USDP con­venes strate­gic con­fer­ence

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - EI EI TOE LWIN eieitoel­win@mm­times.com

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.

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