USDP ‘coup’ raises election fears among MPs

NAY PYI TAW — The “illegal” ouster of Thura U Shwe Mann as chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party showed it had the capacity to compete unfairly in the election, an opposition MP said last week.

“The USDP was illegally purged to reform itself and this means it could resort to illegal campaigning tactics in the election,” the National League for Democracy’s U Win Myint told Frontier on August 18.

“We must be vigilant,” said U Win Myint, who represents Pathein in the Pyithu Hluttaw. “The USDP always talks about democracy but it does not practice democracy,” he said, referring to the ouster of Thura U Shwe Mann and his supporters from the party’s leadership.

U Win Myint was among a number of MPs who said the purge had damaged the ruling party’s image and could affect its prospects in the election.

U Khaing Maung Yee of the National Democratic Force (Ahlone, Pyithu Hluttaw) said a “normal” reshuffle of the USDP’s chairman and leaders would likely have been to its political advantage in the election.

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“But what happened, in the night like a coup, was abnormal and made us afraid,” U Khaing Maung Yee said, referring to the midnight putsch against Thura U Shwe Mann.

The replacement of Thura U Shwe Mann and his factional allies by USDP “hardliners” had made other parties worried about competing against the party, he said.

U Khaing Maung Yee said doubts harboured by most political parties that the election would be free and fair would not exist if the Union Election Commission was independent from the government.

“But the UEC is under the control of the government and this has heightened the concerns of the NDF about the election,” he said.

New National Democracy Party chairman U Thein Nyunt (Thingangyun, Pyithu Hluttaw), said the USDP’s base lay in the military and the reshuffle was strategically and intentionally aimed at consolidating its strength for this year’s election and the one due in 2020.

Shan Nationalities Democratic Party chairman Sai Hsaung Hsi (Kyaukme, Pyithu Hluttaw) said the purge could harm the USDP’s hopes of winning the election.

He added that he would be watching to see if some USDP MPs who had backed Thura U Shwe Mann would shift their allegiance to supporters of President U Thein Sein, whose ally U Htay Oo has been installed as acting party chair.

“People change their allegiances easily these days,” Sai Hsaung Hsi said.

A USDP spokesperson denied that there was anything illegal about the changes to the party’s leadership.

U Pike Htwe, the party’s secretary and a former Deputy Information Minister, was speaking after a meeting of the USDP’s revamped central executive committee at its Nay Pyi Taw headquarters on August 17.

The USDP was totally confident that it would win the November 8 election, he said.

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