RANGOON — A spokesman of President Thein Sein has rejected remarks by USDP Chairman Shwe Mann, who has said that Thein Sein would not run for another term in office in Burma’s 2015 elections, local media report.
The public disagreement is the latest sign of an apparent rift within the USDP leadership.
Senior members of the party offered different opinions on the significance of the disagreement, with one USDP member suggesting that Thein Sein could form a breakaway political party ahead of the elections if the USDP refuses to let him run.
Shwe Mann, chairman of the ruling Union, Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and Union Parliament Speaker, told a press conference in Naypyidaw last Thursday, “President Thein Sein has told me he will not run for president. I think he meant what he said. He is not running in the election.”
Shwe Mann has made no secret of his ambition to become Burma’s next president. In another headline-grabbing comment, the USDP chair cryptically mentioned that retired military dictator Than Shwe was “concerned” about the current political situation.
President’s Office spokesman Ye Htut said in a reaction that the USDP chairman was wrong to make public remarks about Thein Sein’s future.
“I don’t understand why Shwe Mann expresses his opinion like that,” he told local newspaper 7 Day Daily. “But the president makes this decision himself and will announce his decision to the public directly. We don’t need another source for this information.”
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Ye Htut for further comment.
Thein Sein and Shwe Mann are both former military regime generals and members of the military-backed USDP. Thein Sein, 68, was handpicked by Than Shwe to become president of the nominally civilian government in 2011. Shwe Mann, 66, was the third most powerful general in the former junta; he became Lower House speaker in 2011 and USDP chairman in May 2013.
It is not the first time that an apparent political rivalry has surfaced between the president and the speaker.
Shwe Mann has questioned the president’s much-praised progress in resolving Burma’s ethnic conflicts in the past few months. In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, he criticized the president’s advisors of the Myanmar Peace Center, saying the center is “not a decision-maker and cannot make political decisions.”
Whoever leads the USDP in the planned free and fair elections in 2015 elections will have to take on the hugely popular opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD). In Burma, Parliament elects the president.
Htay Oo, USDP vice chairman and central executive committee member, sought to play down the public disagreements and said no decision had been made regarding the party’s main candidate.
“Everybody can become president; Shwe Mann can as well. But in our party we don’t yet choose or discuss who can run for president,” he told The Irrawaddy. He also dismissed rumors that Thein Sein would not seek a second term because of health conditions.
“Having a pacemaker is not a problem,” Htay Oo said, referring to Thein Sein having been fitted with the medical device. “President Thein Sein has good health—he is healthier than me. He gets regular medical check-ups as president. So he could run in the next election.”
Htay Oo also volunteered an opinion on Shwe Mann’s remarks about retired military supremo Than Shwe, saying that he “is not involved in this issue, he just stays at home peacefully. There is no one who controls the USDP, the majority of its members control the USDP. No one can break up the party.”
USDP central committee member Hla Swe, however, was less diplomatic and rebuked his chairman for the remarks about the president’s future.
“Shwe Mann should not say that he wants to become president. If I were him, I would just focus on my work, if you do good work you could surely run for president,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Hla Swe went on to openly support the idea of Thein Sein running for the presidency in 2015 if the USDP under Shwe Mann’s chairmanship would not back his candidacy.
“If Thein Sein establishes another party, it won’t destabilize the country. Now, if we have a new party that focuses on national interests, it will gain support from people who only care about national interests,” he said.
“If the president establishes this kind of party, both the USDP and NLD will become less dominant,” Hla Shwe said. “Some people don’t like the NLD or the USDP in the current political situation.”
Political commentator Yan Myo Thein said it was too early to draw any conclusions from the apparent disagreements within the USDP leadership.
“They have a good strategy, so we must wait and see,” he said, adding that any break-up of the party over the issue is unlikely. “I don’t believe that the USDP will split. They are just playing with two teams. If the USDP splits, there is no benefit for the party, the leaders understand this.”
Yan Myo Thein said that despite Shwe Mann’s chairmanship, some elements in the party were pushing for Thein Sein to lead the party.
“Some forces are pressuring the president to run for another term, but it’s difficult to say who they are,” he said. “But if Thein Sein wins the next elections, he will need support from the NLD [to govern]. If we compare Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, the latter is closer to Aung San Suu Kyi.”