USDP gathering ends with leadership disputes unresolved

A two-day meeting of central committee members from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)  ended last week without resolving key issues related to the party’s leadership, according to party sources.

The gathering, held on Wednesday and Thursday at the party’s headquarters in Naypyitaw, was the first to take place since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic more than two years ago.

In addition to central committee members, the assembly was attended by a number of former generals who had been missing from the public eye in recent years.

But it was the party’s chair, Than Htay, who was the focus of most attention, as some in the party expressed dissatisfaction with his continued tenure more than a year after completing his five-year term.

In particular, there were murmurs of discontent over changes he made to party rules during the pandemic to allow himself to hold onto his position. 

According to a party source, Than Htay opened the meeting with calls to enshrine amendments he had made since the last party assembly, including one extending the chair’s term.

“He wants to extend his term in an unfair and unjust manner. It’s essentially an abuse of authority. It made him look really bad,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

Angry reaction

One person who took especially strong exception to Than Htay’s efforts to stay in power was Hla Swe, better known as Bullet Hla Swe, a former USDP lawmaker known for courting controversy. 

According to one person who attended the gathering, Thein Aung, the former chief minister of Ayeyarwady region, had to intervene as the discussion became heated after Hla Swe and others reacted angrily to Than Htay’s plans.

Myanmar Now reached out to Hla Swe for his views on the issue, but he declined to comment.

Hla Swe addresses other members of the USDP central committee during a party assembly held in Naypyitaw on June 8-9 (USDP)

However, in an interview with the BBC Burmese-language service, he said that if Than Htay wanted to extend his term, he would have to “call for a party meeting and re-elect central executive members.”

In the chaos that greeted Than Htay’s attempts to solidify his status as chair, no decision was made about the amendments. However, it was agreed to let the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) settle the matter.

The issue remained unresolved following an emergency CEC meeting held on Friday, but sources said it was likely that major changes in the party’s leadership would be announced at a party conference due to be held in the next few months. 

Min Aung Hlaing as president?

There were also reports that some senior figures within the USDP are at odds with the leader of Myanmar’s coup regime, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

“I can confirm that the junta chief and the USDP leaders are on very bad terms right now,” said a retired lieutenant colonel who is close to several members of the military council.

However, Min Aung Hlaing was also said to have a number of allies among the party’s leader, including vice chair Khin Yee and Wunna Maung Lwin, who is serving as the regime’s foreign minister, as well as Thaung Aye and Mingin Maung Myint.

Yin Min Myint Swe, a USDP spokesperson, said that part of the reason for last week’s meeting was to discuss preparations for elections slated for next year.

The junta, which overturned the results of the 2020 election after the USDP lost in a landslide to the ousted ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has declared that a general election will be held in August 2023.

The USDP is widely expected to win that election, as it did in 2010, when the NLD did not contest. 

While the violent aftermath of last year’s coup, which resulted in the emergence of an armed resistance movement in many parts of the country, is one major reason for delaying the election, another is Min Aung Hlaing’s determination to become president, according to political analyst Than Soe Naing.

“He is desperate to become president. He will just keep trying to  shuffle one political situation after another around to steer things in that direction,” he said.

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