USDP to hold party conference and elect new chair in October

Myanmar’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is planning to hold elections for senior leadership positions at a conference slated to take place in early October, according to party sources.

The conference, which will be held at the party’s headquarters in Naypyitaw’s Dekkhinathiri Township over a three-day period beginning October 4, comes as six members of the party’s central executive committee (CEC) are due to retire.

Among those expected to be replaced are the party’s current chair, Than Htay, who has faced criticism from some quarters for holding on to the position beyond his five-year term limit. 

“It’s almost completely certain that Than Htay is going to retire. He said he’d had a spine surgery and that he wasn’t in the best of health, but that’s not the truth,” said a USDP source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of Than Htay’s most outspoken critics has been CEC member Maung Myint, who has publicly accused him of abusing his position to make self-serving changes to party rules and lend party funds to close friends.

Than Htay’s likely successor is the party’s vice chair, Khin Yi, a retired brigadier general and former chief of the Myanmar Police Force who was named minister of immigration after last year’s coup. He reportedly retired as minister late last month to focus on his party duties.

“I heard that Khin Yi is now serving as a temporary chair, but the changes will only become permanent at the conference,” said CEC member Hla Swe, better known as “Bullet Hla Swe”.

Than Htay speaks at a rally ahead of the 2020 general elections (Nyan Hlaing Lin/ Myanmar Now)

Sources say that Than Htay has apparently accepted that he will be removed as chair, but wants to be voted out rather than face an ouster like the one that forced former chair Thura Shwe Mann from power in 2015.

That incident, dubbed the “Midnight Coup,” came as a result of tensions between Thura Shwe Mann, who was also serving as speaker of Myanmar’s lower house of parliament, and then president Thein Sein.

Khin Yi has reportedly agreed to allow Than Htay to stay in his position until the conference, when more than 1,000 delegates from around the country are expected to elect a new chair.

A committee consisting of the party’s top leaders has also reviewed the rules amended by Than Htay and will formally approve them at the conference, according to a USDP leader who would like to remain anonymous.

Others who are expected to retire from their CEC positions are Wai Lwin, a retired lieutenant general who served as defence minister under Thein Sein, and Hla Htay Win, who was the armed forces chief of general staff until 2015.

The 70-year-old Khin Yi is regarded as a staunch loyalist of Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the coup regime that seized power on February 1, 2021. He is also known to have staged pro-military rallies prior to the overthrow of the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

He ran for election twice, in 2015 and 2020, and was soundly defeated by his NLD rival on both occasions.

As a party, the USDP has only been able to win power once—in 2010, when the NLD did not participate in an election that was widely seen as rigged in favour of the military proxy party.

Sources in Naypyitaw say that security has been tightened in the junta’s administrative capital ahead of the USDP conference, as regime targets continue to come under attack from resistance forces.

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