RANGOON — Though Shwe Mann is tipped to win his Pegu Division constituency in the coming elections, an independent candidacy from an ally of Thein Sein is serving as a stark reminder of the rift between the Union Parliament speaker and the president.
Ko Ko Kyaw, a former deputy director-general of the President’s Office, resigned his post in early August to contest the Lower House seat of Phyu, shortly before the Aug. 12 party coup which ousted Shwe Mann from the chairmanship of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Both men are natives of Phyu, a small town of 65,000 people around 50 kilometers south of Taungoo.
Political analyst Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy that Shwe Mann’s support in the seat was strong, and that the speaker was likely to prevail over any independent candidacy, regardless of Ko Ko Kyaw’s affiliation with the president.
“I don’t think as an independent in that constituency he will play a major role,” he said. “President Thein Sein wants to demonstrate that he no longer has a relationship with U Shwe Mann, that’s why his former personal assistant was sent to contest the seat.”
He added that while he believed the NLD would win a free and fair election, Shwe Mann’s impressive USDP machine was likely to deliver him re-election to the Union Parliament.
Both Ko Ko Kyaw and Shwe Mann have been campaigning heavily in Phyu since the campaign officially began on Sept. 8, according to local reports. In a crowded field, both men will be competing against candidates from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the National Democratic Force, the National Unity Party and the Farmers Development Party, along with another independent candidate.
According to Than Nyunt, the NLD’s candidate for Phyu and a veteran party member of 25 years, both Shwe Mann and Ko Ko Kyaw are devoting massive resources to their respective campaigns.
“They’re now beginning their campaigns, he told The Irrawaddy, adding that he expects the pair to be his main competitors for the seat. “I haven’t seen any other candidates campaigning at the moment.”
According to a recent profile in the Burmese-language weekly Tomorrow journal, Ko Ko Kyaw’s relationship with the president goes back decades.
After graduating from Burma’s Defense Services Academy and assuming the rank of captain, he served as an orderly for Thein Sein, who at the time was serving as a General Staff colonel in the War Office.
Later promoted to major, Ko Ko Kyaw returned to Thein Sein’s staff when the latter was promoted to Brigadier-General and appointed head of the Burma Army’s Triangle Region Command in Kengtung in 1997. The same year, Thein Sein was appointed to the junta’s State Peace and Development Council.
After Ko Ko Kyaw served as commander of a light infantry battalion in Tenasserim Division, he was transferred to the Defense Services Record Office, entering the Preisdent’s Office after Thein Sein’s appointment as director before his eventual promotion to deputy director-general.
Shwe Mann hit the campaign trail in Phyu on Monday, posting pictures of his meetings with local residents on his Facebook page and thanking locals for their support and sympathy. He added that he would work for the development of both Phyu Township and the nation.
The Irrawaddy could not reach Ko Ko Kyaw for comment on Monday.
A total of 232 independent candidates are contesting the Nov. 8 election at state and Union level. Among them are President’s Office ministers Aung Min and Soe Thane, who are seeking election against preselected USDP candidates in Karenni State. Both men had their USDP candidacy applications blocked by Shwe Mann’s faction before August’s party purge.
President’s Office director Zaw Htay confirmed that Ko Ko Kyaw had resigned from his post and sought candidacy for the seat before the Union Election Commission closed nominations on Aug. 8. He said the President’s Office had no comment on the former official’s candidacy.