Is Shwe Mann Trying to Steal Thein Sein's Reform Mantle?
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Is Shwe Mann Trying to Steal Thein Sein's Reform Mantle?

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY Friday, March 16, 2012

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann speaks during a meeting of the Burmese Parliament in Naypyidaw. (Photo: Irrawaddy)

Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, a former general who ranked third in the junta that ruled Burma until last year, appears to be chafing under the administration of President Thein Sein. In February, the two publicly disagreed over the pace of reforms, raising questions about whether Thein Sein—who was only the sixth most powerful of the former ruling generals—is capable of remaining in charge of Burma's tricky transition to a less autocratic form of governance.

Interestingly, however, Shwe Mann is not regarded as a hardliner opposed to the reforms initiated by Thein Sein, who morphed from prime minister of the old regime to president of the new quasi-civilian government almost one year ago. In fact, he seems intent on outdoing Thein Sein at his own game, pushing for further reforms while chastising his one-time underling for being too “sluggish” in his efforts to remake the country.

In early February, he proposed raising the salaries of civil servants, something he said was necessary to achieve Thein Sein's goal of reducing corruption among officials. But Finance and Revenue Minister Hla Tun—presumably with Thein Sein's approval—argued against the idea, saying that it would only increase the deficit and fuel inflation.

Despite this rebuff, however, Shwe Mann continued to push for a pay increase for public employees with the overwhelming support of legislators. It was subsequently approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or Union Parliament, which combines both houses of the national legislature.

On March 2, in a nationally television speech to mark his first year in power, Thein Sein sought to assert control over the debate by saying that the proposed pay hike would have to wait. This came after a Feb. 22 press conference by Shwe Mann criticizing the government for the slow pace of change under Thein Sein's leadership.

Given the difference in the two men's character—Thein Sein is seen as a conciliatory figure, while Shwe Mann is known for his determination—most bets were on the speaker to ultimately prevail in this increasingly open battle of wills.

“The Union Parliament has already approved the proposal, and so now it is up to Thein Sein to decide whether to implement it or not. I'm sure Shwe Mann will use the full extent of his legislative power to make that happen,” said Sai Sao Si, a Lower House MP from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, speaking to The Irrawaddy last week.

Finally, on March 14, the government announced what appears to have been compromise between the two sides: salaried public servants would receive a 30,000 kyat (US $38) monthly cost-of-living allowance, and day wages for contract workers would increase from 1,100 kyat to 2,100 kyat ($1.40-2.70).
This fell far short of the minimum 100,000 kyat ($125) per month that Shwe Mann and his supporters advocated, but also represented a significant concession by Thein Sein, who had repeatedly argued against any additional spending on wages for public sector workers.

Even as this particular battle appears to have ended in a truce, however, it remains difficult to know what lies behind this latest sign of internal division among Burma's senior leadership. For some, it was a simple matter of Shwe Mann wanting to close the gap between the salaries of administration officials and rank-and-file members of the government, including legislators. But others found it much harder to explain.

“Both the proposal to raise salaries and opposition to this proposal are coming from within the same party, so it's difficult to know what's going on,” said Kyi Myint, a Lower House opposition MP, noting that Shwe Mann and Thein Sein are both key members of the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Some observers have suggested that the dispute has been all for show, to give a semblance of genuine debate to a political process that remains far from transparent. But even Win Tin, a senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and one of the keenest skeptics of the former generals' motives, said he believes that the discord is both real and worrying.

“This is a dangerous situation for the country,” he told The Irrawaddy in February. “Until recently, I only thought we would see the emergence of two groups ruling the country—the army and ex-army officials.

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Irrawaddy Fan Wrote:
US House Speaker Boehner almost always disagree with President Obama so what's wrong with the disagreement between Shwe Mann and Thein Sein? They are just practicing Check-and-Balance a.k.a Democratic system. We should be happy because it's a sign that our country is becoming more of a democratic society where everyone including government officials can disagree publicly.

Hein Zaw Wrote:
Can't you see Thein Sein & Shwe Mann are no rivals? It's just a make-belief role-play to fool the observers. No matter how you look at it, there has been no change whatsoever for the real people.

tocharian Wrote:
Peking prefers Shwe Mann and "shitlone" THTRTAMO over Thein Sein and Suu Kyi. For the Chinese it all depends on who they can bribe and control!

Moe Aung Wrote:
Let's hope these guys are for real but aren't they rather reminiscent of those Chinese legend heroes "su det su lu swan kaung"?

Enjoy the great show while we can, the more exciting infighting and all, and it is incumbent upon all of us to keep egging them on and pushing them toward democratic transformation even when they start screaming and hitting back.

Ohn Wrote:
This was a great expansive imaginary first class story about non-existent absolute crap read like a seasoned "Political Observation".

What is needed of Shwe Mann is

1. to give back things stolen directly and indirectly - like forced selling of fertilizer by his son and relatives.

2. to stop the military clique's patron Chinese taking away more and more of the land and properties of the Burmese public unless they want a messy situation even with the Burmese military as usual siding with the Chinese against the people of Burma.

George Than Setkyar Heine Wrote:
Shwe Mann and Thein Sein are BIRDS of the SAME FEATHER folks.
Their PRIMARY DUTY (obligation) IS TO SAFEGUARD their HEAD (Than Shwe) and HERD (families and cronies wealth) ONLY.
They will STALL and PLAY the GAME SAFE, whilst SELLING their SOULS and COUNTRY to the Chinese and Putin's Russia.
Daw Suu says she is going into Thein Sein's parliament to ESTABLISH RULE of LAW, AFFECT NATIONAL RECONCILIATION and AMEND Than Shwe drawn constitution as well.
Anyway, SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY and OPPORTUNE MOMENT as well via PEOPLE POWER only is the ANSWER FOR BURMA'S FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY and HUMAN RIGHTS lest Daw Suu, Min Ko Naing and his lot forget.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
In a unbalance country where is no system always prevail power struggle among the ruling class. As for Burma still no body knows where is its direction. Present parliament is not democratic elected and 25% is appoint with army unifrom to sit in parliament just see and study. It is an important factor so as to win the heart of army in an unchallange manner for Suu Kyi while she stay in side parliament after by election. President Thein Sein and Thura Shwe Mann are systemmatically struggling for
keeping power in hand solidly to control majority in the parliament in case of power crisis arise. Any way Burma has to go a bit long to establish full democracy for the interest of its peoples and the country.

Nat Ka Lay Wrote:
Not increase salary but monthly allowance. What a different in terms of spending? What makes sense Finance Minister's argument? Taken this fact into account, the dispute-like saga is just a play that staged for show.

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