NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s Union Parliament voted on Thursday to delay discussion of a hotly contested impeachment bill that could have been used to unseat besieged Speaker Shwe Mann, who last week was removed from his post as chairman of the ruling party in a surprise political reshuffle.
The motion to suspend the bill passed with the narrow margin of 264 in favor, 235 against. Twelve lawmakers abstained. Discussion will not resume until at least the next parliamentary session, which will be held sometime after a general election in November.
Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) on Aug. 13 urged the Speaker to bring the bill to a vote, an ironic request in light of last week’s purge of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). In a dramatic standoff late on Wednesday night, Shwe Mann was expelled from the party’s leadership and accused of several offenses including opaque use of party funds, exhibiting undemocratic behavior and failing to abide by the Constitution.
Shwe Mann is viewed as something of an ally to the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and its chairwoman, Aung San Suu Kyi. Observers have characterized last week’s intraparty upset as the culmination of a power struggle between the Speaker and President Thein Sein.
Thursday’s deferral may indicate that Shwe Mann is not entirely without allies in the Union Parliament, despite his unbecoming ouster complete with security forces. In its current form, the bill could allow for the impeachment of elected members of Parliament if one percent of his or her constituency supports a recall.
Petitions to impeach that meet the one percent benchmark would subject the targeted lawmaker to an investigation by the UEC, which is constitutionally empowered to adjudicate the case.
Shwe Mann currently faces such a petition on the grounds that he supported a motion that would challenge the military’s veto power over constitutional amendments, which a faction of the party viewed as misleading to his constituents and in violation of the law.
Supporters of the recall bill’s suspension argued that the threshold for impeachment was too low and there was not enough time in the current session to fully debate the proposal.
Upper House parliamentarian Banyar Aung Moe, of the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP), was one of fifteen lawmakers to address the chambers on Thursday, arguing in favor of suspending the motion.
“It is appropriate to suspend [the recall bill] because we need a lot of time, and we don’t have very much time because the session will end soon as the election is near,” he told The Irrawaddy outside of Parliament.
Some lawmakers said that they support the bill in principle but would like longer deliberations to ensure that he final product is democratic. Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party (ANP) took issue with details of the existing draft that he viewed as hasty and potentially harmful.
“We are not afraid of this bill, and we accept that the Parliament needs such a bill to drive it to be effective,” Aye Maung said. “But one percent is too low, and would have more disadvantages than advantages.”
Nay Win Tun of the Pa-O National Organization party (PNO) echoed the sentiment, concerned that the low disapproval requirement would result in too high a turnover of elected officials, which could “confuse our constituents.”
A disappointed Hla Swe, one of Burma’s most outspoken ruling party lawmakers, countered simply that “one percent is enough,” and “the bill is needed to push out parliamentarians who aren’t working for their constituents.”
Also in his camp was newly minted USDP chief Htay Oo, who has said little to the press since he replaced Shwe Mann as the party’s acting chairman last week. Speaking to reporters after Thursday’s session, Htay Oo vowed to “respect” the suspension despite his displeasure.
“There has [already] been a lot of discussion about this in the past, and I don’t think we should take any more time to legalize [the recall bill],” Htay Oo said. “I’m not afraid of the one percent, or however many percent it may be. If people don’t like me, I have to quit.”