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Updated on June 22, 2020 From The Irrawaddy

In Myanmar, General-Turned-Politician Hopes His Party Sees Success in Coming Election

Once a powerful general in Myanmar’s military regime and later the Lower House speaker, U Shwe Mann, who now leads the Union Betterment Party (UBP), has never been shy about his presidential dreams.

Recently, he met with reporters online from Naypyitaw, and the following is an excerpt of his interview with The Irrawaddy reporter Htet Naing Zaw.

What is your expectation as far as success in the coming general election?

The UBP will contest seats in the Lower House, Upper House and region and state parliaments as well as the ethnic affairs minister positions for 255 townships. Roughly speaking, we will field at least 900 candidates, and that number could increase. We hope that our party will win 40 to 50 percent of total seats [in over 300 townships] across the country in the coming election.

If we win that amount, we will work to form a government that is capable and has genuine will to serve the country and the people.

Will you personally contest the election? You contested the 2010 general election in Zayarthiri Township in Naypyitaw and the 2015 general election in your hometown of Pyu. Where will you run in the coming election?

What is important is to achieve electoral victory. So, our plan is to field those who have high chances of winning. We will reveal details about it later.

There have been disputes over the selection of candidates in some parties. What policies has your party adopted for selecting candidates? Does your party give priority to women and young people like other parties do?

The basic policy is that first, the candidates must be natives of the constituency they are contesting. Second, they must be acceptable to local residents. Third, they must be kind-hearted and altruistic. Fourth, they must be able to realize the policies, objectives and goals of the party.

As your party will run across the country, how is it funded? How will the party support its candidates? Will the candidates have to pay for campaign costs from their own pockets?

Party funding is important. I established the party with my savings and later it began operating with contributions from the public.

By members of the public, I mean there are people from various townships who are interested in the party and its electoral victory. They are helping as much as they can—giving advice, technically, materially and financially. We have a clear conscience about our party funding.

I can’t tell exact figures, but establishing the party and campaigning will cost billions of kyats. I can’t confirm the figures for the time being, but we will spend billions of kyats, from our contributions and contributions from the public.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won the election in 2010 and the National League for Democracy (NLD) did in 2015. Many analysts suggest that the NLD may not win as many seats as they did in 2015. You said you believe your party can win 40 to 50 percent of seats in the coming general election. So, how do you envision the next government then?

It is quite unlikely that a single party can form the government. A coalition government is likely. Two different parties won in the 2010 and 2015 general elections.

Here, we can’t ignore the ethnic issues. One of the objectives of the UBP is to establish a federal, democratic Union. We think it is a notion all people including ethnic people can accept.

This is why we will win the trust of people and ethnic groups and this is why I said our party can achieve success in the coming election.

A motion that seeks to impeach Lower House Speaker U T Khun Myat was submitted to the Union Parliament by the USDP recently. The motion failed. As you also served as the Parliament Speaker, do you think there was a justifiable reason to [submit a motion for impeachment]?

In fact, that motion should not have been submitted. He was a victim of circumstances. When he took charge of the Parliament, his intention was to play a part in establishing a democratic country and preventing deviation from the democratic path. As some cases were put to a vote in the Parliament, disputes arose between ethnic parties and the opposition parties, and all the blame was finally put on the Union Parliament Speaker and he became the victim of the circumstances. I am sorry for him.

How is your relationship with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? You helped with her power transfer after her party won the election. How has your relationship developed recently?

At present, she is the leader of a party and so am I, and we are not backing each other. The relationship should be the relationship between the leader of an independent party and the leader of the ruling party. We have to maintain a distance, like people have to keep apart during COVID-19.

But as I have said, we will cooperate with any party, individual or entity in the interests of the country, so there may be a lot to cooperate on in that regard in the future.

IMAGE: U Shwe Mann (second from left) at an opening ceremony of the Union Betterment Party's office in Bago Region in May 2019. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy
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