Myanmar's Shwe Mann finds an ally

(From top) Mr Shwe Mann, who still holds the post of Speaker of the House in Myanmar's Parliament; Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy will work together with Mr Shwe Mann; and Mr Htay Oo, the newly appointed chairman
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy will work together with Mr Shwe Mann.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
(From top) Mr Shwe Mann, who still holds the post of Speaker of the House in Myanmar's Parliament; Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy will work together with Mr Shwe Mann; and Mr Htay Oo, the newly appointed chairman
Members of Myanmar's military making their way to Parliament in Naypyitaw yesterday. Tensions between political parties have been high ahead of the Nov 8 elections, which are expected to be a crucial test of the nation's democratic reforms.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
(From top) Mr Shwe Mann, who still holds the post of Speaker of the House in Myanmar's Parliament; Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy will work together with Mr Shwe Mann; and Mr Htay Oo, the newly appointed chairman
Mr Shwe Mann, who still holds the post of Speaker of the House in Myanmar's Parliament.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
(From top) Mr Shwe Mann, who still holds the post of Speaker of the House in Myanmar's Parliament; Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition National League for Democracy will work together with Mr Shwe Mann; and Mr Htay Oo, the newly appointed chairman
Mr Htay Oo, the newly appointed chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Aung San Suu Kyi says opposition NLD will work with sacked ruling party leader

NAYPYITAW • Myanmar's Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her opposition party would ally with powerful ousted ruling party leader Thura Shwe Mann, as the country's political forces re-align in the biggest shake-up since the end of military rule.

President Thein Sein purged his rival Shwe Mann and his allies from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in dramatic fashion last week, just months before landmark elections.

"It is now clear who is the enemy and who is the ally," Ms Suu Kyi told reporters yesterday at the country's Parliament, when asked if Mr Shwe Mann's sacking had cost her an ally.

"The National League for Democracy (NLD) will work with the ally."

She did not detail how they would work together.

As chairman of the USDP, Mr Shwe Mann sought to build ties with Ms Suu Kyi, which sparked suspicion among some members of the ruling party and contributed to his sacking. The USDP is made up of many former military officers.

Mr Shwe Mann had antagonised the military by backing Ms Suu Kyi's campaign to reform the Constitution to limit the sway of the generals over Myanmar's politics.

She is banned from the presidency under a Constitution drafted by the military before it handed over power in 2011. The armed forces hold a veto over any charter changes.

Yesterday, Mr Shwe Mann denied he had divided the country in a speech to the joint chambers of Parliament. "I am not destroying party unity and stability," he said.

Security forces surrounded the USDP compound late last Wednesday, locking down the building as the President's allies met party leaders to oust Mr Shwe Mann's faction from the leadership committee. "As for the happenings of the middle of the night, this is not what you expect from a working democracy," Ms Suu Kyi said.

In response, Information Minister Ye Htut told reporters at a news conference that police had a duty to respond to a request for protection made during the evening by the USDP.

Ms Suu Kyi said the upheaval in the USDP was likely to benefit her NLD party, which would win more votes in the elections.

Her party was already expected to win the most seats in the November ballot, seen as a crucial test of the country's democratic reforms.

Concerns over the durability of those reforms were heightened last week by a media crackdown in the wake of Mr Shwe Mann's sacking. The scrapping of censorship in 2012 was one of boldest reforms of Mr Thein Sein's government.

Mr Ye Htut said yesterday that a radio station, Cherry FM, with links to Mr Shwe Mann had been taken off the air until after the Nov 8 elections, after it failed to convince the government that it would be impartial. Suspended on Saturday, Cherry FM is linked to Mr Shwe Mann's daughter-in-law.

Mr Shwe Mann still holds the position of Speaker of the House and opened Parliament for the last session before the vote yesterday.

He was under pressure to table a Bill that establishes the rules for constituents to recall Members of Parliament and could lead to his own impeachment. He faces a petition from his own constituents.

The Bill was not tabled, but a multi-party committee would submit the draft to Parliament no later than tomorrow, said USDP MP Win Oo.

Ms Suu Kyi called the Bill "ridiculous", as MPs could be recalled by just 1 per cent of constituents.

Mr Shwe Mann yesterday also denied that he had misused party funds, which he said he was accused of in a letter last week. He did not give further details.

Mr Shwe Mann's allies vowed to defend him in Parliament.

"Most of the USDP lawmakers in the Lower House are going to support Shwe Mann," said Mr Aung Lynn Hlaing, a USDP member, as he entered Parliament.

"Shwe Mann always represents us when we are ignored by the President. I think it's not right the way they did what they did in our party."

Tension between the rival camps rose after the USDP last week omitted from its list the majority of a group of around 150 officers who retired from military service to run as USDP candidates.

The USDP also sidelined two of the President's closest allies by leaving them off the candidate list.

Mr Shwe Mann's fall from grace bears echoes of the political purges under the junta, leading some to doubt he has a future in public life.

"We can be sure they will uproot him by hook or by crook,"said MP Thein Nyunt from the New National Democracy Party.

"So my best advice for him is 'resign from the Speaker's position if you want to prevent further perils for you and your family'."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar's Shwe Mann finds an ally'. Print Edition | Subscribe