Thein Sein, Shwe Mann Rivalry Ripples Through Parliament

By Tha Lun Zaung Htet 28 August 2013

RANGOON — A power struggle between President Thein Sein and Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann has resulted in a division in Parliament between army representatives and MPs from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), lawmakers say.

At a session of the Lower House last Friday, the divide was clear during a heated debate of a bill that is opposed by Shwe Mann.

The bill, which was proposed by the Union Election Commission (UEC), would allow for the removal of lawmakers from Parliament if the election commission receives complaints about their performance from 1 percent of their constituents.

Shwe Mann and other USDP lawmakers oppose the bill, saying 1 percent is not a large enough base of criticism to warrant removal from office. If enacted into law, they said the bill could stir up political unrest.

Army MPs have a reputation for staying quiet during discussions of bills, but on Friday they took part in a heated debate.

While three USDP lawmakers called to suspend talks on the bill until after the Constitution is amended, army representatives in Parliament—who are not elected by a constituency—demanded that the bill be discussed and approved.

Both sides launched verbal attacks against each other until Shwe Mann decided to suspend discussion of the controversial bill.

Burma’s Constitution reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament for military representatives, who are appointed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Ye Htun, a Lower House lawmaker representing Shan State’s Hsi Baw Township, said military MPs have sided with Thein Sein and are consequently opposing Shwe Mann and other USDP lawmakers.

He said it was clear why the election commission’s bill would be supported by Thein Sein and government officials but not by Lower House lawmakers.

“The chairman of the UEC and at least five members can be appointed by the president, so we can say they are his men,” the lawmaker said.

If the UEC’s bill were enacted, he added, “The president, vice president and other high-ranking officials at the Union level could be charged and dismissed by Parliament, while all lawmakers—including the speaker—could also be ousted by the UEC, which comprises the president’s men, with complaints from 1 percent of their voters.”

Phone Myint Aung, a member of the Upper House, cautioned against rivalries between Parliament and the government, calling for greater collaboration and mutual respect.

In recent months, lawmakers have reported that a political rivalry has developed between Thein Sein, who also belongs to the USDP, and Shwe Mann, who was the third-ranking general in the former regime and has expressed ambitions to run for president in the 2015 election.

Tension has reportedly been related to the ouster of the union auditor general last year during a major cabinet shakeup by Thein Sein, as well as the government’s decision to cut Parliament’s budget. Disagreements have also arisen over the current peace process and administrative matters.

State-run newspapers and broadcasters have reported accusations by lawmakers against government officials for allegedly not following the Constitution in efforts to draft bills.

Political observer Dr Yan Myo Thein, however, warned that talk of a rivalry between Thein Sein and Shwe Mann was only speculation.

“We should also consider the fact that there is a possibility of division into two groups—the soft and hardliners—in the USDP, in order to systematically attract public attention and regain support.”