The former chairman of Myanmar’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has vowed to collaborate with the opposition if he wins a seat in parliament during next month’s general election, though he acknowledged that the his party will likely struggle in the upcoming polls.
If elected in the Nov. 8 vote, Shwe Mann will welcome help from all of Myanmar’s stakeholders to improve the country and free its citizens from poverty, he said, speaking to supporters at a campaign rally in Bago region’s Phyu township on Sunday.
“I can’t do this alone—I’ll need collaboration and support from the public,” he said.
“We also must be willing to collaborate with any organizations or individuals who can help us do better for our country.”
Shwe Mann specifically referred to opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party chairman Aung San Suu Kyi, who he said he maintains “a good relationship” with, despite their political differences.
“We pledged to one another that we will work together for our country and its citizens, even though we each will still try to win the election,” he said.
“After the election, we will continue to collaborate in this interest. I will use this approach not only in dealing with Aung San Suu Kyi, but also with the country’s ethnic [party] leaders.”
Shwe Mann said that the USDP is anticipating a tough challenge from the NLD, which is expected to sweep the upcoming polls after boycotting 2010 general elections widely seen as neither free nor fair.
Under the constitution, drafted by the former military regime in 2008, 25 percent of seats in parliament are reserved for military appointees, and the USDP would need to win a bloc of at least 26 percent of seats to influence the selection of Myanmar’s next president.
Shwe Mann acknowledged to local media during his campaign event that “it will be very difficult to win” even that percentage of parliament due to the NLD’s popularity. The NLD overwhelmingly won elections in 1990, but its victory was ignored by the then-ruling military regime, which put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than a decade.
Ousted as chairman of the USDP in an Aug. 12 reshuffle, Shwe Mann said he still believes in his party, which took power from Myanmar’s former junta in 2011 to form a quasi-civilian government under President Thein Sein.
“Regarding the USDP’s changes … I felt saddened but, as a man with much experience who loves his country, I understand the need to forgive and to be patient,” he said.
Experts have suggested that Shwe Mann was removed from his position atop the USDP in part because of his close relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi, who has aggressively pushed for reforms in Myanmar, including to clauses in the country’s constitution she has slammed as undemocratic.
But the former chairman advocated patience during Myanmar’s transition towards democracy.
“We [in government] can’t force through democratic reform as a dictator might,” he said.
“The move towards reform will take hold if the people decide how to proceed.”
Shwe Mann has been aggressively stumping in his home township of Phyu since the campaign period officially began in early September and faces tough competition from candidates including the former deputy director-general of the President’s Office, members of the NLD and others.
Observers recently told RFA’s Myanmar Service that despite his fall from grace within the USDP, Shwe Mann remains a shrewd statesman and a political force to be reckoned with, and suggested closer ties with the opposition would benefit his campaign.
Lawyer Ko Ni said the NLD can expect a difficult race in Phyu, noting that Shwe Mann would find greater support in the constituency after pledging to collaborate with the opposition if elected.
“He can win in this town and the NLD has to be concerned about this race,” he said.
“When reporters asked NLD spokesman Nyan Win whether the party would accept Shwe Mann if he wanted to become a member, he answered that ‘there is no reason not to accept him, as everybody is welcome,’ so it is obvious that the opposition doesn’t dislike him.”
Pyi Thway Naing, editor of Khit Yanant Magazine, suggested that the USDP has backed away from Shwe Mann as part of a bid to prevent him from winning a seat in the legislature.
“Shwe Mann is campaigning as a candidate who wants reform and has a good attitude towards Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.
“It seems that local USDP members aren’t very close to him or helping his campaign … It appears that they are doing that so Shwe Mann can’t get into parliament as an MP.”
Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, told RFA that Shwe Mann had received more interest from the public and the media after the USDP reshuffle, and said he expects the former party chairman will receive additional support from voters in Phyu who pity him because of his ouster.
“But I think that he is still a powerful member of the party’s central executive committee and we need to determine whether the change in the USDP was real or simply a political play,” he said.
“As he is still a powerful leader in the USDP, it is less likely that he would join the NLD, which would also face challenges in accepting him as a member. However, if he [wins his seat and] is nominated … in parliament, he could become president [of the country] with the support of the NLD.”
Reported by Myo Thank Khine, Win Ko Ko Lat and Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.