Myanmar’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Wednesday dismissed reports that it plans to cut ties with parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann less than two months after he was ousted as party chairman and with only days to go before the country holds general elections.
Media reports have said the USDP voted to expel Shwe Mann during a meeting of its central executive committee (CEC) in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, but the party’s public relations officer Kyaw Thura told RFA’s Myanmar Service the claims are baseless.
“We didn’t have any [CEC] meeting yesterday and there are no party leaders in Naypyidaw—it is just a rumor,” he said.
“We will post a statement dispelling this rumor on the USDP website and USDP Facebook page. It is normal to see rumors fly around Election Day.”
A notification later posted on the USDP’s Facebook page said that party headquarters had been holding “training courses” for polling station representatives and urged the media and the public to stop spreading false reports.
Htay Oo who—along with President Thein Sein—took over as joint-chair of the USDP following Shwe Mann’s ouster in August, was unable to confirm whether the parliamentary speaker had been forced out of the ruling party in an interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma.
The Voice also cited Aung Ko, the director of Shwe Mann’s office, as saying no notification had been received from the USDP about a change in the speaker’s status.
Shwe Mann is running as a USDP candidate for a parliamentary seat in his home township of Phyu in central Myanmar’s Bago region and campaigned there Wednesday ahead of the country’s Nov. 8 general elections.
USDP lawmaker Hla Swe told RFA that the reports of Shwe Mann’s dismissal could be true, although it was unlikely.
“I called our headquarters and asked about it—one CEC member told me that it is only a rumor,” he said, although he acknowledged that “even if they plan to do this, they wouldn’t be willing to confirm it.”
“In my opinion, it is possible because Shwe Mann is very close to [opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader] Aung San Suu Kyi.”
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.
Just last week, the former USDP chairman vowed to collaborate with the opposition if he wins a seat in parliament, while acknowledging that his party will likely struggle to contend with the vastly popular NLD in the upcoming polls.
Other politicians said that Shwe Mann could benefit in the election by distancing himself from the USDP.
Arakan National Party (ANP) chairman Aye Maung, told RFA “it is possible that the USDP will dismiss him,” but that doing so would damage the ruling party’s image, while bolstering that of Shwe Mann, who would be seen as “more independent” from President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.
“We see him in the legislature as a person who works in the interest of the country and its people,” he said, questioning whether the USDP might also decide to remove Shwe Mann as parliamentary speaker.
“If he was dismissed [from the party], he would contest in the election as an independent candidate.”
Independent lawmaker Phone Myint Aung said it was “possible” Shwe Mann would be removed from the USDP.
“But even if he is not dismissed, he should quit,” he said, adding that the military—which is closely aligned with the USDP—“doesn’t like him and his group anymore.”
“If he is dismissed, he will run as an independent candidate, which is good.”
Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, told RFA that Shwe Mann’s dismissal from the USDP was highly unlikely because while the party had pushed him out as chairman, it allowed him to remain a member of its CEC.
“If the USDP did this, it would result in pushing him toward Aung San Suu Kyi, which would hurt the party,” he said.
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. Although the country does not conduct polls, Aung San Suu Kyi consistently draws huge crowds at her speaking engagements.
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 last week 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.
The former USDP chairman has distanced himself from the party in recent months and rarely mentions it during campaign events.
According to The Myanmar Times, Shwe Mann told reporters at an Oct. 30 press conference in Phyu that he would not be responsible for the USDP’s performance in the election, as he was no longer involved in coordinating its campaign.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Lat and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.