President U Thein Sein’s consolidation of power over the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in a putsch that removed his main rival for the presidency was in the interests of party unity, the USDP said a statement on August 13.
By OLIVER SLOW & GEOFFREY GODDARD | FRONTIER
The statement came during a day of drama in Nay Pyi Taw that saw security forces seal off USDP headquarters late the previous evening for an emergency meeting of the leadership that purged the ruling party of its chairman, Thura U Shwe Mann, and his factional supporters.
“The party needed to be reformed for party unity,” said the statement.
It said U Thein Sein had “transferred the post of party chairman” to an ally, U Htay Oo, who is known to be close to junta strongman, former Senior General Than Shwe.
Another U Thein Sein loyalist, U Tin Naing Thein, replaced U Maung Maung Thein as the party’s secretary-general. The purge also saw Thura U Aung Ko removed from the party leadership.
Thura U Shwe Mann replaced U Thein Sein as party chairman in 2011 and the power play between the pair has escalated ahead of the November 8 general election.
As party chairman Thura U Shwe Mann would have controlled the selection of USDP candidates for the election. The putsch came a day ahead of the August 14 deadline to register for the election.
On August 12, a USDP news conference in Nay Pyi Taw was told that U Thein Sein would not be among the more than 1170 candidates the party would field in the election.
Presidential candidates do not need to be members of parliament and U Thein Sein has not ruled out a second term as head of state, a position to which Thura U Shwe Mann has long aspired.
As well as tensions over the presidency, Thura U Shwe Mann had alienated factional rivals in the military-backed USDP over his support for constitutional reform. Party hardliners were also uncomfortable over an apparent strategic alliance he had formed with National League for Democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is ineligible to contest the presidency.
In July, more than 1700 members of military families in Thura U Shwe Mann’s Nay Pyi Taw constituency launched an unsuccessful bid to impeach him amid indignation over his role, as parliamentary speaker, in a move to amend the constitution.
In a petition to the Union Election Commission, the families accused Thura U Shwe Mann of supporting a failed move to weaken the effective veto of unelected military MPs over constitutional reform during a parliamentary debate on the issue in June.