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Influential Leader in Myanmar Is Removed as Head of Governing Party

Thura Shwe Mann, right, was seen as a leading candidate for president in the coming elections. Conservative forces in the military were uncomfortable with his informal alliance with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader. Credit Ye Aung Thu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Thomas Fuller and Wai Moe
August 13, 2015

BANGKOK — The head of Myanmar’s governing party has been removed from his post in what one aide described as a “coup,” the most visible sign yet of splintering within Myanmar’s military elite and the resurgence of conservative forces that dominated under decades of military rule.

The removal of Thura Shwe Mann as chairman of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party came as campaigning was underway for elections in November. The United States and other foreign governments have characterized the elections as a litmus test for whether Myanmar’s military elites, who still control the government and bureaucracy despite recent moves toward democracy, are genuinely willing to give up power.

Mr. Shwe Mann, who was seen as a leading candidate for president in the coming elections, was the third most powerful member of the junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011. But as speaker of the lower house of Parliament in the current civilian administration, he has formed an informal alliance with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader. Conservative forces in the military were uncomfortable with that.

As of midday Thursday, Mr. Shwe Mann was still speaker of the lower house.

The party reshuffle, which developed overnight Wednesday, was more in the style of a purge: Security forces were deployed outside party headquarters in Naypyidaw, the capital. Some local news outlets reported that party officials were not allowed to leave the building.

U Myint Htwe, a senior officer in the Ministry of Information, confirmed that Mr. Shwe Mann had been removed from his party post. The deputy head of the party, U Htay Oo, has taken over as chairman, he said.

Mr. Myint Htwe confirmed the presence of security forces at party headquarters, saying they were “necessary for the situation.”

Mr. Shwe Mann did not comment publicly on his removal, but one of his aides said he was not at party headquarters when the reshuffle took place.

“It had to be done by force because it could not be done by voting,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

Purges of top officials were common during five decades of military rule in Myanmar, but the nascent moves toward democracy in recent years have raised hopes that the country would shed its political legacy of repression.

Candidates for the Nov. 8 election must submit applications by Friday, giving Mr. Shwe Mann little time to maneuver. It was unclear whether he remained a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which the military formed under junta rule. 

Thomas Fuller reported from Bangkok and Wai Moe from Yangon, Myanmar.

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