Spotlight on Shwe Mann as Burma’s Parliament Set to Resume

By The Irrawaddy 17 August 2015

As the political fallout from last week’s internal purge of Burma’s ruling party continues to be calculated, all eyes will be fixed on Shwe Mann when Parliament resumes on Tuesday for its final session before the country’s much anticipated nationwide election in November.

Will the ousted party chairman, who remains speaker of Burma’s Union Parliament, take a conciliatory approach? Or will he speak his mind?

For now, Shwe Mann will reportedly contest the election for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Pegu Division’s Phyu Township. But, as political observers have noted, his ongoing identification with the ruling party now appears untenable.

Shwe Mann’s late night axing as USDP chairman, along with the dispatch of his factional allies, was a dramatic demonstration of discord within the ruling party and, more specifically, of an apparent rift between the parliamentary speaker and President Thein Sein.

Speaking to Reuters, Burma’s Information Minister Ye Htut indicated Shwe Mann was sacked over his support of controversial bills in Parliament and his ties to opposition party leaders—an apparent reference to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s main opposition party, was reportedly displeased with the way the ousted USDP chairman had been treated.

Htay Oo, a former major general and a minister under the previous junta, now leads the party alongside Thein Sein. The new chairman, like his sacked predecessor, is believed to be among the wealthiest members of the former regime.

In a January 2013 interview with The Irrawaddy, Htay Oo spoke of his occasional visits to former junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe, praising the ex-dictator as the architect of Burma’s current quasi-civilian political system.

According to reliable sources, on the night the USDP factional drama played out inside the party’s headquarters in Naypyidaw, a member of Than Shwe’s family called the president’s office to receive the latest updates.

Prior to his dismissal, Shwe Mann had a private meeting with Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, according to a source in the capital.

Perhaps anticipating the coming political turbulence, Shwe Mann reportedly sent his wife and grandchildren to stay in Singapore.

Shwe Mann’s rivals will be closely watching him over the coming days, no doubt with a retort at the ready should the former chairman speak out against his treatment.

“It depends on what he says,” said a government official, who requested anonymity, in discussing the action that may be taken against Shwe Mann if he refused to toe the party line.

The parliamentary speaker’s first public utterance since his removal came in a Facebook post on Friday.

“I will keep working together with the people and doing good things for them until my time has ended,” Shwe Mann wrote in the post which was accompanied by a photo of him sitting at his desk.

When Parliament resumes, part of the legislative agenda may be a bill that stipulates the procedures for impeaching sitting lawmakers—a law which could have implications for Shwe Mann himself.

Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) on Thursday called on Shwe Mann to enact the law, ramping up the pressure on the already embattled Union Parliament speaker.

The UEC’s edict came less than a month after it was revealed the commission had received a petition bearing 1,700 signatures from Shwe Mann’s Naypyidaw constituency of Zayarthiri, claiming he had violated the law by not respecting the military’s role in Parliament.

The parliamentary speaker’s attempts to brand himself as a man of the people seems to have garnered a degree of public sympathy, although many Burmese will need no reminding that this is the same former general who was the third most powerful figure in the Than Shwe-led junta.

Two of Shwe Mann’s sons have significant business interests in Burma; Aung Thet Mann remains on the US Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, although his father was removed from the list in September 2012.

Aung Thet Mann received lucrative government contracts to supply fertilizer to farmers throughout the delta region and is also involved in construction. His brother, Toe Naing Mann, owns communications firm Red Link and is an active participant in his father’s trusted political circle.

With Shwe Mann now out of favor, some observers have speculated whether his opponents in government will look to further discredit him by probing his family’s business dealings.

The USDP has held several marathon meetings to deal with the fallout from last week’s internal ruction and formulate strategies with an eye to the November poll. Depending on the former chairman’s public reaction to his dramatic fall from grace, there may be more late night party confabs ahead.