‘All USDP Members Are Responsible for Our Loss in 2015’

By Htet Naing Zaw 25 April 2016

The formerly ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is in the news again this week with former President Thein Sein making a dramatic return to the party leadership by purging more than a dozen senior members including Shwe Mann, who once served as party chairman before relations between the two men soured.

Following the ouster of 17 members of the party’s upper echelon on Friday, The Irrawaddy spoke with Tint Zaw, a USDP central executive committee member, in Naypyidaw to discuss the purge, his party’s plans and Thein Sein’s role in its future. 

What has the USDP been doing in the aftermath of the 2015 election? What activities has the party been engaged in since then?

Our party has been in existence since 2003; we were an association then. We transformed the association into a party in 2010. As a party, we have functional branches at division, district and township levels, and we have the largest membership in Myanmar at present. We have concrete objectives, policies and principles and we are working according to them.

What is significant is that we are now transforming ourselves into a people’s party. And we are planning to make sure leaders of the party at the different levels, from village to central levels, are those who have good names with local people. We are now actively engaged in [public support] mobilization activities to reorganize the party with qualified and capable people who can lead the party and who people want.

According to the party’s charter, a conference is to be held once every five years. As we are a political party, one of our objectives is, of course, to contest and win the multi-party democracy general election. Only when we win the election will we be able to serve the interests of people more effectively and engage in nation-building endeavors.

We are planning to hold the party conference to reorganize the party according to the reviews and recommendations we have made following the 2015 general election. We are now holding meetings at the village/ward level. Then, we’ll hold meetings at township level, and then district and division levels. So, we expect to hold the central-level conference in August.

The former President [Thein Sein] has taken back the USDP reins. What will his future role in the party be?

Yes, he is back at the party. He comes to the party office now. He has even held a meeting with the central executive committee of the party. He is also devising policies. He is now giving close leadership. He is the incumbent chairman of the party.

The USDP has purged U Shwe Mann and 16 other senior members. Can you explain the reasoning behind their dismissals?

For a political party to exist, the party’s rules are of importance. A party’s rules are enforced in line with its charter and we reward and punish party members in line with the party’s charter. The party headquarters has systematically formed relevant ‘affairs’ committees [such as on youth or international relations], and we have also formed a party rules enforcement committee, party functions assessment committee and so on. Those committees monitor party members and check whether they violate the party’s charter. We have allowed those persons to resign from the party as they have violated the party’s charter. It was the decision of the central executive committee.

But then, it came under the spotlight as they are popular among the people. It is the internal affairs of the party and we therefore wanted to handle it quietly.

The USDP won the 2010 election but suffered humiliating losses in the 2012 by-election and 2015 general election? What do you think is the reason for that?

In fact, people want change. We won the 2010 multi-party election [boycotted by the National League for Democracy] and the USDP was able to form the government, and we made up the majority in Parliament. As the leading and ruling party, our party engaged with the people. As the party gets along with the military and is backed the military, it took the lead role in all the four estates of the country and served the interests of the people. But, I’m afraid it did not meet the aspirations and wishes of people.

So, people wondered whether another organization would be able to do more for them, particularly regarding human rights, public health, education and social welfare. I’m afraid [the USDP track record] did not meet their expectations in those sectors.

Our [former] military government and [successor] USDP government have engaged in works in the interests of the people. We have built highways, factories and airports. Everyone has borne witness. [There are] infrastructural developments almost everywhere. But for individual citizens, there are people who are not satisfied with the condition of schools their children are attending and who do not have access to potable water and electricity in their villages. Though we were able to bring development to our country, we could not meet the wishes of individual citizens. So people wanted change.

We saw the warning sign in the 2012 by-election—that we did not meet the wishes of people. But then, we failed to make proper preparations and we lost the 2015 election as a result.

Taking a lesson from this, we have to think about what we are going to do for 2020 [the year of Burma’s next general election]. Here, I would like to stress that we want the country to develop. We uphold our three main national causes. It is not that we will try to achieve our goals alone and do not want somebody else to do it. If our goals can be reached and if the interests of the people can be served, we can accept anyone who does it and we are willing to cooperate.

So, does the party plan to undertake reforms in light of the 2015 election outcome?

In fact, all [party members] are responsible for the party’s loss in 2015. From central executive committee to ward/village level, all are responsible for it as they failed to satisfy the wishes of people. Everyone takes that responsibility.

As I have said, we are in the process of reorganizing the party with qualified, capable and respected people who can lead the party and who are backed by the people. And we are also strengthening the party’s policies.

What business interests does the party hold? How is the party’s financial situation?

We had the idea of transforming the USDA into a political party since we formed it as a social organization. We had laid down the objectives of serving the interests of people and turning ourselves into a political force together with the military, which is the defense force of the country.

Our leaders predicted that other political parties would find fault with the party’s possessions, so we have made sure most of our businesses are in line with financial laws and regulations of the State, and we also make sure we do not take concessions because other political parties use our financial position and businesses as a reason to attack us. But after we transformed into a political party, we ceased doing business except farming and livestock breeding, the business of the country’s majority, because we were afraid that people would have negative opinions of us if we continued to do these businesses.

Final question: How much do you think the USDP, as an opposition party, will be able to serve as a check on the NLD government?

Our goal is to bring about development for the country and the people, at least the same level of development with neighboring counties, especially in the sectors of education, health, human rights and infrastructure. We need to build peace, create job opportunities and address the unemployment. We tried to address those problems while we were the government and in Parliament. And we are willing to cooperate with any party if it serves the interests of the country and the people. And we will point out, as a political party, if they make mistakes.

Even the people who have fought for various reasons [in the past] are now talking around the table. We’ll respond constructively to the big [NLD] party, which people have voted for clearly. Our goal is that which is in the interests of the country and the people.