Sunday, October 14, 2012

Myanmar ruling party meets to map out its future

Myanmar’s ruling party opened a crunch meeting on Sunday to revamp its leadership and chart a new course for the army-backed group after a by-election drubbing by Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy opposition.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party gathered in the capital Naypyidaw as it looks towards a 2015 election that many expect to be the greatest litmus test of reforms that have swept the country under the current quasi-civilian regime.

President Thein Sein, who greeted delegates at the start of the three-day conference, stepped down as party chief to take office last year and the post has since remained vacant.

Members are expected to select new leadership as part of their efforts to map out the party’s strategy.

“We will discuss how we can better serve the people,” USDP general secretary Htay Oo told AFP ahead of the meeting.

“We are not only aiming to win 2015… We will continue working even if we do not win,” he said, adding that the party had not been put off by its defeat in the April by-election.

The USDP lost all but one of the 45 seats it contested in the vote which swept Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy into parliament.

This week the Nobel laureate said she had “the courage to be president” if elected, signalling a willingness to take the top job.

That would require the amendment of a constitution that bars those with close foreign relatives from holding high office. Suu Kyi, who married a British academic, has two sons living in the West.

Analysts say Thein Sein is locked in a power struggle with the lower house speaker and USDP vice president Shwe Mann, widely considered to harbour ambitions of taking the presidency after 2015.

The relationship between the pair, both former generals, is believed to have soured after Thein Sein was appointed president while Shwe Mann, who was more senior under the previous regime, took the lesser role of speaker.

But observers say electoral success will be a formidable challenge for the USDP, which swept a poll two years ago that was marred by allegations of fraud and the absence of Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest just days later.

“They cannot rig the election like before, so the USDP might need to find another way for themselves,” said Hkun Htun Oo of the Shan National League for Democracy party.-Philippine Daily Inquirer (October 14, 2012 2:01PM)

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