The son of Myanmar’s ousted ruling party chairman on Friday dismissed reports that his father was under house arrest following his dismissal, saying he was continuing with his work in the country’s parliament and still plans to contest general elections later this year.
President Thein Sein on Thursday moved to consolidate his power in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) by forcing out his chief rival Shwe Mann as party chairman, three months ahead of the polls slated for Nov. 8.
Shwe Mann was removed from his position as “acting” chairman of the ruling party because he was “too busy” with his other role as the country’s influential parliamentary speaker, the USDP said in a statement
The shakeup follows reports that security forces had surrounded USDP headquarters in the capital Naypyidaw late on Wednesday, preventing some members from leaving, and possibly taking Shwe Mann into custody.
However, Toe Naing Mann, the son of Shwe Mann, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Friday that his father was not being held by the authorities.
“Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the Union Parliament, isn’t under house arrest, despite rumors that he is,” he said.
“He is undertaking his work for parliament as usual and he is being guarded by the same security team that has guarded him in the past.”
The shakeup highlights rare tensions within the ruling USDP, which took power from Myanmar’s former military junta in 2011 to form a quasi-civilian government, though the military still holds an effective veto in the country’s legislature.
Since Shwe Mann took over as chairman of the USDP and as speaker of the Union Parliament in 2013, relations between the USDP and the military have soured, as he ruffled feathers with his support for measures that would limit the military’s role in politics.
His announcements on several occasions that Thein Sein plans not to seek a second term—which were later refuted by the president—also cost him the support of those within the USDP, where he had tried to position himself as the party’s candidate.
Toe Naing Mann said that despite democratic reforms in recent years, Myanmar is unused to a culture of debate—a holdover from the era of the country’s former military dictatorship.
“People within the government, nongovernmental organizations and in the business community are all used to listening to the orders of their top leaders. That’s why we can’t mention alternative viewpoints when we discuss ideology,” he said.
“It is difficult to negotiate … [and] that is of concern, in my opinion. My hope is that we can move away from this backward system.”
Use of security forces
USDP infighting was exposed Wednesday night amid reports that security forces had surrounded party headquarters in the capital Naypyidaw, though ruling party officials have rejected those claims.
The use of security forces to resolve a dispute within the party drew criticism Friday from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Shwe Mann’s ouster should “give pause” to supporters of democratic reform in Myanmar.
“Like any political party, the USDP has every right to determine who should be its leaders. However, the reported role of state security forces in the effort to unseat a party official is deeply disturbing, especially given [Myanmar’s] history,” he said in a statement.
“I would urge that [Myanmar’s] government explain why it felt security forces should be involved in what apparently was a purely partisan matter. Events like this heighten concern about the manner in which the upcoming … election will be conducted.”
Toe Naing Mann told RFA he had no doubt his father would win a seat in parliament in the November elections because he is running in his hometown constituency of Pyu in Bago region, but expressed concern over whether the polls would be administered in a controlled manner.
“I do worry about the election because we haven’t had much experience,” he said.
“There are a lot of polling stations in the 60,000 villages around the country and it will be difficult to control all of them on the same day. I am worried we won’t have enough manpower and security, and if people become overactive and commit violence, it could be dangerous.”
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has called on Shwe Mann to immediately enact a law on impeachment proceedings for lawmakers, saying in a letter it sent to the speaker on Thursday that failure to do so had deprived voters of their constitutional right to recall elected officials.
The UEC has urged the parliamentary leadership to pass the law four times since August 2012, but the latest order comes less than a month after the election commission revealed it had received a petition with some 1,700 signatures from Shwe Mann’s Naypyidaw constituency of Zayarthiri calling for his impeachment.
According to the petition, Shwe Mann allegedly failed to inform his constituents about plans to hold a parliamentary debate on constitutional reform, leading to a “misunderstanding” between the public and the military.
Lower house lawmaker Thein Nyunt told RFA that the law should be passed as soon as possible in order to comply with the country’s constitution.
“Because this law is not issued yet, we can’t investigate lawmakers, although people are sending many requests to check on [whether they have failed in their duties],” he said.
Ye Tun, a member of parliament with the ethnic Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), said the timing of the letter from the UEC was suspicious.
“It is sure that when this law is passed, there will be an investigation into the petition about Thura Shwe Mann and … if so, [this order] is a political attack against Thura Shwe Mann,” he said.
“However, as it is up to the parliament speaker to discuss this issue [at the legislature], it is doubtful whether it can be done … before the election.”
Pe Than, a lawmaker with the ethnic Arakan National Party (ANP), told RFA it was likely that the UEC letter had been sent because the USDP wants to remove Shwe Mann from parliament.
“However, the commission needs to first check if the signatures on the petition are real or not, and whether he had really failed in his duty,” he said, calling for an investigation into the case.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.