sein’s close aides, Tin Naing Thein, who resigned his ministerial position at the President’s Office on Wednesday, replaced Maung Maung Thein as general secretary of the party.
Immigration Minister Khin Yi will serve on the USDP’s central committee and chair the foreign affairs committee, while Communications Minister Myat Hein will become head of campaigns, according to Irrawaddy.
With Shwe Mann swept aside, Thein Sein’s only remaining rival is commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, who told BCC in a rare interview recently that he did not rule out the possibility of taking the country’s top job after his retirement from the military next year.
Ties with Suu Kyi
Shwe Mann’s ouster follows a rare discord within the establishment over the role of the military, which handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 but retains an effective veto within the political system.
Shwe Mann had built ties with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Suu Kyi, who has called repeatedly for the military to withdraw from politics. He angered the military by supporting an attempt in parliament in June to amend the constitution to limit the military’s political role.
In a BBC interview in 2012, Shwe Mann said Suu Kyi and he were not enemies.
“We share the same ambition – to serve the nation and the people.” His ties to the opposition are seen by analysts as important for his possible future ambitions, as the NLD are polled to win the upcoming elections.
It is unclear what the changes mean for the reform agenda in Myanmar, but the heavy-handed involvement of the security forces smacks of the junta-era approach to resolving political disputes.
“It’s an unwanted and extreme step to do this,” said Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a policy advocacy group, and adviser to multiple MPs.
“They are using security apparatus to affect a reshuffle in the party. They should have settled this some other way rather than using brute force. This is a reminder of the very unhappy past.”
In a brief statement yesterday, the USDP said Shwe Mann was replaced as chairman of the party because he was “busy” in his role as speaker of parliament.
The statement made no reference to the role of security forces in overnight events.
Shwe Mann would remain a member of the party and would contest the election in his own constituency, Than Tun, the head of the USDP’s Central Executive Committee said yesterday.