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Shake-up in Myanmar as Suu Kyi allies with ousted ruling party boss

Myanmar pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to the media as she attends a Parliament meeting at the Lower House of Parliament in Naypyitaw August 18, 2015. REUTERS/SOE ZEYA TUN

By Hnin Yadana Zaw & Antoni Slodkowski
August 19, 2015

Myanmar's Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday her opposition would ally with powerful ousted ruling party leader Shwe Mann, as the country's political forces re-align in the biggest shake-up since the end of military rule.

President Thein Sein purged rival Shwe Mann and his allies from the Ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in dramatic fashion last week, just months before a landmark election.

"It is now clear who is the enemy and who is the ally," Suu Kyi told reporters at the country's parliament, when asked if Shwe Mann's sacking had cost her an ally. "The National League for Democracy will work with the ally."

She did not detail how they would work together. As chairman of the USDP, Shwe Mann sought to build ties with Suu Kyi, which sparked suspicion among some members of the ruling party and contributed to his sacking. The USDP is made up of many former military officers.

Shwe Mann had antagonized the military by backing Suu Kyi's campaign to reform the constitution to limit the sway of the generals over Myanmar's politics.

She is banned from the presidency under a constitution drafted by the military before it handed over power in 2011. The armed forces hold a veto over any charter changes.

On Tuesday, Shwe Mann denied he had divided the country in a speech to the joint chambers of parliament.

"I am not destroying party unity and stability," he said.

Security forces surrounded the USDP compound late on Wednesday, locking down the building while the president's allies met party leaders to remove Shwe Mann's faction from the leadership committee.

"As for the happenings of the middle of the night, this is not what you expect from a working democracy," Suu Kyi said.

In response, Information Minister Ye Htut told reporters at a news conference that police had a duty to respond to a request for protection made during the evening by the USDP.

Suu Kyi's said the upheaval in the USDP was likely to benefit her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which would win more votes in the election.

Her party was already expected to win the most seats in the November ballot, seen as a crucial test of the country's democratic reforms.

Concerns over the durability of those reforms were heightened last week by a media crackdown in the wake of Shwe Mann's sacking. The scrapping of censorship in 2012 was one of boldest reforms of Thein Sein's government.

Ye Htut said on Tuesday that a radio station, Cherry FM, with links to Shwe Mann had been taken off the air until after the election after failing to convince the government it would be impartial.


Shwe Mann still holds the position of speaker of the house and opened parliament for the last session before the vote on Tuesday.

He was under pressure to table a bill that establishes the rules for constituents to recall members of parliament and could lead to his own impeachment. He faces a petition from his own constituents.

The bill was not tabled, but a multi-party committee would submit the draft to parliament no later than Thursday, USDP MP Win Oo told Reuters.

Suu Kyi said the bill was "ridiculous", as MPs could be recalled by just 1 percent of constituents.

Shwe Mann on Tuesday also denied that he had misused party funds, which he said he was accused of in a letter last week. He did not give further details.

Shwe Mann's allies vowed to defend him in parliament.

"Most of the USDP lawmakers in the lower house are going to support Shwe Mann," said Aung Lynn Hlaing, a USDP member, as he entered parliament.

"Shwe Mann always represents us when we are ignored by the president. I think it's not right the way they did what they did in our party."

Tension between the rival camps rose after the USDP last week omitted from its list the majority of a group of around 150 officers who retired from military service to run as USDP candidates.

The USDP also sidelined two of the president's closest allies by leaving them off the candidate list.

They were Soe Thein, a powerful minister of the president's office, and Aung Min, who was picked by Thein Sein to lead the government's efforts to forge a peace agreement with the country's armed ethnic groups.

Shwe Mann's fall from grace bears echoes of the political purges under the junta, leading some to doubt he has a future in public life.

"We can be sure they will uproot him by hook or by crook," said Thein Nyunt, a member of the parliament from the New National Democracy Party (NNDP).

"So my best advice for him is 'resign from the speaker's position if you want to prevent further perils for you and your family'."

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