Nikkei Asian Review: “Myanmar’s ruling party sees internal upheaval”

August 13 | GWEN ROBINSON

Myanmar’s powerful parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann and key supporters have been deposed as leaders of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party while President Thein Sein has reconsolidated his hold on authority, in what aides described as an “internal party coup” in the lead-up to the Nov. 8 national elections — the country’s first such poll in the post-junta era.

After an extraordinary night of political infighting at the grandiose USDP headquarters in the capital, Naypyitaw, Thein Sein was reconfirmed as USDP chairman. In a sweeping reshuffle of executive positions, supporters of Shwe Mann were replaced with key members of Thein Sein’s cabinet and military officers who earlier in the day had resigned their posts.

The string of more than 12 high-level resignations had triggered speculation that the officers and ministers were preparing to run in the November elections. By Wednesday evening, when an emergency meeting of the USDP executive was called, there were rumors of a growing backlash against the speaker’s recent efforts to marginalize the president’s supporters in the party’s executive ranks.

Among crucial changes, ministers for defense, immigration and border affairs as well as several senior military commanders were elevated to top executive posts in the USDP. Two of Thein Sein’s most trusted ministers, U Aung Min, who leads peace negotiations with ethnic armed groups, and U Soe Thane, who oversees economic affairs, were given more prominent roles in the party.

The changes marked the culmination of an increasingly tense struggle for control of the party, noted Nyantha Lin, Myanmar Managing Director for consultants Vriens & Partners.

“While the dust is yet to settle and not all the facts are yet known, the events appear to be a consolidation of power within the USDP by allies of President Thein Sein, possibly including the military, in a move that could hurt the presidential ambitions of the perceived front-runner in the contest, the parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann,” Nyantha Lin said.

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