Burma Gags Media Linked to Shwe Mann, Adding to Concerns About Reforms

By Hnin Yadana Zaw & Antoni Slodkowski 14 August 2015

NAYPYIDAW — Burma has gagged media linked to parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann after he and his allies were dramatically purged from the leadership of the ruling party by President Thein Sein on Thursday months before a historic general election.

The move comes after the heavy-handed involvement of security forces in his ousting this week and will add to concern about the progress of democratic reforms as the government uses tactics reminiscent of military-era purges.

Shwe Mann angered the military by supporting an attempt in Parliament in June to amend the Constitution to limit the military’s political role.

The Ministry of Information ordered the Union Daily newspaper and the weekly Leader journal to suspend print runs, Yamin Tin, editor-in-chief of Union Daily, told Reuters.

Both publications are run by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and until Wednesday were regarded as mouthpieces for Shwe Mann.

“The staff were told to keep working so we expect we will be able to resume after some time,” Yamin Tin said.

The Minister of Information was unavailable for comment.

Also on Friday, radio station Cherry FM, linked to Shwe Mann’s daughter-in-law, was off the air.

“We lost our signal,” said Than Htwe Zaw, a manager at Cherry FM. He was unsure what the problem was and said Cherry had not received an order to stop broadcasting.

Shwe Mann was removed as leader of the USDP but still holds the powerful position of Speaker of Parliament and visited the parliamentary complex on Friday.

“I will work for the good of the people and will stand for the people until the end,” he said in a message posted on his Facebook page, his first public comment since his removal as party leader.

Suu Kyi

Security forces surrounded the monumental USDP headquarters late on Wednesday and shortly afterwards powerful politicians close to the president began meetings to purge Shwe Mann’s faction.

The United States emphasized the need to maintain public trust in the democratic process ahead of the Nov. 8 vote, which had been billed as possibly the first free and fair vote since the end of 49 years of military rule in 2011.

Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi cancelled plans to travel to the northeastern Shan State after hearing about the USDP leadership change, said Win Htein, a member of the executive committee of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“She thinks the change of leadership in the USDP is very important both for the country and the Parliament and she shouldn’t be traveling at this point,” he said.

Shwe Mann had built ties with Suu Kyi, who has called repeatedly for the military to withdraw from politics.

Her relationship with Thein Sein is more frosty. Suu Kyi said the president ran a “hardline regime” and was insincere about reform in an interview with Reuters earlier this year.

“Shwe Mann is closer to Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Win Htein. “As for the President Thein Sein, he and Aung San Suu Kyi are not very close so it is hard to tell how the situation is going to evolve from now on.”

Suu Kyi’s NLD, which swept the polls in 1990 but was never allowed to rule by the military, is expected to do well in November. But Suu Kyi is banned from becoming president under a clause in the military-drafted constitution.

Burma’s president is elected by Parliament, not through a direct vote.

Shwe Mann being out of the picture could be positive in terms of stability, given Thein Sein’s better relationship with the military, said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It raised questions, however, about how much of a role the National Assembly would be allowed after the elections and what action the military might take if it was unhappy with the result.
Thein Sein’s relationship with Suu Kyi was also a concern, Hiebert said.

“Obviously Thein Sein is someone who knows how to make deals and compromise … but in light of what’s just happened, I can’t imagine he will be rushing off to have tea with Aung San Suu Kyi.”