Aung San Suu Kyi concerned at Myanmar ruling party putsch
Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised fears Tuesday for crucial November elections as the government tried to calm political tensions after the surprise ousting of the ruling party chief.
Last week’s dramatic removal of Shwe Mann as head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was seen as a decisive swoop by President Thein Sein and his military allies to tighten their political grip before the polls.
Speaking as MPs gathered in the capital Naypyidaw for a final round of parliamentary meetings before the Nov. 8 vote, Suu Kyi said the ruling party move had stoked concerns for the elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms.
“People are worried. We all have a responsibility for that,” she told a scrum of reporters.
The Nobel laureate also added her voice to concerns raised by the United States and United Kingdom in recent days over how Shwe Mann was removed. Security personnel entered the USDP headquarters late Wednesday.
“This is not what you expect in a working democracy,” she said, adding that conflict within the USDP would likely boost support for her National League for Democracy, which is expected to make significant gains in the elections.
The opposition leader’s cordial political relationship with Shwe Mann, who retains his influential role as parliament speaker, had led to speculation they were planning an alliance that would have challenged the still-powerful military.
Shwe Mann had been widely tipped as a potential compromise presidential candidate. Suu Kyi herself cannot run under the juntadrafted constitution.
Observers say his public support for her attempts to change the charter had antagonized the army, which is determined to safeguard its political influence.
‘Normal’ party business
November’s elections are for parliamentary seats — although 25 percent of the legislature is reserved for unelected soldiers — and the powerful role of president will later be selected by MPs.
Thein Sein has not ruled out a second term.
The government tried Tuesday to play down the political uncertainty. It described Shwe Mann’s ousting as “part of a normal course of business” for a political party, in a statement published in the state-backed New Light of Myanmar.
It reaffirmed its commitment to the vote, which many hope will be the freest in modern history for a nation that withered under military rule for nearly half a century.
“The government shall uncon- ditionally accept the results of the elections,” it added.
Shwe Mann appeared tense as he addressed parliament for the first time since losing his grip on the ruling party, urging the legislature to work with “seriousness” but not directly mentioning the USDP power struggle.
His removal came just before Friday’s deadline for candidates to register to stand in the polls, allowing Thein Sein to insert political and military allies into the top echelons of the USDP.
Both men are former junta generals who shed their uniforms to contest controversial elections in 2010. The polls were held without the main opposition party or Suu Kyi herself, who was under house arrest.
(Above) Military representatives sign the registration book upon their arrival to attend a regular session of the lower house of parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Aug. 18. (Right) Myanmar Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann arrives to attend a regular session of parliament in Naypyitaw, Tuesday.