NLD Patronage May Offer Shwe Mann Political Lifeline

By The Irrawaddy 4 February 2016

NAYPYIDAW — When news of his removal from the top post of the ruling party broke last August, most observers assumed Shwe Mann’s political career was all but over.

The former general’s fortunes took another hit when he lost in his native constituency of Phyu in Pegu Division in Burma’s general election on Nov. 8.

However, following the National League for Democracy (NLD)’s decisive electoral victory, Shwe Mann has seldom been far from the media spotlight. As outgoing parliament speaker, he attended the opening session of both houses of the legislature this week as well as a training session for NLD lawmakers on Tuesday.

He also confirmed on Friday that he arranged the surprise meeting between NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi and ex-dictator Than Shwe in early December.

“Although he is no longer in power, U Than Shwe is still influential to some extent. So I arranged a meeting for them for the good of the country and the people,” Shwe Mann told reporters in the country’s capital.

Given his close ties to Suu Kyi, cultivated during his time as parliamentary speaker, speculation has mounted over whether Shwe Mann will be handed an influential political position under the NLD.

Sources close to Shwe Mann suggested to The Irrawaddy this week that the former speaker may be awarded a non-ministerial position, perhaps as head of the Constitutional Tribunal or as chair of the Union Election Commission (UEC).

According to official government protocol, the positions are ranked number eight and nine respectively in terms of seniority, with the presidential position occupying first rank.

“[Suu Kyi] is eyeing the UEC chairmanship for U Shwe Mann,” said a high-level official with the UEC. “It would be good as he is a man of fairness and does things right.”

The commission is currently chaired by former general Tin Aye, but he will leave the post when the current government’s term ends in March.

While the NLD’s top leadership appears behind the party’s embrace of Shwe Mann, a more formal arrangement may send ripples through the party’s ranks.

As the former number three in the previous military junta, Shwe Mann would not be easily accepted by many who endured years of persecution.

Shwe Mann is alleged to have played a role in planning the assault on Suu Kyi’s motorcade at Depayin in 2003, during which dozens of her supporters were clubbed to death by regime-backed thugs.

NLD central committee member Win Htein admitted to The Voice Daily last week that Shwe Mann’s past was cause for concern, in part, “as there are more than 100 [former] political prisoners among NLD MPs.”

“We have to take their feelings into consideration,” he told the local outlet.

Another source in the incumbent government said Shwe Mann would make a good fit as head of the Constitutional Tribunal, given his past dealings with the charter in Parliament.

“The NLD may send him to the tribunal as they are desperate to fix the charter,” the source said.

The charter of the nine-member tribunal, headed by former Supreme Court director general Mya Thein, stipulates members should be legal experts.

Shwe Mann holds a degree from Burma’s Defense Services Academy and, according to his official parliamentary bio, was trained as a High Grade Pleader, with the right to practice law.