Monday, July 24, 2017

Speaker dismisses recall petition

Parliament Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann has dismissed a petition to impeach him that is circulating on social media and claiming to have the backing of military residents of his Nay Pyi Taw constituency.

Thura U Shwe Mann speaks at a press conference on February 11. Photo: AFPThura U Shwe Mann speaks at a press conference on February 11. Photo: AFP

A letter marked “secret” and purporting to carry 1740 signatures, together with names and ranks, is reported to have been sent to the Union Election Commission with the aim of dismissing the Speaker. The petitioners accuse him of breaking laws during his failed attempt in June to pass constitutional changes that would have broken the military’s grip on political power.

But in a July 28 interview with the BBC’s Myanmar service, the ex-general, who was number three in the former military junta, says he is ready to defend himself.

“I can take my responsibility. If they tried [to dismiss me] according to the recall law, then I am ready, in accordance with the law,” Thura U Shwe Mann said.

The purported letter has added to speculation of a growing division of political battle lines between, on one side, the Union Solidarity and Development Party chaired by the Speaker and the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and on the other the military elite and President U Thein Sein.

In his BBC interview, Thura U Shwe Mann made no attempt to dismiss such analysis and commented on his cooperation with the NLD leader, who is blocked by the constitution from serving as president. In the past the Speaker has not hidden his own presidential ambitions, driving rumours that the two party leaders may have an electoral compact.

“We have mutual understanding, trust and an agreement that we will negotiate and coordinate together for the benefit of both the state and citizens,” he said. “But we will compete against each other to win the election. This is the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ we have.”

Thura U Shwe Mann denied that his weekend decision to change his constituency from the military-heavy Zeyathiri township in Nay Pyi Taw to his hometown of Pyu in Bago Region had been motivated by the online “petition”.

“No link at all,” he said, explaining that he had worked to develop Zeyathiri and now wanted to serve the people of his hometown.

The letter, dated July 24, says that in the 2010 election Thura U Shwe Mann received 60,503 votes, of which 14,104, or about 22 percent, were from soldiers and their families.

The 1740 purported signers of the petition would be sufficient under a provision of the constitution that says an MP may be recalled if a minimum of 1pc of the original electorate submits a complaint to the UEC.

However, the enabling law has been stalled in parliament for several years and not yet enacted, leaving the UEC with no powers to act upon the complaint.

Despite lacking legal weight, the intended message to the Speaker is clear, however, with the petitioners accusing him of violating the 2008 constitution and offending the dignity of military MPs. It also accuses him of breaking parliamentary rules by voting on the motion to change the constitution, which the military blocked with its unelected 25pc of the lower house.

An official from the township election commission office said they had not received the purported complaint against the Speaker and it was not known if the letter circulating online was genuine or a fake.

Thura U Shwe Mann said on Facebook that he had tried to change the constitution “for the sake of the country and people”.

U Maung Maung Thein, a USDP central executive committee member, yesterday played down talk of a rift between the military and the party it had created to contest the 2010 elections.

Speaking at a press conference in Yangon, he said he did not see the alleged petition as a sign that the military would withdraw its support from the party “because the military founded the USDP”. The petition was not likely to lead to “estrangement and misunderstanding” between the two, he said.