What else could be expected?

The strong-arm tactics used to remove Thura U Shwe Mann as ruling party chairman may have ominous implications for other parties.

The power struggle between U Thein Sein and Thura U Shwe Mann had been intensifying all this year. Supporters of U Thein Sein had expected Thura U Shwe Mann to be removed as chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party at a meeting of its central executive committee in June but the leadership issue was deferred. Thura U Shwe Mann was too strong then. That’s why the situation led to the dramatic events of last week, up until which I regarded the two factions as being neck and neck, with Thura U Shwe Mann having a slight edge.

In a mature institution, the leadership can be decided by a vote of its members. But the USDP is not mature enough and, anyway, it remains very much a top-down party, something it has in common with the National League for Democracy.

The struggle for control of the USDP came to a head over its election candidates’ list. As party chairman, Thura U Shwe Mann had control over the list. In a slap in the face for his party rivals, two of U Thein Sein’s stalwart ministers were denied safe USDP tickets in Kayah State. Earlier, there was a furore over Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s possible entry into the USDP and election candidacy.

Whatever the reasons, the putsch that took place at midnight on August 12 was Neanderthalish. But with Myanmar’s past, what else could be expected when it comes to power? The new USDP line-up includes many carry-overs from the tawdry past.

My reading is that with its main opponents ousted, the U Thein Sein faction has become more powerful and hardline. But at the same time, damage has been done to the party itself. Thura U Shwe Mann’s connections with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are only secondary reasons for his ouster. I had observed a while ago that with the open split in the USDP-military establishment, we could be seeing a democracy moment. But the NLD leader has neither the vision nor the capability to take advantage of this.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

Thura U Shwe Mann can expect a harsh fate because as things go in the military, a fall from power entails complete eradication. Some have said he will be allowed to run as a USDP candidate, but will he? Shan Nationalities Democratic Party MP U Ye Tun believes that Thura U Shwe Mann will also be removed as parliament speaker. There is an ominous missive from the Union Election Commission to parliament about finalising the procedure for recalling MPs. Signatures have already been amassed in Thura U Shwe Mann’s Nay Pyi Taw constituency for his impeachment. But if he regards himself as a consummate politician, he will run again – perhaps in a new party with his loyal supporters.

It could be surmised, based on the strong-arm tactics that U Thein Sein used in his midnight strike, that he had the tacit approval of junta strongman, former Senior General Than Shwe. But U Thein Sein had the military’s backing, too, and that would be enough. If establishment hardliners could do this to their own party, what does it mean for the other parties? The lessons will not be lost on the ethnic armies negotiating a national cease re accord. Who in his right mind would accede to total disarmament when people in uniform with weapons are calling the shots in Nay Pyi Taw? (Excuse the pun).

I would go so far to say that, in one midnight stroke, U Thein Sein has undone a many of the more positive steps he has taken as President. For the USDP-military bloc, its leadership old and new would be inclined to march lock-step behind U Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

For all that is held against him, Thura U Shwe Man had to an extent struck out on his own. He was the Bamar leader with the closest rapport with ethnic nationality politicians. He took the risk of reaching out to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. If circumstances allowed, I would like to see him form his own party and continue in democratic politics. He may not be the best of the ex-military politicians but there are very many more who are worse.

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar