MANDALAY—Addressing online speculation about his motivations, Thura U Shwe Mann, a onetime military general turned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ally who served as Lower House speaker during the previous U Thein Sein administration, said he established his own political party purely in the public interest, and not for the sake of any individual or organization.
“Some have claimed on social media that my party has given its allegiance to someone behind the scenes. I tell you that no one can influence my beliefs or my party,” said U Shwe Mann, founder of the Union Betterment Party, as he met local residents in Mandalay on Thursday.
U Shwe Mann, who was considered the third-most-powerful man in the military regime that ruled the country from 1998 to 2010, became the speaker of the Lower House of Myanmar’s Parliament following the 2010 general election.
He was purged from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)’s top position in August 2015 during a power struggle with then-President U Thein Sein.
USDP supporters branded him a turncoat in the wake of a series of political maneuverings that led him to ally with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the party’s chief rival, the National League for Democracy (NLD), ahead of the 2015 general election.
U Shwe Mann lost to an NLD candidate in the 2015 general election, but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appointed him to head the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission of the Union Parliament in 2016.
Just before Parliament voted against extending the term of that commission in February, he established the Union Betterment Party. The Union Election Commission approved the party’s registration in April.
Given his past ties to the two major political parties, some are dubious about his intentions in establishing a party, seeing it as a move to serve the interests of either the NLD or the USDP.
“At present in our country, only political parties can engage in state affairs. That’s why I have established a party,” he said.
When asked by The Irrawaddy for his assessment of the current political landscape in Myanmar, U Shwe Mann replied, “I would say improvements in the political, economic and social sectors will only be achieved with vigilant, active, appropriate and effective work.”
Around 300 residents of Mandalay District attended the meeting on Thursday.
“Given the current political situation, we need many people who have experience and can work and lead like him. Only then will people have wider options and be able to make more correct choices,” said Mandalay resident U Htay Lwin, who attended the meeting.
U Shwe Mann said his party would field candidates in almost all townships and regions. He said the party would contest elections in ethnic states if asked to do so by local residents.
The Union Betterment Party has nearly 100,000 members and has opened branch offices in over 70 townships, U Shwe Mann said, adding that it will expand its presence to up to 200 townships in the months to come.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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