Thein Sein

Myanmar's President Thein Sein re-elected as ruling party head

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 4:49am

Myanmar's reformist President Thein Sein was yesterday reappointed head of the ruling party at a key meeting aimed at reviving its flagging political fortunes against a resurgent opposition.

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which held its first major conference in the capital Naypyidaw, was seeking a new strategy to avert a possible major electoral defeat in 2015.

But in the end, the party refrained from replacing Thein Sein as its leader amid signs of political rivalry within its top ranks.

His main rival and fellow reformer, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, was picked as acting chairman in a closed-door vote by the executive committee.

The surprise outcome of yesterday's leadership vote was seen as a compromise to maintain unity within a party facing an uncertain future.

"In one sense, the party won - it still has the most popular person from the old order as its nominal head," said independent Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey, speaking of Thein Sein.

He said the move might also come as a blessing in disguise for Shwe Mann.

"If he had pushed to take the top position, he would be more closely shackled to a sinking - or at least floundering - ship and would have more responsibility for making it seaworthy."

Thein Sein relinquished an active party role to lead the country last year as it emerged from nearly half a century of outright military rule.

Analysts say he has been locked in a power struggle with Shwe Mann, who was more senior under the previous military regime and is widely considered to harbour ambitions of taking over the presidency.

The USDP is still reeling from a heavy defeat in the April by-elections at the hands of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

In a speech to party delegates earlier in the day, Shwe Mann urged members to "participate in the reform process". "When we reorganise the party, we will transform ourselves into the people's party," he said.