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.
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.”
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.