Several Union Solidarity and Development Party lawmakers voiced concern on Tuesday over the impact last week’s intraparty turmoil could have on the ruling party’s image three months out from a general election scheduled for November 8.
Hla Swe, an outspoken lawmaker with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), told The Irrawaddy during a break in parliamentary proceedings on Tuesday that he disagreed with the manner in which Shwe Mann was dumped as party chairman.
“It is good to have some changes in the party. However, the act of using heavy security… at night, is very undemocratic and I don’t like it,” Hla Swe said.
Security personnel were deployed to the party’s headquarters in Naypyidaw when the abrupt political shakeup played out on the evening of August 12.
According to several MPs, Shwe Mann, who remains Union Parliament Speaker, has built cordial ties with lawmakers across party lines, with many respecting his handling of the role.
“There are 18 different parties in the parliament and most of them like him for he treated everyone fairly and with an open mind,” said Win Oo, a USDP MP representing Yebyu Township in Tenasserim Division.
“We have to think which way we will go. Return to the old ways, or proceed with the new ways,” he added. “We believe that [Shwe Mann] was expelled from the position because he established the new way, a democratic way for the future of the party and the country. For us, we don’t know what to do, as we cannot know what will happen next.”
Another USDP MP, who requested anonymity, expressed concern the late night purge could tarnish the party’s image ahead of a November poll in which it plans to contest 1,139 seats across the country.
“It is like breaking a newly sprouted plant,” the lawmaker said, referring to the fragile internal democracy the MP contends was developing within the party.
“People may think that our party is dictatorial and it could affect the party in the upcoming election.”
Lawmakers who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday—the opening day of the legislature’s 12th session—maintained that Shwe Mann was a reformist, whose support for democratization within the party contributed to his downfall.
“I think there is a reason behind this incident. Shwe Mann is a person who wanted democratization in the country, as well as in his party. And that may be one reason he was expelled from the position,” said Pu Paul Lian Lwin, an MP with the Chin National Development Party.
The reformist label is contested by critics who point to the former general’s association with the previous military junta, his war record and his family’s varied and opaque business interests as facts which belie a democratic veneer.
Htay Oo, the USDP’s new joint chairman, played down the purge on Tuesday, describing it as routine party politics.
“The reshuffle is done by the central executive committee of the party and is nothing special. This happens in all political parties. The party is not expelling Shwe Mann. It is just handing over the duties of the chairman to another person,” he told journalists.
When asked about the involvement of security personnel in last week’s reshuffle, Burma’s Information Minister and presidential spokesperson, Ye Htut, told journalists the deployment was a precaution undertaken at the request of the party.
“You guys would ask the police or security personnel to [take care of] security at your place or at a stage show. A political party or a private company can also request security,” said Ye Hut, adding that he knew little of the party’s internal affairs as he was part of the government.
The use of security forces was however a matter of concern among parliamentarians, who feared it represented a throwback to the heavy-handed practices of the junta era.
“It rings alarm bells over the rule of law for small parties like us,” said Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party. “The incident proves the party is still practicing dictatorship. Concerns over peace, stability and the rule of law have risen… We are cautiously watching what will happen next and would like to urge the party to act democratically.”