Shwe Mann ousted as head of Burma’s ruling party in ‘internal coup’
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Shwe Mann ousted as head of Burma’s ruling party in ‘internal coup’

Security forces seized control  of the headquarters of Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Wednesday night, confining ministers to the compound during a party meeting and escalating long simmering tensions between government factions.

The standoff stems from a contentious rivalry between President Thein Sein and party leader and parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, according to anonymous sources cited in a Voice of America article. Mann’s assistant told the news outlet that the speaker’s security guards had been questioned by a “special branch” of the police, before adding that the party leader’s current location is not known

ABC.net quoted Shwe Mann’s son, Toe Naing Mann, who said that, “Police entered the party compound last night (Wednesday),” and that the “so-called guards” permitted “no one… in or out.” He went on to say that other officers were at the elder Mann’s residence in the capital Naypyidaw.

Toe Naing Mann, who is staying abreast of the situation from Yangon via contacts, also said that the specific cause of the standoff remained unclear, adding: “It is strange that armed forces have restricted a political party in this way.”

But ABC.net notes that ties between Shwe Mann and President Sein have been strained since the speaker spoke out in favour of working with opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of Burma’s November elections. Suu Kyi praised the “cooperative spirit” of the speaker in early May after news outlets reported that Mann was considering an alliance with the NLD.

At the time, the speaker was quoted as saying that he is “ready to cooperate with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today, tomorrow and in the future as well.” An NLD government, comprised of longtime progressive activists, would mark a stark contrast from the USDP, which has been a stepping stone for the former military junta’s top brass to transition from soldiers to ministers, including former generals, and current rivals, Shwe Mann and Thein Sein. An earlier Wall Street Journal article called the upcoming November poll Burma’s “fairest general election in decades.” But such improvements are only relative, considering the notorious opaqueness of the beleaguered nation’s former dictatorship, making it one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world for decades. Thein Sein, who has led the country since the military junta transitioned into a parliamentary system in 2011, is expected to pursue a second term. WSJ says the potential incumbent purports to be a steadier, conservative alternative to Mann. But the current speaker has boosted his image as of late, making diplomatic treks to Beijing and Washington.

This morning’s VOA report, meanwhile, notes that 149 retired military officers recently attempted to run as USDP candidates, but only 59 of them were accepted. This past spring, an article in Foreign Policy declared Burma is the midst of a “leadership crisis,” thanks to “deepening divisions” in its government. It added that, despite Thein Sein’s ambitions, the potential incumbent has a slim change of being reelected because the “strong-willed” Mann seems to have the party under his “complete control.”

However, it appears his prospects are now crumbling. Reuters reported this morning that the party chief has been ousted, quoting a USDP parliamentary leader who said “Shwe Mann isn’t the chairman of the party anymore. He’s in good health and at home now.”

An anonymous source, meanwhile, told The Straits Times that, “This is an internal party coup. Thura Shwe Mann remains Speaker of Parliament but no longer leader of the party.” It also cited a BBC report from early Thursday morning that quoted Minister of Information and President spokesman Mr Yeh Htut, who referred to Mann as a mere temporary chairman of the USDP, before adding that the title of “permanent” chairman belongs to Thein Sein.