Myanmar Opposition Party Changes Leadership, Strategy

The changes comes as the Union Solidarity and Development Party gears up for by-elections in early 2017.

Myanmar's new president Htin Kyaw (L) and outgoing president Thein Sein (R) shake hands during the handover-of-power ceremony in Naypyidaw, March 30, 2016.

Myanmar’s main opposition party elected members to new key positions on Tuesday, displacing ex-president Thein Sein as chairman of the former ruling party in a strategic reorganization before by-elections early next year.

Party members elected 237 central members and 38 central executive committee (CEC), representatives during a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) conference at its headquarters in the capital Naypyidaw, said USDP spokesman Khin Ye.

Than Htay, a retired brigadier-general and former minister of rail transport and of energy, replaced Thein Sein as party chairman, he said.

Nine leaders from the military-backed USDP, including Thein Sein and vice chairman Htay Oo, now serve as members of the party’s CEC, he said.

Others newly elected to party positions include former air force commander Myat Hein as vice-chairman, Thet Naing Win as general secretary, Khin Ye as disciplinary officer, and Soe Naing as head of operations, Khin Ye said.

New leaders have also been elected for all state and regional USDP branches.

Before stepping down, Thein Sein called for a reassessment of the 2015 general election results and party reform at all levels, emphasizing interparty consolidation, the revival of democracy within the party, and working with the new generation of USDP members, according to a report on Monday by China’s Xinhua news agency.

Khin Ye indicated that more changes are still to come.

“The party’s future agendas will be decided tomorrow, the last day of the conference,” he said.

Preparing for by-elections

The changes come as Myanmar election officials announced Monday that by-elections to fill vacant seats in parliament will be held in January 2017 and national elections three years later.

“We heard that there are 13 seats to contest in the by-elections,” Khin Ye said. “The USDP will contest them.”

The USDP, which was in power from 2011 to 2016, lost by a landslide to the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in general elections last November.

Earlier this year, the NLD’s Htin Kyaw became president, and NLD party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed state counselor—a new position designed to give her considerable influence in the executive and legislative branches and make her Myanmar’s de facto national leader.

Laws passed earlier by the military made her ineligible for the presidency because her sons do not hold Myanmar citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi also holds the positions of foreign minister, minister of the President’s Office, and chairwoman of the government’s peace negotiation arm, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, as part of goal to forge lasting peace and national reconciliation in the country after decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.

The USDP grew out of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, an organization created by the former military junta that ruled Myanmar for 50 years.

The party won nearly 80 percent of the seats contested in the upper and lower houses of parliament during general elections in 2010, the results of which western countries considered fraudulent.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.