Shwe Mann on the hustings

Ousted as chairman of the USDP, Thura U Shwe Mann launches his bid for election as the party’s representative in Phyu.

By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER

A long line of trucks waited on the highway in Phyu Township, about 165 miles north of Yangon on September 11. It was a hot afternoon but they were in no hurry. They were patiently waiting for a crowd to disperse further along the road. “Uncle Shwe Mann is addressing the crowd and we have to wait until he’s finished,” a truck driver said.

The Union Parliament Speaker was on his first visit to Phyu since the official start of the election campaign and curious residents of his Bago Region home town had gathered to hear him speak from a car outside the main market.

Some in the crowd held flowers to present to Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate if the opportunity arose.

Constantly waving at the crowd, Thura U Shwe Mann, 68, seemed tired after a day on the hustings that began about 7am. He was effusive, in the way of the politician, to the warm welcome. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he said repeatedly. Some in the crowd left no doubt who they’d be voting for on November 8. “You have already won the election even if you had stood as an independent,” some elderly men in the crowd shouted.

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The former number three in the junta was elected to Zabuthiri constituency in the Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory in 2010 but opted to seek election this year in Phyu, a decision made before his dramatic ouster as chairman of the USDP on August 12.

Thura U Shwe Mann, who was not accompanied by security guards, made no mention of the USDP in his speech at Phyu market. Unlike many former Tatmadaw officers, he did not use the personal pronoun “mimi”, instead using the more common and egalitarian “kyanaw’.

“We never had a chance to meet him in Phyu before,” said U Kyaw Min, 70, a native of the city and ardent supporter of Thura U Shwe Mann. “But now we can talk to him and he can talk to us,” a clearly delighted U Kyaw Min told Frontier.

Thura U Shwe Mann had impressed many Phyu residents with his warm and friendly manner during a visit to Phyu a few days before he was purged from the USDP leadership. In an interview with a Yangon daily newspaper ahead of the August 10 visit to Phyu he had repeatedly emphasised that he wanted the people’s support as a person rather than as a representative of a political party.

The USDP’s campaign team in Phyu is striving to ensure that he wins on November 8 despite the upheaval in the party over the purge engineered by a party faction loyal to President Thein Sein.

“Even if he (Thura U Shwe Mann) is not OK with central executive committee members, our campaign team must do its best because this is required by party rules and regulations,” said Ko Hein Latt Tun, a Phyu Township USDP committee member.

During a three-day campaign trail tour that began on September 11, Thura U Shwe Mann visited his native village, Kanyutkwin, and nearby communities, where among those who turned out to see him were many relatives. The crowds averaged about 150 people but conspicuous by their absence were people in the green longyis and collarless white cotton shirts favoured by USDP supporters and waving party flags.

“Although there are different parties and ideologies in Myanmar, we must elect those who will do their best for the country,” Thura U Shwe Mann told his audience at Phyu market. “If a person holds on to the country’s leadership without letting others take the lead, it would be a backward move for the country,” he said, in an apparent reference to President U Thein Sein, the parliamentary Speaker’s main party rival, whom he replaced as USDP chairman in 2013.

Thura U Shwe Mann also made an oblique reference to some other senior figures from the ruling elite.

“My birthplace will never be disgraced because of me,” he said.

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