A party’s demise

Scandals concerning the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) have been shared widely online in recent weeks, as hundreds of members have reportedly resigned due to internal disputes. 

The PPP’s chairperson, Thet Thet Khine, was appointed as the social welfare minister under the junta  days after the February 1, 2021 coup, with her party rumoured to be a willing participant in a future military-run election. 

According to statements from several leaders who have recently left the party, nearly 500 members walked away from the PPP in June, largely from Yangon and Bago regions, and without openly specifying the reasons for their departure. 

Yet the acting chair, retired army major Myint Maung Tun, told Myanmar Now that these numbers were inflated, claiming that just 100 had resigned. 

“People are just trying to slander the party. We could sue them for that,” he said. 

The 74-year-old described chair Thet Thet Khine’s role in the party as having been minimised since she had joined the military council. 

The businesswoman owns the well-known chain of Shwe Nan Taw jewellery stores, and founded the PPP prior to the 2020 general election with a platform based on promoting socio-economic development. 

She was one of 34 party heads who attended a meeting with military chief Min Aung Hlaing ahead of the polls that year, which were contested by more than 230 people from her party. Not one was able to secure a seat.

Having run in Yangon’s Mayangone Township, Thet Thet Khine was among those defeated. She lost by more than 80,000 votes to Dr May Win Myint of the National League for Democracy (NLD), a party to which she once belonged and was elected to represent in 2015 in Dagon.

The NLD’s parliamentarians were never allowed to take office after the 2020 polls; the military declared the election fraudulent as justification for the coup in early 2021. 

Chair Thet Thet Khine and Kyaw Zeya (second from right), former vice chair of the party, attend a meeting (PPP/ Facebook)

A leadership exodus

Nearly half of the party’s 17 central executive committee (CEC) members are among those who have quit the PPP, including vice chair and retired lieutenant colonel Kyaw Zeya, associate secretaries Thaung Myint and Aung Myint Oo, and Yangon and Bago party chairs Nyi Nyi Lwin and Saw Yu Mar.

Once an elected NLD MP in Dagon’s second constituency, Kyaw Zeya publicly declared his departure from the PPP in April. 

“I said that we have to pay attention to the way the [military council] is operating things. Since Thet Thet Khine is now in this council, if we criticise them, we could end up on the bad side of Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. The party doesn’t want that to happen,” Kyaw Zeya said in explanation of his exit and in reference to the coup leader and military chief.

The PPP’s current vice chair, 52-year-old businessman Saw Han Aye, told Myanmar Now that the party had some 9,000 members at the time of reporting and had plans to host training courses for administrative officers ahead of an election under the junta. 

Kyaw Zeya dismissed the figures as bloated and estimated the party membership to be around 1,000, the minimum required under the law. 

A PPP campaign event before the 2020 election (Myanmar Now)

‘A party of four’

Sources within the PPP say that the party is essentially made up of just a handful of people: Saw Han Aye, secretary general Myo Satt Thway, associate secretary Tin Maung Nyi, and CEC member Nyunt Nyunt Win Maung. 

“Those of us who quit the party are calling it the ‘party of four,’” former Yangon party chairperson Nyi Nyi Lwin told Myanmar Now after leaving the PPP in early June. “They’re the only ones who pull the strings… The four of them have absolute power over the party.”

Among these four, Nyunt Nyunt Win Maung reportedly holds multiple roles in the PPP, serving as legal adviser and chair of key committees and departments; she is also said to be a relative of secretary general Myo Satt Thway, but Myanmar Now was unable to confirm this connection at the time of reporting. 

Nyi Nyi Lwin described acting chair Myint Maung Tun as a “puppet” and not a decision-maker.  

Myint Maung Tun denied the allegation, telling Myanmar Now that those who left the party “could not abide by the party’s policies.”

“They broke the party’s rules, in fact. We had to take action against some party members because of that,” he said, adding that the PPP’s focus was now on organising campaign events. 

Thet Thet Khaing, the PPP’s chairperson, sprays insecticide as part of her campaign activities in October 2020, before Myanmar’s general election (PPP / Facebook)

Company staff turned party members

According to former vice chair Kyaw Zeya, another key player in the PPP has been Thet Thet Khine’s husband, Dr Aung Kyaw Win, the co-owner of the Shwe Nan Taw chain of stores. His office in Mayangone was next to the Shwe Nan Taw meeting room where the PPP’s CEC meetings were reportedly held.

The jewellery chain has arguably boosted the party’s membership roster as well. While PPP records state that the party has more than 130 members in Dagon Township, Myanmar Now found evidence that the list may simply be a collection of names of staff from Shwe Nan Taw or employees of Thet Thet Khaing’s business associates. 

Thet Thet Khine (left) distributes rice and food as part of her election campaign in late 2020 (PPP / Facebook)

A man who has been working for the company for five years confirmed that he was pressured to join the PPP ahead of the 2020 election; he remained on the list at the time of reporting. 

Speaking to Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity, he said his employers “forced” him to become a PPP member. 

“I couldn’t say no to them, so I submitted my name. I am an avid supporter of the NLD. I even voted for the NLD in the election,” he said. 

Acting PPP leader Myint Maung Tun said that employees of Shwe Nan Taw had in fact joined the party, but that this did not prove anything sinister, adding that the organisation kept “detailed records” on its members. 

Myanmar Now contacted two other people on the party list in the township who also denied being PPP members but confirmed that they worked for an associate of Thet Thet Khine. 

“I don’t know why my name is on that list,” one of the men said. 

Targeted by guerrilla forces

Since the coup, armed anti-junta resistance forces have twice used improvised explosive devices to target property belonging to Thet Thet Khine as part of a series of attacks aimed at junta members and collaborators. 

Bombs were set at a condominium under construction belonging to the PPP founder’s family, as well as at a branch of Shwe Nan Taw in downtown Yangon. No one is believed to have been injured in the incidents. 

At least eight members of the PPP have been assassinated by guerrilla forces, making it the second-most targeted party after the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a direct military affiliate.

Thet Thet Khine did not return Myanmar Now’s calls for comment concerning the current state of the PPP, whose third anniversary is approaching in October. 

Reflecting on the party’s slogan—“what matters most are the lives of the people”—former vice chair Kyaw Zeya said the words felt hollow. 

“The party is going down the drain. The people’s lives don’t matter to them anymore,” he said, adding, “Thet Thet Khine only cares about her own wellbeing.”

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