The shadow speaker?

The appointment of Thura U Shwe Mann to head a parliamentary panel ensures he will continue to play an influential role in the corridors of power and in crucial negotiations with the Tatmadaw.

By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER

The contrasts, in the comings and goings at the Union Parliament, were illuminating.

A government Mercedes pulled up and from it emerged the Deputy Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw, U Aye Tha Aung, a senior member of the Rakhine National Party. He was followed by a female RNP MP carrying some files.

Inside the vast hluttaw complex, an attendant announced the arrival of the new Speaker of the Pyidaugsu Hluttaw for the historic first session of the second Union Parliament. U Mann Win Khaing Than entered the vast chamber and took his place at the ornate Speaker’s chair. He was accompanied by a clerk, a member of the parliamentary office staff, and a National League for Democracy MP.

Elsewhere in the complex, former Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann was walking along a corridor. He was surrounded by about eight people, including bodyguards, and was followed by two escorts.

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The departure of the old parliament’s other speakers and deputy speakers after its last day was fairly low key. Thura U Shwe Mann’s departure was different. It was almost as if the staff of the parliament were paying him obeisance.

Before the new parliaments convened, rumours had been circulating that Thura U Shwe Mann, who was dramatically ousted as chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party last August, would be charged with corruption over expenses irregularities.

Thura U Shwe Mann addressed the rumour at a news conference at the parliament on January 29, saying he had never used USDP money for personal reasons.

He also described NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as “smart and intelligent” and said he expected she could deploy him “in the right place”.

On February 5, Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker U Win Myint, a close ally of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, announced the appointment of Thura U Shwe Mann as chair of the Parliamentary Commission for Assessing Legal Affairs and Special Issues, a body he created.

Pyithu Hluttaw regulations say that legal action cannot be taken against the chair of any panel appointed by the parliament.

NLD central executive committee member and MP U Tun Tun Hein said U Win Myint had appointed Thura U Shwe Mann to head the panel because of his expert knowledge.

Thura U Shwe Mann uploaded on his Facebook page many images showing him escorting his successor as Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker, U Win Myint, on a familiarisation tour around the hluttaw. Some of the images show Daw Aung San Suu Kyi looking on with a satisfied expression. They attracted thousands of “likes” from Facebook users.

Thura U Shwe Mann told the January 29 news conference that he arranged the meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and former junta strongman, U Than Shwe, in the aftermath of the NLD’s election triumph in November. In an interview with 7Days Journal, the former Speaker said he had met U Than Shwe ahead of his ouster as USDP chairman in August.

Former general Thura U Shwe Mann was regarded as the third most senior member of the military government and a right-hand man of the former Senior General Than Shwe. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi surely needs Thura U Shwe Mann for her negotiations with the Tatmadaw in the coming years. His experience in playing the game in parliament will also be invaluable for the NLD leader.

There had been speculation about tension among NLD MPs if Thura U Shwe Mann was appointed to an important role in the new parliament but the parliamentary party is remaining quiet under the control of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

This is partly out of recognition that the new speakers and NLD MPs can benefit from Thura U Shwe Mann’s knowledge and experience of parliamentary procedures.

It has been noticed that the new speakers have adopted greetings and talking styles similar to those of Thura U Shwe Mann.

The decision to appoint Thura U Shwe Mann to head the commission means he will be a presence at the Union Parliament for another five years, unlike almost all of his former USDP colleagues elected in 2010.

Some of the NLD government’s most sensitive negotiations in the years ahead will be with the Tatmadaw.

The appointment of Thura U Shwe Mann to head the commission was a master stroke. His knowledge and guidance will be indispensable for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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