Myanmar parliament opens; spotlight on beleaguered speaker

AP News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2015 5:43 AM
Myanmar parliament opens; spotlight on beleaguered speaker

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's parliament reopened Tuesday for its final session before November's national elections, with the spotlight on the influential speaker — who was violently ousted just days ago as head of the military-backed ruling party.

Opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi criticized the manner in which Shwe Mann, a close political ally, had been removed. Hundreds of armed police seized the headquarters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the middle of the night, witnesses said, confiscating computers and preventing some members from leaving.

It was a political purge reminiscent of the days of dictatorship in the Southeast Asian country.

"This is not what you expect from a working democracy," Suu Kyi told reporters.

The Nobel laureate also slammed an impeachment bill Shwe Mann was being pressured to table — possibly later this week.

The bill says parliamentarians who have lost the trust of even 1 percent of their constituents can be stripped of their seats, meaning Shwe Mann could be a target.

"Ridiculous," Suu Kyi said. "It is now clear who the enemy is and who is the ally."

Myanmar only recently started moving from dictatorship to democracy, but critics say the strings of power behind the quasi-civilian government remain members of the old military elite, including former dictator Than Shwe, who lives a generally secluded life in a sprawling compound in the capital, Naypyitaw.

As elections approach, tensions have been building between President Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, both former generals and members of the governing party. Tensions were exacerbated last week when the names of nearly 100 newly retired military members did not make it onto the party's candidate lists. Some hardliners blamed Shwe Mann.

The parliament speaker — seen as a reformist — set a no-nonsense tone as parliament resumed Tuesday, immediately rejecting a motion by several USDP lawmakers to suspend the session because of floods and landslides.

The MPs could excuse themselves, he said, but there was important business to attend to in the parliamentary chambers.

Shwe Mann had lost the support of conservatives in the party, in part because of his close ties to the wildly popular Suu Kyi. The two met for an hour on Monday, apparently to discuss the political upheaval and its potential impact.

There was murmuring Tuesday that polls now scheduled for Nov. 8 could be delayed by up to a month.

Suu Kyi said that while leadership changes within the ruling party were an "internal matter," if they affect the election, resulting in either a cancellation or delay, "we must not be silent."

She was also critical of a bill that could lead to Shwe Mann's impeachment.

Last month, 1,700 members of his constituency in Zayarthiri, located in the heart of the capital, said he violated the law by showing disrespect for the military's role in parliament. That followed deliberations on a bill that could have ended the military's right to veto all proposed amendments to the country's 2008 constitution.

"One percent to the right of recall? It's ridiculous ... it doesn't make any sense," Suu Kyi said. "There are so many things to do. If we start voting on that ... we won't even have time to do the other things."