US policymakers are criticizing the role of Burmese security forces in the nighttime ouster of the ruling party chief this week, which shows the fragility of political reforms as the Southeast Asian nation gears up for November elections.
The US State Department and the Senate majority leader both voiced concern on Friday over how Burmese general-turned-politician Shwe Mann was removed as party leader on Wednesday night in a murky power play reminiscent of the decades the country, also known as Burma, spent under direct military rule.
Also on Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties “to recommit to free, fair and credible elections in November,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
US Republican senator Mitch McConnell, the most prominent congressional voice on Myanmar, has expressed mounting unease over the country’s direction.
He said the manner of Shwe Mann’s ouster “should give pause to supporters of democratic reform in Burma.”
“The reported role of state security forces in the effort to unseat a party official is deeply disturbing, especially given Burmese history,” McConnell said in a statement.
Security forces had surrounded the headquarters of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in the capital Naypyidaw and the party announced that Shwe Mann was being removed as chairman.
He remains a lawmaker and parliament speaker.
In many ways, Shwe Mann’s career has epitomized the nation’s historic shift from military rule to fledgling democracy.
The former junta member was a close associate of then-dictator Than Shwe and visited North Korea in 2008 to promote defense ties, but since Myanmar opened up, winning its diplomatic rapprochement with the US, he had cooperated with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Shwe Mann has visited Washington twice, most recently in May. He met top administration officials.
Tensions have been building for months between him and Burmese President Thein Sein, who could now be poised to seek a second term. Shwe Mann’s star fell after he supported a failed effort last month to push through constitutional amendments that would have reduced the military’s role in parliament.
US President Barack Obama has counted Myanmar’s reforms as an important achievement of his foreign policy, but stalled reforms and repression of minority Muslims has put the administration on the defensive over its rapid move to roll back sanctions that critics say was too hasty.
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