RANGOON — Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann unleashed a flurry of activity on his Facebook page on Sunday, after reaching out to Burmese users and welcoming their online input.
Though H.E. Thura U Shwe Mann has had a Facebook account for several months, regularly posting photos and information about activities related to the office he holds, Sunday’s post was notable in showing a more personal and engaged side of the speaker.
“I welcome people’s complaints via Facebook, and will serve the public interest to the best of my ability in the capacity of speaker. Your collaboration is appreciated,” reads text accompanying photos of Shwe Mann using a MacBook logged into Facebook, Burma’s most popular social media platform.
By Monday, the post had been shared by nearly 2,000 people and an equal number posted comments to his Facebook page. Many users took the speaker up on his offer, telling him of problems in their lives like corruption among local officials in rural areas. Others urged Shwe Mann to amend the country’s military-drafted Constitution.
Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said that some engagement with constituents was better than none, but he added that an ulterior motive might be at play.
“If he really wants to solve people’s problems, it [outreach] should have been happening since the Parliament started working in 2011. Why now? It is only lobbying for himself,” he said.
“As the general election nears, it seems he would like to promote himself and his USDP party, but I don’t think he can manage people’s complaints from social media, it is just for show,” Yan Myo Thein added.
Shwe Mann is the chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and has served as speaker of Parliament’s Lower House since 2011. He took the dual role of Union speaker in August 2013, and will lead the USDP’s efforts to hold onto control of Parliament when a general election is held later this year.
He was a leading figure in the military junta that ruled Burma until 2011, serving as joint chief of staff of the Burmese Armed Forces. He was the third highest-ranking member of the current government’s predecessor, the State Peace and Development Council, after Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Maung Aye.
The speaker has openly declared his presidential ambitions, amid uncertainty over who the USDP will put forward as its candidate for Burma’s highest elected office.
The president will be chosen by Parliament in February or March 2016.
Yan Myo Thein said more politicians were likely to take to social media in the coming months as they seek to self-promote or push their party brand ahead of parliamentary elections due in early November.