Tensions mount ahead of Myanmar elections after dismissal of ruling party chief

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Shwe Mann_MyanmarMyanmar’s powerful ruling party chief and reformist Shwe Mann, who just a few weeks ago registered as candidate for the November 8 elections, has been ousted from his post on the morning of August 13, one day before registration deadline. Observers say he apparently lost a power struggle with President Thein Sein.

Security forces surrounded the headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw, took control of the compound and prevented members there from leaving.

Shew Mann, who, according to his family, at that time was at home in his Naypyitaw house, is said to be put under house arrest.

The ouster from the party follows rare discord within the establishment over the role of the military, which handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011 but retains an effective veto over the political system.

“Shwe Mann isn’t the chairman of the party anymore,” said a USDP member of parliament, adding that “he is in good health and at home now.”

Shwe Mann still holds the position of speaker of parliament, party sources said, but as party chief has been replaced by USDP vice chairman Htay Oo, a close ally of Thein Sein.

Another one of Thein Sein’s closest aides, Tin Naing Thein, resigned from his post of Minister at the President’s Office on August 12 and has become the new secretary general of the party, a senior party official said. He replaces Maung Maung Thein, a supporter of Shwe Mann.

Tension has risen between Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, both former top military officers, over the selection of candidates for the November Myanmar elections, party sources said earlier. The two are old rivals and both have suggested they would accept the job of president after the parliamentary election.

Shwe Mann has built ties with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has called repeatedly for the military to withdraw from politics, and he supported an attempt in parliament in June to amend the constitution to limit the military’s political role.

Tension rose in particular after the USDP selected only 59 of 159 senior officers who retired from the military to run as candidates for the party in the coming election, the party sources said.

“What I heard… was that there was a lot of reorganisation in the party last night,” said government spokesman Ye Htut, who said he could not give further details as he is not a member of the party.

Despite the establishment of the new government, the military has resisted recent efforts to introduce constitutional amendments to loosen its grip. The USDP is comprised largely of former military officers and was created from a social movement set up by the former junta.

It is unclear why the party selected only 59 of 159 senior officers to be candidates in the election but the decision likely angered officers and politicians keen to preserve the military’s sway. The party is expected to fare poorly against Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the election.

The constitution reserves 25 per cent of seats in parliament for unelected military officers. Changes to the constitution require the support of at least 75 per cent of lawmakers, giving the military an effective veto over changes. An amendment that would have seen the threshold of support lowered to 70 per cent failed, as expected, to gain enough support with lawmakers in a June vote.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Myanmar’s powerful ruling party chief and reformist Shwe Mann, who just a few weeks ago registered as candidate for the November 8 elections, has been ousted from his post on the morning of August 13, one day before registration deadline. Observers say he apparently lost a power struggle with President Thein Sein.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Shwe Mann_MyanmarMyanmar’s powerful ruling party chief and reformist Shwe Mann, who just a few weeks ago registered as candidate for the November 8 elections, has been ousted from his post on the morning of August 13, one day before registration deadline. Observers say he apparently lost a power struggle with President Thein Sein.

Security forces surrounded the headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw, took control of the compound and prevented members there from leaving.

Shew Mann, who, according to his family, at that time was at home in his Naypyitaw house, is said to be put under house arrest.

The ouster from the party follows rare discord within the establishment over the role of the military, which handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011 but retains an effective veto over the political system.

“Shwe Mann isn’t the chairman of the party anymore,” said a USDP member of parliament, adding that “he is in good health and at home now.”

Shwe Mann still holds the position of speaker of parliament, party sources said, but as party chief has been replaced by USDP vice chairman Htay Oo, a close ally of Thein Sein.

Another one of Thein Sein’s closest aides, Tin Naing Thein, resigned from his post of Minister at the President’s Office on August 12 and has become the new secretary general of the party, a senior party official said. He replaces Maung Maung Thein, a supporter of Shwe Mann.

Tension has risen between Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, both former top military officers, over the selection of candidates for the November Myanmar elections, party sources said earlier. The two are old rivals and both have suggested they would accept the job of president after the parliamentary election.

Shwe Mann has built ties with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has called repeatedly for the military to withdraw from politics, and he supported an attempt in parliament in June to amend the constitution to limit the military’s political role.

Tension rose in particular after the USDP selected only 59 of 159 senior officers who retired from the military to run as candidates for the party in the coming election, the party sources said.

“What I heard… was that there was a lot of reorganisation in the party last night,” said government spokesman Ye Htut, who said he could not give further details as he is not a member of the party.

Despite the establishment of the new government, the military has resisted recent efforts to introduce constitutional amendments to loosen its grip. The USDP is comprised largely of former military officers and was created from a social movement set up by the former junta.

It is unclear why the party selected only 59 of 159 senior officers to be candidates in the election but the decision likely angered officers and politicians keen to preserve the military’s sway. The party is expected to fare poorly against Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the election.

The constitution reserves 25 per cent of seats in parliament for unelected military officers. Changes to the constitution require the support of at least 75 per cent of lawmakers, giving the military an effective veto over changes. An amendment that would have seen the threshold of support lowered to 70 per cent failed, as expected, to gain enough support with lawmakers in a June vote.

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