Before Lawmakers, Shwe Mann Offers Peek Inside the Purge

By Zarni Mann 18 August 2015

NAYPYIDAW — A contrite Shwe Mann took to the floor of Parliament on Tuesday to offer an apology for the recent Union Solidarity and Development Party turmoil in which he has played lead victim, leaving unresolved for now the former USDP leader’s ultimate political fate.

Addressing lawmakers at the opening of the legislature’s 12th session, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann made his most detailed comments yet about a party shakeup that saw him dumped from its leadership last week.

Saying he did not “want the problem to escalate,” Shwe Mann shared with parliamentarians a list of accusations leveled against him, including opaque use of party funds, exhibiting undemocratic intraparty behavior and failing to abide by the Constitution. The deposed USDP leader said concern over the potential negative impacts of these alleged transgressions to both the party and the country’s Nov. 8 general election had prompted his ouster.

He stopped short of denying the accusations, saying only that he “did not intend to make these things happen” and “felt very sorry” about the contents of the letter.

“I want to support the smooth and successful democratization of the country, which is why I am talking about it here,” he told lawmakers.

Shwe Mann said both he and the party’s new joint chairman, Htay Oo, had received the letter on Thursday, notifying the men of the party reshuffle.

In order to avoid exacerbating the leadership turmoil, the ex-chairman of Burma’s ruling party said he had initially resolved to keep the letter to himself and “respond later as necessary.”

“But then, keeping silent about it can be taken as confessing to those things and I therefore present this letter so that people can make the judgment,” he added.

Ultimately, he said, “I only want stability and [for people to live] peacefully.”

Earlier on Tuesday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi made vague reference to her working relationship with Shwe Mann—one aspect of the speaker’s parliamentary tenure that is believed to have irked some USDP leaders and the military establishment, likely contributing to his ouster.

Asked if she had lost an ally with the removal of the ruling party chairman and some of his allies in the USDP, Suu Kyi said: “No, because we are going to learn now who our real friends are; the friendship between friends will become stronger.”

The filing of a recall petition purportedly containing more than 1,700 signatures from residents of Shwe Mann’s Zayarthiri constituency was also cited in the letter as relevant to his demotion, and on Tuesday Suu Kyi described as “ridiculous” the constitutional provision allowing just 1 percent of a lawmaker’s constituents to sign a petition in order to set the process of impeachment in motion.

“For example, in Sagaing Township, our representative won by [earning] 93 percent [of votes] in 2012. Now, one percent has a right of recall? It’s ridiculous,” she said.

The NLD chairwoman also weighed in on the manner in which her former party counterpart was dismissed as chairman, with state security forces surrounding the USDP headquarters in Naypyidaw as the late-night party purge was executed last week.

“With regard to the happenings in the middle of the night, this is not what you expect in a working democracy,” she said.

Asked what the impact of the USDP’s intraparty dust-up might be on the parliamentary session convened Tuesday and elections due in November, Suu Kyi said her party would take a wait-and-see approach.

“If it is affecting the Parliament and elections, it can’t be ignored,” she said.