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Myanmar Speaker has few options

Speaker of Parliament Shwe Mann (centre) arriving at an event in Naypyitaw yesterday. The former top general could be impeached based on a petition signed by over 1,700 members of his own constituency, for his "disrespect" towards the military's role in Parliament. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

By Nirmal Ghosh
August 19, 2015

Thura Shwe Mann, Myanmar's Speaker of Parliament, has few options after being ousted from the leadership of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) last week - and there is speculation that he may be impeached if he defies the military-backed establishment that moved against him.

President Thein Sein, seen as a top contender for a second term after the ouster of Mr Shwe Mann and several members of his faction from the top echelons of the USDP, arrived at the party's headquarters in Naypyitaw yesterday for a rare visit and confab with the new executive committee. Until late yesterday afternoon, it was not known what was discussed.

It came as Mr Shwe Mann met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an hour yesterday. The two are known to have developed a close working relationship - one of the factors that pundits say led to the internal party coup against him last Wednesday night. It was also not known what was discussed at their meeting.

The embattled former top general could be impeached based on a petition launched late last month and signed by over 1,700 members of his own constituency, for his "disrespect" towards the role of the military in Parliament. 

The petition came after he allowed a vote in Parliament in June that could have rolled back some of the military's powers. The army used its bloc - 25 per cent of reserved seats - to kill the proposal, which could have made it easier to amend the Constitution; the process would have eventually been to the benefit of Ms Suu Kyi.

The procedure for impeachment is unclear, however.

What is clearer, say analysts, is that Mr Shwe Mann - "Thura" is a title meaning "great hero" - is in a vulnerable position, and choosing to fight could make things worse for him.

For one thing, Mr Thein Sein's loyalists would not have moved so decisively against him without a sign-off from the top-most echelons of the establishment.

"We have a plan to protect and cover him," a USDP Member of Parliament and supporter of

Mr Shwe Mann told Reuters news agency yesterday. "We are watching their moves."

But in a telephone interview, Mr Kyaw San Wai, who is a senior analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said: "He has no cards up his sleeve.

"For now ,Thura Shwe Mann has had his wings clipped, so it is not that dramatic. But with an institution like the military against you, it is probably smarter to go quietly."

Mr Shwe Mann has little support from within the army.

"They are going to find a way to remove Shwe Mann not just from the party leadership but also as Speaker; I would be surprised if they left the job half finished," a Yangon-based diplomat predicted.

Mr Shwe Mann is vulnerable on other fronts.

Insiders in the President's camp have long compared him in private with Mr Thein Sein, who has a squeaky clean image and whose own family still lives in his native village in the Irrawaddy delta region, with little material change in their circumstances since he became president.

In contrast, Mr Shwe Mann's two sons are wealthy - and on the United States blacklist.

He also had made no secret of his desire to be president.

"The military institutionally views personal ambition with suspicion,'' said Mr Kyaw San Wai. "It is best to toe the line. And Mr Shwe Mann had certainly not been toeing the line.''

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