Analysis: Behind NLD Spokesperson’s Hospitalization

By The Irrawaddy 1 August 2017

U Win Htein, spokesperson of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), has been confined to Zabu Thiri Specialist Hospital with reporters barred from meeting him, according to sources close to the prominent politician.

Despite the fact he has been admitted for more than two weeks, there has been no public statement about his condition, though NLD sources told The Irrawaddy that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself advised U Win Htein to undergo a medical examination that resulted in his hospitalization.

The close ally of the State Counselor is allegedly expected to spend two months in hospital, but appeared well as he attended the NLD’s Central Executive Committee meeting in Naypyitaw on July 22.

NLD sources, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy that during the medical checkup, doctors advised U Win Htein to rest and showed him to a room, complete with cable TV, to take a “long break.”

Reporters close to the spokesperson said they had, uncharacteristically, been shooed away by U Win Htein when they attempted to visit him.

Seventy-five-year-old U Win Htein is thought to be in relatively good health—his most significant problems in the last few months have been run-ins with the media and the military.

Early this year, rumors spread on social media that U Htin Kyaw, appointed President by the NLD and a close friend of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, would be resigning—they proved to be false.

Confronting the rumors, U Win Htein said, “it’s hard to guess if it was [spread] by the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] or some military organizations, or IT guys who hate us.”

The Myanmar Army “seriously condemned” the ruling party spokesperson’s suggestion that there had been military involvement.

A press release by the Military Information Team stated that “a groundless reply based on suspicion seriously harms the military’s dignity,” regarding U Win Htein’s comment.

Such an act, the military said, “could harm national unity, especially during a time when the government is committed to national reconciliation,” adding, “we will make the necessary responses.”

It was not clear how NLD leaders, including U Win Htein, resolved this friction, but later in May at the Union Peace Conference, a smiling U Win Htein was seen rushing to greet army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

U Win Htein, a former army officer who spent years in prison after joining the NLD in 1988, has been loyal to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and is a key party member. His hospitalization comes amid tense relations between military leaders and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.

In early July, Yangon chief minister U Phyo Min Thein caused friction between military and civilian arms of the government by equating Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing with the low government rank of a director-general and said treating him as a top leader was “not democracy.”

The army soon filed a complaint with the NLD government and asked that they “take necessary actions” against the chief minister.

U Phyo Min Thein swiftly sent an apology letter to the military and was personally reprimanded by U Win Myint—a senior NLD member now serving as speaker of the Lower House.

These controversies took place as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her administration attempted to develop good relations with the army as part of the one-year-old government’s quest for national reconciliation.

The Nobel Laureate has had several meetings with military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in recent years, presumably to build trust.

A female senior NLD member, who spent several years in prison, told The Irrawaddy last week that remarks like those of U Win Htein and U Phyo Min Thein have not been helpful, as army leaders and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have been trying to build trust and confidence.