Shwe Mann Target of Impeachment Campaign

By Lawi Weng & San Yamin Aung 28 July 2015

RANGOON — Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann has been targeted in a petition campaign calling on the senior political figure’s impeachment—despite the country having no established impeachment procedures and the petition being referred to an authority with no powers to sanction sitting lawmakers.

A petition drive beginning on July 24 and spread on the internet has collected 1700 signatures from Shwe Mann’s Naypyidaw constituency of Zayarthiri. The campaign calls on the Union Election Commission (UEC) to impeach the speaker, claiming he violated the law by not respecting the military’s role in the Union Parliament.

The petition comes after Naypyidaw’s deliberations on amendments to Burma’s 2008 Constitution last month, which amongst other measures would have ended the military veto of charter reform by lowering the parliamentary vote threshold to 70 percent.

One quarter of all seats in the Union Parliament are reserved for the military. The amendments, which failed to pass on the back of an apparent bloc vote by military lawmakers, appear to have been overwhelmingly supported by the USDP and other parties in the legislature.

The petition claims that Shwe Mann did not inform his constituents about plans to hold constitutional discussions, leading to a ‘misunderstanding’ between the public and the military.

Thaung Hlaing, a UEC director, confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Monday that the commission had received two letters calling for the impeachment of Shwe Mann and USDP central committee member Thein Zaw, but refused to provide further information about the letters.

Burma does not have any established laws on impeachment proceedings against lawmakers, which in any case would fall outside the UEC’s purview. Prominent legal activist Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy that the petition was legally inconsequential.

“There is no law,” he said. “They are playing games. I think they are doing this to divert people’s attention. The UEC can do nothing, but these people are sending letters which can’t be actioned.”

USDP lawmaker Win Oo told The Irrawaddy he was unsurprised that a rift between the speaker and other parliamentary players had emerged ahead of the election.

“The election is here soon. These sorts of power struggles are normal, even in other countries,” he said. “They are trying to give him a bad image or spread bad news to humiliate him.”

Shwe Mann is widely seen as a moderate—relative to other senior figures in USDP ranks—who has sought cordial relations with the office of President Thein Sein, opposition parties and the military. He is highly regarded by other civilian members of parliament, both within and outside his party.

He is also considered to be a leading contender for Burma’s presidency in the aftermath of November’s elections. The USDP has yet to announce its candidate for the position.

A former Burma Army general and at one point the third most powerful man in the country during the military regime, Shwe Mann is now seen as an advocate for political reform.

The military, meanwhile, have been reluctant to concede to reform pressure since the initial efforts led by Thein Sein in the first half of the current parliamentary term. Last month’s constitutional debate and the current efforts to signal displeasure with Shwe Mann now appear to be driving a schism between the USDP and the military.

“We understand we cannot achieve all the reforms needed at once and we need to take things step by step,” Win Oo told The Irrawaddy. “For [the USDP] we will all work together with other political parties and even the military…but if the military only let their members run the country, we will not support them.”