Fri, Aug 14, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Top Myanmar politician sacked in power struggle

POWER STRUGGLE:The removal of Shwe Mann, who is also parliamentary speaker, came after police raids on party headquarters. Shwe Mann had opposed the army on key issues

AFP, NAYPYIDAW

Burmese soldiers march during the 69th Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on March 27 last year.

Photo: EPA

The leader of Myanmar’s ruling party has been removed from his post, an official said yesterday, after a shock police swoop on party headquarters that laid bare a power struggle among the country’s key political players ahead of elections.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been gripped by in-fighting in the run up to the November polls — billed as the freest and fairest for decades in the former junta-ruled nation.

After a night of high political drama that saw security forces enter the USDP base in Naypyidaw, Shwe Mann — who is also the parliamentary speaker — appeared to be the main target of a swift and decisive power play.

Recent months have seen intensifying rumors of animosity between Shwe Mann and Burmese President Thein Sein, both former generals who shed their uniforms to play central roles in Myanmar’s reforms.

Thein Sein agreed to Shwe Mann’s removal from his party role, Zaw Htay of the Burmese President’s Office said.

“This is just a party leadership affair, there is no reason to worry,” he said, countering rumors Shwe Mann had been arrested.

The government was working “to stabilize public order,” he added, without giving details.

Earlier, Shwe Mann’s son said his father’s house in the capital had been surrounded by “so-called guards,” following the police raid late on Wednesday.

“It is strange that armed forces have restricted a political party in this way,” Toe Naing Mann said, adding that he was monitoring the situation through contacts from Yangon.

About half a dozen police remained at the gate of the party’s vast headquarters, according to a reporter at the scene.

The surprise move comes a day before the deadline for candidates to register to contest the upcoming polls.

There were also signs that Shwe Mann was reluctant to support candidates loyal to the president and had not accepted some recently retired soldiers put forward by the powerful army.

Political tensions are seething ahead of the Nov. 8 polls.

They are set to be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a thorn in the side of the previous junta regime with her years campaigning for democracy.

Shwe Mann had publicly welcomed the idea of working closely with Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party is expected to make strong gains at the looming polls.

He has also set himself up in opposition to the still-powerful army on key issues — including on constitutional reform debates that center on reducing the military’s political power.

A USDP source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, earlier said he believed the plan was to remove Shwe Mann as party leader and impose “a new party structure.”

“We did not expect this. There were some disagreement inside the party, but that’s all. This is not good — both for the party and also for the country’s future,” the source added.

Controversial 2010 elections brought a new quasi-civilian government that has ushered in sweeping reforms.

However, concerns over the depth and pace of those reforms has mounted in recent months.

The USDP has been the vehicle for the former junta elites to metamorphose from soldiers to members of parliament.

On Wednesday, senior USDP member Aung Ko said that the party had received “more than a hundred” applications from recently retired military officers and Cabinet ministers looking to stand in the elections for the party.

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