Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will keep President Thein Sein as its chairman, according to a senior party official who spoke to The Irrawaddy on the first day of a three-day party conference.
“He [Thein Sein] will continue as chairman of our party, even though he cannot work for us. Someone else can cooperate with him to carry out his duties for the party,” said USDP General Secretary Htay Oo on Sunday.
The USDP is meeting in Naypyidaw to discuss its strategy for Burma’s next national election in 2015, following its rout by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in by-elections held in April.
The NLD won 43 of 45 seats up for grabs in the April 1 by-elections, while the USDP won only one, in a constituency that the NLD did not contest.
Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, who is also the USDP’s deputy chairman, said that the party, which was founded by former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe, should embrace democracy and think of itself as a “party of the people.”
“Democracy is rule by the people, and that’s what the people want. For us, we need to systematically introduce democracy to our party,” said Shwe Mann at the conference’s opening ceremony.
However, Htay Oo emphasized that while listening to the people is essential, ensuring that the party can carry out its platform is an even higher priority.
“Building trust with the people is an important second step. But the first step is for our members to implement the policies that we have decided to introduce for the good of the people,” he said in an interview with The Irrawaddy.
Concerning the party’s prospects in 2015, he said: “We will be elected if the people trust us. If they don’t trust us, they won’t vote for us.”
He also did not rule out the possibility of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi becoming Burma’s next president, although he qualified this by saying that she would need to meet certain “criteria.”
“I see no problem with her becoming president, as long as she meets the necessary criteria,” he said.
Under Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, Suu Kyi cannot become the country’s head of state because of her family ties to foreign nationals. Suu Kyi’s two sons are both British citizens, as was her late husband Michael Aris.
Regarding the role of Than Shwe in Burmese politics, Htay Oo said that the retired general continues to be a “father figure” to the party and the military despite his retirement from both.
The USDP has about four million members nationwide, according to the party’s leaders.