Coup In Ranks Of Myanmar's Ruling Party Highlights Concern Over Suu Kyi

Aug 13, 2015
Originally published on August 14, 2015 11:57 am

Security forces in Myanmar have surrounded the headquarters of the ruling USDP and ousted its chief in the culmination of an intra-party feud less than three months before a general election.

Shwe Mann, the influential speaker of the parliament who has been considered a leading contender for the presidency, has been removed from his role as chairman of the Union Solidarity Development Party. Thein Sein, the party's president said to be behind his ouster, will take over Mann's position, according to a statement from the party.

The dramatic army-backed removal of Mann appears to reflect an internal power struggle not only within the USDP, which is dominated by ex-miliary men, but also with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

The military, which ruled the country also known as Burma for decades and remains a powerful force, has reportedly grown dissatisfied with Mann because of his close ties with Suu Kyi, who was a long-time political dissident during junta rule.

Suu Kyi is barred by law from seeking the presidency, but her party has reportedly been in negotiations with the USDP to help play a role in who becomes president after the November 8 elections.

The BBC reports that Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann "have often expressed that they have a mutual understanding for future co-operation" and that one area of cooperation might be amending the constitution, which could open the door for Suu Kyi to run for president.

"But for conservative forces in the ruling USDP party and the military, constitutional change is seen as a threat - because the constitution gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament, and safeguards the traditional alliance between the USDP and the armed forces."

The Wall Street Journal explains:

"Mr. Shwe Mann had spent years building a network to support his bid for the presidency, but it was based on the expectation that Mr. Thein Sein would step down after a single five-year term, which ends in March next year. Mr. Thein Sein recently said that he intends to seek another term creating divisions within the USDP. ...

"[Shwe Mann's] removal likely will force the U.S.—a cautious but steadfast partner through Myanmar's democratic transition—to recalibrate its views on the coming elections. With Ms. Suu Kyi ineligible for the top post, officials from her National League for Democracy party had privately said that they would put forward Mr. Shwe Mann for the presidency if they won a majority of seats."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.