Myanmar leaders play down exit of Shwe Mann

Mr Shwe Mann (left) remains the Speaker of Parliament.
Mr Shwe Mann (above) remains the Speaker of Parliament.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

US and Britain express concern over the use of security forces in latest purge

Leaders of Myanmar's ruling party have sought to downplay the exit of Thura Shwe Mann, who remains Speaker of Parliament and went to his office as usual yesterday.

In a late afternoon post on his Facebook page, the 68-year-old former top general thanked his supporters for their concern and said he would continue to work for the people until his dying day.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), in a statement on Thursday, merely said that its chairman Thura Shwe Mann - "Thura'' means "great hero" - had been replaced because he had "heavy duties" as both party chairman as well as Speaker, and "now is a time to focus on party duties". Taking over is 65-year-old major-general Htay Oo, who is seen as close to President Thein Sein.

As many as 12 party leaders were axed in the sweeping purge. The party's two newspapers have been suspended. The deployment of security forces to the party's headquarters on Wednesday night, however, alarmed foreign observers.

"While the USDP has described the incident at its headquarters as an internal party matter, we are concerned about the apparent use of state security forces to help resolve the dispute," the US Embassy said.

"Maintaining public trust in the democratic process will be critical throughout this election season and ultimately the transition to a new government next April that reflects the will of the people.''

The British Embassy echoed the US, saying in a statement on Thursday quoted by the Mizzima news agency: "We are concerned by reports that the police were involved... in the resolution of a party dispute. Public trust in the democratic process is essential as we approach the elections in November.''

Senior government officials have maintained that the show of force was to ensure stability.

Several Myanmar analysts say that while the show of force may have been unnecessary, it merely reflects the military security mindset that is still a reality in Myanmar.

"This is just an internal struggle. It is Myanmar style,'' said one analyst, who asked not to be named.

"It was a bloodless, Burmese-style coup,'' wrote Mr Aung Zaw, editor of the influential journal The Irrawaddy.

However, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - known to have a close working relationship with Mr Shwe Mann - cancelled a scheduled trip to Shan state.

Mr Win Htein, a Member of Parliament from her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was quoted in The Irrawaddy as saying: "It is inappropriate… to continue campaigning, acting as if nothing has happened." He reportedly added that Ms Suu Kyi was "displeased" with Mr Shwe Mann's treatment.

Mr Shwe Mann is due to chair the upcoming session of Parliament from Tuesday. It will be the last before the Nov 8 election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar leaders play down exit of Shwe Mann'. Print Edition | Subscribe