WSJ: “Myanmar Military Strengthens Grip Over Ruling Party as Election Nears”

August 14 | By SHIBANI MAHTANI in New York and MYO MYO in Yangon

Myanmar’s military has strengthened its role in the ruling party by the purge of once-influential reformer and presidential hopeful Shwe Mann, revealing the powerful role the armed forces still play in a country supposed to be solidifying democracy in November elections.

Mr. Shwe Mann and his allies were expelled from top positions in the Union Solidarity and Development Party in a tense party meeting, guarded by police and soldiers who surrounded its headquarters Wednesday night. He was replaced as chairman by his predecessor, President Thein Sein, who now is in a stronger position to retain the country’s top office after the elections. The new central committee includes several leaders closely aligned to the armed forces.

The purge “is a clear attempt by not just [Mr.] Thein Sein but also the military to take control of the USDP ahead of upcoming elections,” said Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director of political consultancy Vriens & Partners in Myanmar. The leadership overhaul “does not necessarily invalidate the coming vote,” he added, but “more closely aligns the incumbent party with the military.”

When contacted for comment, Mr. Thein Sein’s party referred reporters to previous statements.

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