President U Thein Sein has strengthened his grip on power of the Union Solidarity and Development Party with the purge of former leader Thura U Shwe Mann and his allies from key party roles.
The dramatic events occurred after security forces surrounded the USDP headquarters in Nay Pyi Taw on August 12. The following day, emergency meetings were held and the party announced a reshuffle of senior gures.
Former central executive committee members allied with U Shwe Mann, including Thura U Aung Ko and U Maung Maung Thein, left their positions on the committee to be replaced by former military figures close to U Thein Sein.
The USDP said that Thura U Shwe Mann had been replaced because he was “very busy” with his dual role as party leader and lower house speaker. U Thein Sein has been appointed to the role, but the duties will be fulfilled by U Htay Oo because the president cannot carry out party duties under the 2008 Constitution.
The move comes following months of tension between U Shwe Mann and U Thein Sein. U Shwe Mann has been known to want the president’s role and had formed a close alliance with the National League for Democracy, which is expected to win many seats in this year’s election. He was also instrumental in proposed changes to the 2008 Constitution reaching parliament, nearly all of which were rejected.
U Than Tun, head of the party’s CEC, told reporters U Shwe Mann will remain a party member and will contest a seat in the election. It was reported on August 17 that the party had scheduled an emergency meeting, but no details emerged at the time of going to print.
At a press conference on August 13, held by U Pike Htwe, U Maung Maung Htay and U Than Tun, all who have been reassigned to the CEC after being “allowed to resign” from ministerial roles a day previously, said that U Thein Sein had always been party chairman and the U Shwe Mann had only been a temporary party chair.
“The policy and aim of the party will not change but we have to work to improve the ability of the party. We have to focus on our party’s campaign to ensure the party is strong,” said U Pike Htwe.
The party also ordered the suspension of two newspapers seen as mouthpieces for Thura U Shwe Mann. The Union Daily and weekly publication The Leader were suspended from publication on August 13, according to the Myanmar Times. Reports said that radio station Cherry FM, owned by the wife of U Shwe Mann’s son, U Aung Thet Mann, has also been suspended.
In an interview with Reuters on August 15, information minister U Ye Htut said that Thura U Shwe Mann has made some “very questionable” decisions in parliament that were in his own personal interests and not of the party and country.
“He sometimes tried to force his will on other people,” said U Ye Htut. “This kind of thing happened again and again.”
On August 14, Thura U Shwe Mann posted a photo to his Facebook page showing him working at his desk with a message of thanks to his supporters. He also said he intends to run as a candidate in the election.