Myanmar Speaker booted from party 'for ties to rivals'

He also tried to limit junta's powers; ouster will not affect reform process, says minister

NAYPYIDAW • Myanmar President Thein Sein sacked Thura Shwe Mann as ruling party chairman last week because he supported controversial Bills in Parliament and had ties to rival party leaders, the information minister told Reuters in an interview yesterday.

The comments by Mr Ye Htut, who is also Mr Thein Sein's spokesman, are the most detailed yet by the government on why Mr Shwe Mann was ousted just three months before a general election.

The battle between two of Myanmar's most powerful figures played out in dramatic fashion last Wednesday when security forces surrounded the headquarters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the capital.

Mr Shwe Mann had antagonised the military by building ties with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and backing her campaign to change the Constitution.

The military handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011 but retains an effective veto over changes to the political system. Both Mr Thein Sein and Mr Shwe Mann are former generals who played prominent roles in the junta that ruled Myanmar for 49 years.

Members of the USDP's governing body sent Mr Thein Sein a secret letter a few weeks ago to express concerns about party policy under Mr Shwe Mann, Mr Ye Htut said. They were also concerned about a lack of transparency in his relationships with rival party leaders, he said, although he declined to say with whom.

While acknowledging Mr Shwe Mann's ouster was not good for the party's image ahead of the November election, Mr Ye Htut said Mr Shwe Mann had made some "very questionable" decisions in Parliament over the past year that reflected his own political ambitions rather than what was best for the party and the country.

That included his support in June for a constitutional amendment to limit the military's power, a Bill that failed to pass in Parliament but was backed by Ms Suu Kyi, he said.

"He sometimes tried to force his will on other people," Mr Ye Htut said. "This kind of thing happened again and again. Because of his leadership style, there was a lot of concern about inter-party democracy."

The United States has expressed concern about the use of security forces to resolve the dispute.

Mr Ye Htut said the handling of the matter would have no bearing on the pace of reform in Myanmar. "There is no turning back in the reform process," he said. "This is not good for the image of the USDP coming so close to the elections... this is an internal dispute and will not affect the executive."

Washington's concern about reform was unwarranted, he added. "Sometimes, I'm surprised about the concerns from the political circle in Washington," he said.

The country needed free and fair elections to be able to move ahead with reforms, he added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar Speaker booted from party 'for ties to rivals''. Print Edition | Subscribe