U Thein Sein steps down as USDP chair

In a sur­prise party shake-up, the cen­tral com­mit­tee se­lected re­tired brigadier gen­eral and for­mer en­ergy and rail­way min­is­ter U Than Htay as their new leader.

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

IN a sur­prise shake-up at the top, for­mer pres­i­dent U Thein Sein handed over his Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party lead­er­ship role yes­ter­day to U Than Htay, a mem­ber of the USDP cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

U Thein Sein, whose party suf­fered a crush­ing de­feat at the bal­lot box last Novem­ber, will still hold a po­si­tion within the for­merly rul­ing USDP, as its pa­tron.

His un­ex­pected ab­di­ca­tion of the USDP chair­ship came on the sec­ond day of the party’s con­ven­tion in Nay Pyi Taw, which barred me­dia ac­cess.

U Than Htay was se­lected to suc­ceed U Thein Sein in a vote by the party’s cen­tral com­mit­tee.

A for­mer brigadier gen­eral who served as both en­ergy and rail­ways min­is­ter un­der U Thein Sein’s gov­ern­ment, 61-year-old U Than Htay will take the helm of a party, badly bruised in the wake of last year’s elec­tion losses.

“He is low-pro­file within the party, even though he is a very tal­ented per­son,” U Hla Swe, a prom­i­nent USDP mem­ber and for­mer law­maker, told The Myan­mar Times af­ter news of yes­ter­day’s lead­er­ship reshuf­fle broke. “He was well-known as an obe­di­ent sol­dier when he served as an as­sis­tant to Gen­eral Thura Kyaw Htin [a for­mer Tat­madaw com­man­der-in-chief].”

U Hla Swe added that party mem­bers wel­comed U Than Htay’s rise to the top, view­ing him as a young and en­er­getic leader.

“We be­lieve he can lead the party very well be­cause he was elected by a free elec­tion, not for show,” U Hla Swe said.

Since May, the USDP has been hold­ing grass­roots-level elec­tions for mem­bers of the cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

“Af­ter elec­tions were held at the vil­lage and re­gional lev­els, we formed the cen­tral com­mit­tee with 273 mem­bers,” said U Khin Yi, who yes­ter­day was elected as a new cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber as well as dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee chair. “At the con­ven­tion, the cen­tral com­mit­tee elected 38 mem­bers of the cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee led by U Than Htay.”

He said he be­lieves U Than Htay is well-suited for the po­si­tion as the party chair be­cause he is a long-term party mem­ber ded­i­cated to work­ing for the USDP. U Than Htay also re­ceived a master’s de­gree in de­fence and earned many hon­ours when he served in the mil­i­tary.

“He knows the party very well – both the good and bad,” said U Khin Yi. “He also has had good lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence in his min­is­te­rial roles.”

In other changes yes­ter­day, re­tired gen­eral U Myat Hein, a for­mer min­is­ter for in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, was elected to serve as deputy chair, with U Thet Naing Win, a for­mer min­is­ter for bor­der af­fairs and a re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral, elected as gen­eral sec­re­tary of the com­mit­tee.

In ad­di­tion to anoint­ing a new chair, the USDP formed a new cen­tral lead­er­ship com­mit­tee com­pris­ing nine se­nior party mem­bers and led by U Thein Sein. The lead­er­ship com­mit­tee will func­tion in an ad­vi­sory role, said U Khin Yi.

For­mer party co-chair U Htay Oo, for­mer par­lia­men­tary Speaker U Khin Aung Myint, and prom­i­nent se­nior party mem­bers Thura U Aye Myint, U Thaung, U Soe Tha, U Tin Htut and Thura U Myint Maung will join U Thein Sein in ad­vi­sory roles.

Yes­ter­day’s shake-up was a di­rect re­sult of the Novem­ber 2015 elec­tion, U Khin Yi said.

“We re­formed the party with new faces,” he said. “All these changes are made with the aim of win­ning the 2020 elec­tion.”

Many were sur­prised by the changes, and many were scep­ti­cal that they would help the USDP al­ter the out­comes of a by-elec­tion due next year or of the na­tion­wide elec­tion in 2020.

“If they want to win, they must change their at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour for the sake of the peo­ple, not for the party,” said po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor U Yan Myo Thein. “It is impossible to win elec­tions just by mak­ing changes to the lead­er­ship roles.”

Although U Thein Sein will take on an ad­vi­sory role, U Yan Myo Thein said he and the other se­nior lead­ers still re­main the real power be­hind the party.

“This group will not give up their roles and will main­tain con­trol over the party as re­tired gen­er­als, still con­trol­ling the party by form­ing a new pow­er­ful com­mit­tee led by U Thein Sein,” he said.

The real rea­son be­hind the change was to quell prob­lems within the party, said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst U Sithu Aung Myint. The USDP has had is­sues with unity at the lead­er­ship level, with splits oc­cur­ring be­tween fac­tions led by Thura U Shwe Mann on one hand and U Thein Sein on the other.

“The is­sue is very hard to solve,” U Sithu Aung Myint said.

“U Thein Sein re­moved Thura U Shwe Mann and his fol­low­ers but many se­nior mem­bers still strongly sup­port Thura U Shwe Mann for the party lead­er­ship role. If they want the party to be strong, the lead­ers will have to solve this is­sue of the split. I as­sume U Thein Sein re­formed the party lead­er­ship by officially re­mov­ing se­nior mem­bers who sup­port Thura U Shwe Mann. This is the first step the USDP should take.”

Soon af­ter the USDP an­nounced its new lead­er­ship com­mit­tee, the Spe­cial Is­sues and Le­gal Af­fairs Com­mis­sion, led by Thura U Shwe Mann, re­leased a state­ment with sug­ges­tions for the fu­ture of the USDP.

“May the party, in­clud­ing chair­man, vice chair­man, gen­eral sec­re­tary and cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, move for­ward for the sake of the coun­try,” the state­ment said.

Thura U Shwe Mann also took to Face­book to dis­cuss the lead­er­ship changes.

“As with the party’s pol­icy, with­out per­ceiv­ing any po­lit­i­cal party as foes and ri­vals, but as part­ners, I wish the party would con­tinue to co­op­er­ate with any in­di­vid­ual or or­gan­i­sa­tion for the in­ter­est of the na­tion and the cit­i­zens by hav­ing di­a­logue,” he said.

“It is very early to pre­dict the fu­ture of the USDP,” said U Sithu Aung Myint. “We will have to wait and see how much changes.”

Photo: EPA

Then-min­is­ter for en­ergy U Than Htay de­liv­ers a speech at a sum­mit on “Un­lock­ing and In­vest­ing in Myan­mar’s Oil and Gas Po­ten­tial” in Yan­gon in March 2013.

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