USDP convenes strategic conference
After last year’s colossal thumping at the ballot box, the Union Solidarity and Development Party is meeting to forge plans for a comeback in 2020.
HUMBLED at the ballot box more than nine months ago, the militarybacked Union Solidarity and Development Party convenes its convention today with senior members promising both big changes and more of the same as the party eyes a 2020 comeback.
Among items on the agenda during the meeting at the USDP headquarters in Nay Pyi Taw this week is an overhaul of the party’s central executive committee, with one prominent cadre telling The Myanmar Times a major shake-up is in the offing.
“Seventy percent of the current central executive committee membership will be changed,” said U Hla Swe, a former USDP lawmaker. “Members of new committees will be announced at the last day of the convention.”
Former president U Thein Sein returned to the helm of the party following the transfer of power to the National League for Democracy at the end of March, admitting that as chair, he was most responsible for the party’s poor showing in the November election.
The result of the vote – delivering an overwhelming electoral mandate to the National League for Democracy – shocked the USDP, party members told The Myanmar Times, with a widely held pre-poll belief that the party could win at least 20 percent of seats in the Union parliament proving utterly unfounded.
Instead, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won nearly 80pc of elected seats, while the USDP took just 8pc.
“I have responsibility for the defeat [in the 2015 election]. I also feel I have a responsibility to do things to win [in the 2020 election]. That’s why I came back to the party,” U Thein Sein said at a Yangon meeting with the party’s senior members in May.
The convention will be held from August 22 to 24. In addition to reconstituting the central executive committee, the three-day meeting will see the party approve a draft paper to be submitted to the 21st-century Panglong Conference, discuss research papers submitted by state and regional committees, and review the party’s annual report.
While a major shake-up of the central executive committee has been tipped, there is one senior figure who is not going anywhere: U Thein Sein.
“He will remain the leader of the party until the 2020 election,” U Hla Swe said.
The USDP’s five-year reign came crashing down in the November vote, with critics saying disunity was a contributing factor in the party’s decisive defeat at the ballot box.
Former parliamentary Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann led the party while U Thein Sein served as president, and the duelling centres of power held by the two men proved untenable as the years went by. Thura U Shwe Mann and his followers – a faction within the party seen as too close to then-opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – were ultimately ousted from the party leadership in an August 2015 purge.
The former Speaker was later among 17 senior USDP members expelled from the party entirely.
Thura U Shwe Mann and other ousted members have said the decision to remove them in May was unfair and urged that the issue be taken up at this week’s convention, while the surviving leadership says disloyalty to the party was the reason for their expulsion.
Some three months since the dust-up, party leaders say there is no plan to consider the grievances of Thura U Shwe Mann and his allies.
Instead, the USDP gathering will focus on getting the party back to winning ways, both in the 2020 general election and a by-election to fill vacant parliamentary seats sometime before that.
“We have to try as though the election is tomorrow, not in 2020,” said U Hla Swe, who lost his re-election bid in November.
U Thein Sein has said the primary reason for the party’s failure in November was institutional weakness, expressing confidence that those deficiencies could be mended ahead of the 2020 nationwide vote.
“We lost once. We have to try to win next time as there are many people who believe in and support our party,” U Thein Sein said.
Party leaders don’t see a need to make significant changes to the party platform, insisting that the policies it practised in power and campaigned on last year still have merit. During the 2015 campaign period, the USDP sought to sell itself as the father of democratic reforms over its term in power that brought sweeping economic and political changes.
“We don’t need to change the party’s policies, but we must change the people,” said U Khin Ye.