RANGOON — Lawmakers have blamed Shwe Mann’s close relationship with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and constitutional flaws for the overnight removal of the parliamentary speaker from his party leadership position, as lawmakers of all stripes downplayed the significance of the purge.
Shwe Mann was removed as chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Wednesday night, after security forces from the Ministry of Home Affairs surrounded the party’s headquarters and prevented officials from leaving.
Shortly beforehand, President Thein Sein announced the resignation of several ministers, who were subsequently installed as secretaries and central committee members within the organizational wing of the USDP, replacing Shwe Mann and officials allied with the former chairman.
Pe Than, an Arakan National Party lawmaker for Myebon Township said that a faction of the party aligned with Thein Sein had moved against Shwe Mann because they were suspicious of his close links with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Suu Kyi can’t stand for the presidency and Shwe Mann feels that he would not be able to assume the presidency without her help,” he said. “Their cooperation has raised doubts and concerns and this is how it has ended.”
Other lawmakers have pointed to provisions in the Constitution, which forbid the president, vice-presidents and ministers from engaging in political party activities, as a catalyst for Wednesday’s developments.
Ye Tun, the USDP member for Hsipaw in Shan State, said that the dominance of Shwe Mann loyalists in the party organization had precipitated the intervention.
“This has happened because of the weakness of the Constitution. The Constitution does not have clear enough provisions as to whether cabinet members can take part in party activities,” he said.
At a USDP press conference in Naypyidaw on Thursday, it was announced that Shwe Mann would no longer be a member of the party’s central committee, but will remain the party’s election candidate for the seat of Phyu in Pegu Division and continue in the role of parliamentary speaker.
Senior USDP lawmaker Hla Swe downplayed the significance of the move against Shwe Mann, saying the overnight purge was an internal matter.
“It is not the concern of either the party, the government or the army. These personal issues do not concern the parliament as a whole,” he said.
Hla Swe’s comments were echoed by the country’s opposition parties on Thursday.
“This is their internal problem, not ours,” said NLD central committee member Win Htein, “Their change is not a concern for us. The government’s term is almost over, that’s why I don’t think it will have a big impact on the current political situation.”
Sai Nyunt Lwin, joint general secretary of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party, said that while he was concerned by the involvement of security forces in the move against Shwe Mann, he was cautiously optimistic that the purge would not affect the general election slated for Nov. 8.
“I wonder how it will affect the parliament. As he is the parliamentary speaker, perhaps there will be a big change,” he said. “It is not a good thing that a party is surrounded by soldiers. I don’t like such an action…But I don’t think it will lead to a great change, and I am watching the situation,” he said.
Parliament will resume in Naypyidaw on Aug. 18.