By NYAN HLAING LYNN in NAY PYI TAW &
SEAN GLEESON in YANGON
New Union and Solidarity Development Party chairman U Than Htay said Wednesday that he was committed to winning the 2020 election after a leadership shakeup this week, while adding that the party had no plans to alter its policies ahead of the next poll.
Speaking at an afternoon press conference at USDP headquarters, Than Htay, 61, used his first speech as chair to characterise his ascension to the top post as a generational change, as senior members of the last government stepped down from the party’s central executive committee to assume advisory roles.
“We aim to win power. What I mean is that we have to win the coming election. Our future plan is to win the election,” he told reporters. “Policy will not be changed. Our policies are already the best policies.”
Former President U Thein Sein and U Htay Oo, who served as USDP co-chair for the last year after the sudden ouster of former Union Parliament Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann, both stepped down from the party’s executive committee during this week’s conference.
Both men will serve on a newly-created “central leading committee”, along with former Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint. Of the nine people on the advisory body, all to a man are former generals, with at least three — U Thaung, U Soe Tha and U Tin Htut — beginning their political careers as ministers under the former military regime.
A separate “central advisor team” will be headed by U Ohn Myint, the Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development in the previous government and also a former member of the junta’s State Peace and Development Council.
Asked whether either body would direct the activities of the new executive committee, Than Htay said that his leadership of the party “will be independent”.
“But we will follow, as according to Myanmar culture… suggestions from our leading committee if the suggestions are good for us,” he added.
Political analyst Khin Zaw Win said that despite the new leadership, the USDP’s future prospects looked no better than in the aftermath of the party’s electoral drubbing last November.
“After the reshuffle, the top leadership is still heavily ex-military. You could argue that there are no alternatives, but this persistence does not portend well for 2020, he told Frontier.
“As people point out, with the NLD being the way it is, Myanmar does need a strong opposition. But for the USDP to turn itself into a credible alternative is going to be a steep uphill climb,” he added.
New man at the helm
Than Htay was officially confirmed as party chair on Tuesday, replacing the co-chairmanship of Thein Sein and Htay Oo. The latter had assumed the role in the aftermath of the August 2015 ouster of Shwe Mann and his supporters from the USDP executive committee, a number of whom have since been expelled from the party for taking roles in the National League for Democracy government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
A former Brigadier-General in the Myanmar Army, Than Htay resigned his commission to contest the 2010 election, winning the Ayeyarwady Region seat of Myanaung for the USDP. Briefly serving in parliament, he was appointed Minister for Energy at the formation of Thein Sein’s first cabinet, later taking the role of Minister for Rail Transportation.
Along with dozens of others of government ministers, Than Htay resigned his post in August 2015 — less than three months before the election and only a few hours before Shwe Mann and his allies were ousted from the USDP chairmanship — and was promptly elected to fill a vacancy on the party’s executive committee. The following day, he joined a delegation of recently resigned ministers outside the USDP’s headquarters to downplay the midnight party purge to reporters.
Recontesting Myanaung in the 2015 poll, Than Htay was resoundingly defeated by the NLD candidate.