U Khin Yi, a retired brigadier general and former police chief, became the new chairman of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Wednesday. But his takeover is a lot more than a simple change in party leadership.
His personality and record, and the political path the military regime’s leaders are shaping for themselves all serve to explain his appointment as party chair.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing needs a political party that will fully support his goal of becoming president through the election he plans to hold next year. And he needs someone to steer the party exactly the way he wants. This is how U Khin Yi, who has displayed unwavering loyalty to successive military regimes, has become the party chair.
Under the military-drafted 2008 constitution, Min Aung Hlaing must hold a general election next year when his emergency rule expires. Setting aside the question of whether the election can be free and fair, the vote will allow Min Aung Hlaing to claim—however dubiously—legitimacy as the “elected president” of Myanmar, whether the rest of the world is happy about it or not. At best, the international community will issue statements, as they are doing now in the face of the Min Aung Hlaing regime’s killing of civilians. Under the constitution, he can serve two terms, allowing him to hold the country’s top job for 10 years.
How exactly can Min Aung Hlaing become the president?
As the National League for Democracy (NLD) has rejected the regime’s planned election, it will boycott the vote next year. In the NLD’s absence, the USDP has a high chance of winning. And the regime may rig the vote if necessary, as it did in the 2010 poll.
Min Aung Hlaing’s dream of becoming president of Myanmar is an open secret. The Myanmar military and both houses of parliament nominate one vice-president each under the constitution, so Min Aung Hlaing will be nominated for the post by the Myanmar military.
The military is guaranteed 25 per cent of all seats in the national legislature under the 2008 constitution, and if the USDP wins 26 percent of the vote, together they will have a majority to elect the president from the three vice-presidents. In other words, Min Aung Hlaing needs both the military and the USDP to choose him.
This is why Min Aung Hlaing made sure his henchman U Khin Yi was installed as USDP chair at the party conference held earlier this week. Of course, Min Aung Hlaing is involved in party affairs (though the constitution bars government officials from engaging in the affairs of their parties). Don’t forget that the USDP is made up of former generals and Min Aung Hlaing himself is a military dictator.
Until recently, the USDP was split into two camps, one loyal to and one opposing U Than Htay, who stepped down as the party chair at the conference. But with U Khin Yi taking over the chairmanship yesterday, the party is now completely in the hands of the group that supports Min Aung Hlaing. In other words, Min Aung Hlaing has been able to consolidate his control of the party in order for him to become the country’s president.
If the USDP wins next year’s election, U Khin Yi could become a vice-president of the country, though we will have to wait and see if this eventuates.
Stooge of dictators
U Khin Yi does not appear to have serious political ambitions of his own; a true stooge of dictators, he has a genuine willingness to do whatever his is told.
He was part of the 17th intake of the Defense Services Academy, and as such he was senior to Min Aung Hlaing. He served as chief of the Myanmar Police Force and deputy home affairs minister under former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe, and oversaw the house arrest of former powerful spy chief ex-General Khin Nyunt. He also oversaw the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before 2010.
He served as the immigration minster in U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, whose sham political reforms almost deceived the world.
He became a vice chair of the USDP after his defeat in the 2015 general election and organized protests targeting the Union Election Commission after the NLD was declared the winner in the 2020 vote.
At a Yangon press conference held by the USDP and its allied parties on Nov. 26, 2020 in response to the election defeat, U Khin Yi asked, “On whom should we rely?” His question was interpreted as a sign that he was waiting for the Myanmar military to intervene in the political situation.
U Khin Yi was not immediately rewarded after the Feb. 1 coup, but was appointed immigration minister six months later. He took over the Naypyitaw residence of ousted civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi until he was told to step down in August and return to the party.
His chairmanship will strengthen the network comprising the USDP, the nationalist Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha, and the vigilante groups he established as the police chief.
U Khin Yi also chairs the USDP’s party disciplinary committee, a position with the power to punish any party member—in a party notorious for corruption and misappropriation of state-owned assets.
At the party conference which began on Tuesday, U Than Htay said he was stepping aside, citing health issues and his failure to lead the party to victory in the 2020 election. But sources said U Khin Yi had planned to impeach U Than Htay under party rules and regulations if he did not.
Other vice chairs including former air force chief ex-General Myat Hein and former President’s Office Minister U Hla Tun are believed to hold their positions in name only, with Min Aung Hlaing’s close confidant former Lieutenant General Myo Zaw Thein, who recently stepped down as adjutant general of the armed forces, holding the actual authority as the vice chair.
Former Lieutenant General Aung Soe, who recently retired as Bureau of Special Operations 4 chief to become the party’s secretary general, will also hold a key role.
The USDP’s chair and vice chairs became the Union president, vice president and parliament speaker after the party’s victory in the 2010 general election. But in the upcoming election, they will have to be content with whatever Min Aung Hlaing gives them.
They know well the meaning of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong’s famous maxim that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”.