Shwe Mann hits back against USDP expulsion

Shwe Mann says he has acted in the public interest by working with the new NLD-led government but remained loyal to the USDP to the end, despite his removal as party chairman last year. 

By HEIN KO SOE, NYAN HLAING LYNN & SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Former Union Parliament Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann has come out swinging against his expulsion from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, telling a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that he had acted in the public interest by collaborating with the new government.

On April 22, Shwe Mann and 16 other members were kicked out of the former ruling party after a vote by the USDP’s central executive committee held at the party’s Nay Pyi Taw headquarters. Those expelled had taken roles in the new government, including new ministers Thura U Aung Ko and U Thein Swe, along with several members of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Commission, of which Shwe Mann is the chair.

NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had invited Shwe Mann and several of his allies to staff the commission soon after lawmakers from the new parliament took their seats at the end of January.

Speaking to a Nay Pyi Taw press conference at 2pm, Shwe Mann told reporters that the decision of he and his supporters to take a role in the commission under the new National League for Democracy government was not intended to antagonise former President U Thein Sein, who resumed his formal duties as USDP chairman this month.

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“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wanted me to apply myself for the interest of the public and development. I and my commission warmly welcomed this and took the duty,” he said. “Cooperating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and [the NLD] is not a challenge to U Thein Sein.”

Shwe Mann was removed as chairman of the USDP last August, and several of his allies were removed from key leadership positions on the party’s central committee, after months of tensions between his faction of the party and that of former President U Thein Sein. Police were sent to the party’s USDP headquarters to ensure the outcome of a vote resulted in Shwe Mann’s dismissal, after earlier attempts failed.

At the time, observers blamed the former speaker’s dismissal on his faction’s attempts to block a number of recently retired senior military personnel from contesting seats of their choosing in the then forthcoming national election.

Half an hour before the press conference, televised on DVB, Shwe Mann released a statement blaming his dismissal on his support for a set of constitutional reform proposals that would have ended the military’s veto on future constitutional change and rescinded a clause blocking Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency.

“We must be able to practice democratic culture, so that nobody is above the law,” Wednesday’s statement read. “That was why we needed to amend the 2008 Constitution, which was why myself and my group were expelled from the USDP.”

The constitutional vote was ultimately defeated in June 2015 after the Union Parliament’s bloc of military MPs voted against the proposal. Soon after, a petition was circulated in Shwe Mann’s former constituency of Zeyarthiri in Nay Pyi Taw, home to a number of military personnel, which called for the speaker’s impeachment and removal from parliament.

Shwe Mann on Monday wrote a Facebook post in which he said his current collaboration by the government was motivated by the public interest. His comments earned a sharp rebuke from the military the following day, which charged in a statement that the former speaker had unfairly implied the military had not acted in the national interest.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Shwe Mann declined to comment on the military’s statement. In his Wednesday statement, Shwe Mann insisted that he had remained loyal to his former party through to his expulsion, citing his lack of public comment on his removal as party chairman before the election.

Saying that after the party purge, “the expelled members did not criticize [the decision] because they wanted the party to be successful in the 2015 election.”

“They wanted to be lawmakers and… they thought that criticizing other senior USDP leaders was not in the public interest.”

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