Loyalists of Myanmar junta chief take over proxy party’s key leadership positions

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) concluded a two-day conference on Wednesday with significant changes to its senior leadership, in what was seen by observers as part of a push by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing to assert control over the military proxy party.

Following the announcement on Tuesday of the retirement of the party’s outgoing chair, Than Htay, USDP delegates elected Khin Yi, a retired brigadier general and close Min Aung Hlaing associate, as his successor.

While that move had been widely anticipated, there were also some surprises. According to a party source, two other key positions will be filled by recently retired lieutenant generals handpicked by Min Aung Hlaing.

Lt-Gen Myo Zaw Thein, a former Yangon regional commander and adjutant general, will step into Khin Yi’s newly vacated vice chair position, while Lt-Gen Aung Soe, a former deputy home affairs minister and head of Bureau of Special Operations 4 (BSO-4), will take over as general secretary, the source said.

Myo Zaw Thein, a graduate of Defence Services Academy (DSA) Intake 28, was promoted to lieutenant general and put in charge of BSO-5 in 2017. He became adjutant general two years later, in July 2019. In July of this year, he was one of several generals to accompany Min Aung Hlaing on a trip to Russia.

Aung Soe graduated from DSA Intake 26 and was a commander of Light Infantry Division 33 and the Northeast Regional Command. He also served as deputy home affairs minister under the administrations of Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. 

In December of last year he was tasked with commanding operations in Lay Kay Kaw in Karen State in his capacity as head of BSO-4. Under his command, junta forces have carried out multiple airstrikes against the Karen National Union and its allies, displacing tens of thousands of civilians.

As BSO heads, both men oversaw regional military commands in their respective areas (southeastern Myanmar in the case of BSO-4 and Yangon in the case of BSO-5) and reported directly to Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar Now was unable to confirm at the time of reporting if information about their appointment to key party posts was accurate.

While some major changes were made, however, the composition of the USDP’s central executive committee (CEC) remained largely the same after the conference. According to Myanmar Now’s source, most of the CEC’s 50 members have retained their positions.

USDP members attend the first day of the party conference on October 4 (USDP)

This week’s party conference was the first since 2016. While conferences are normally held every five years, last year’s gathering was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the February 2021 coup.

On social media, the party said that a total of 614 out of 728 invited members from around the country attended the conference to select new leaders.

According to a retired colonel who is close to the party’s inner circle, the changes made at the top were significant, but should not be seen as pointing to any major shifts in the months ahead. 

In particular, he downplayed the importance of Min Aung Hlaing’s role in shaping the party’s leadership as an indicator of whether he will allow elections to take place next year.

“We can’t assume this means elections will, or won’t, be held. These are separate matters,” he said.

He added that what Min Aung Hlaing’s interference does signal is a willingness to violate the party’s regulations—by transforming generals into high-ranking party members within a matter of days—to ensure that it doesn’t stray from his agenda.

“Such moves will bring the party to political ruin,” he said.

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