The Union Solidarity and Development Party appears deeply divided, with many of its MPs yesterday voting to suspend debate on the “Right of Recall” bill – a strong show of support for deposed party chair Thura U Shwe Mann.
Using the electronic voting system, 264 MPs yesterday agreed to suspend the discussion, with 235 voting to continue the vote and 12 abstaining.
Observers said it was a “strange” result for the USDP, as it was the first time the party has clearly been split on an issue of significance.
The Speaker’s opponents, who ousted him in a party coup on August 13, have been pushing parliament to resume debate on the bill, which has been stalled since 2012.
In recent days, speculation has mounted that they want the bill to pass so he could be impeached. Thura U Shwe Mann is already the subject of a recall petition from members of the military in his constituency. Until the Right of Recall bill has been enacted, however, he cannot be removed.
The Speaker received the latest draft of the bill from the Union Election Commission on August 13, the same day he was ousted as USDP chief by President U Thein Sein and replaced with U Htay Oo.
When parliament resumed on August 18, representatives from the USDP proposed to suspend both the Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaw sessions.
While the motion in the Am-yotha Hluttaw, or upper house, was passed, Thura U Shwe Mann blocked the proposal in the lower house.
He then accepted the recall bill and instructed the Joint Bill Committee to submit a report after discussing it with parties.
Representatives from 13 parties, including the National League for Democracy, told the committee they opposed the bill, while six supported it, including the USDP.
U Aye Maung from the Rakhine National Party said the result showed Thura U Shwe Mann still had the support of his party rank and file.
“It was very clear that the military and some USDP [representatives] led by U Htay Oo voted to continue [the recall bill debate], while some USDP, NLD and ethnic MPs stand on the same side as the democratic reforms,” he said.
While the Speaker had won a battle, he had not knocked out his rivals, U Aye Maung warned.
“We will see more challenges in parliament. They [the president and his USDP allies] will try another way to control parliament. We’ll have to see how U Shwe Mann will respond.”
Newly installed USDP leader U Htay Oo described the result as a loss of “the people’s rights”.
However, he rejected suggestions that it showed MPs supported Thura U Shwe Mann, adding that USDP members were always told they could vote as they like.
Many MPs oppose the bill because an investigation by the Union Election Commission can be initiated with the support of just 1 percent of eligible voters.
They argue that such a low threshold for removing an MP could create instability, particularly when there are concerns about the election commission’s independence.
Before the vote, 15 MPs from the military, the USDP, the NLD and ethnic parties discussed the bill. Five from the military and four from the USDP discussed to approve the bill as soon as possible.
The non-elected military representatives urged parliament to continue the debate, saying the law needed to be approved under the 2008 constitution and parliamentary laws so that voters could dismiss their elected representatives.
“Fulfilling people’s basic rights given by the constitution is the main duty of the parliament,” said Brigadier General Tint San, adding that the law should be approved “as soon as possible”.
USDP representative U Hla Swe was among those who spoke out in favour of the bill. He said it was an important check and balance for MPs who did nothing for their constituents.
“MPs should not be afraid of getting complaints from eligible voters if they are really working for the voters’ interests,” he said.
“Some MPs visited their constituents just once before the election. But after they were elected, the MP has never been seen again. When constituents called the [MP] because they have problems, the number didn’t work. People can take action to remove this kind of MP if parliament approves the bill.”
U Win Myint from the NLD said the 1pc threshold could create “chaos” in parliament and affect national stability. It could also impact on national reconciliation and unity among ethnic minorities.
“There are many diverse ethnic groups in our country so an MP from one ethnic group is likely to receive complaints from another ethnic group easily,” he said.
Some MPs suggested adding more provisions to the bill to safeguard against spurious complaints. These including forming dual investigation teams – one at the UEC and another in parliament – to examine complaints; submitting reports from both the investigation teams to parliament; debating both reports in parliament; giving the MP the right to refute the complaint; and requiring more than two-thirds of MPs to vote in favour of dismissing an MP to pass the recall motion.