NAYPYITAW – Myanmar’s ruling party has called a hastily arranged leadership meeting on Monday to prepare for a showdown with their ousted party chairman in parliament this week, two senior party members said on Sunday.
Rivalry between two of Myanmar’s most powerful establishment figures — party chairman Shwe Mann and President Thein Sein — came to a head in a late-night drama on Wednesday, when trucks with security personnel sealed off the headquarters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The president sacked Shwe Mann and purged his allies from the USDP leadership, just three months before the country’s first free election in 25 years.
But Shwe Mann still holds the powerful position of the speaker of parliament. He will face the emboldened presidential faction of his own party on Tuesday when the chamber reopens for the last session before the Nov. 8 vote.
The USDP sent invitations on Sunday for the Monday morning meeting, the party members said.
The party may discuss how to introduce a bill to parliament that could be used to impeach Shwe Mann, USDP lawmaker Hla Shwe said on Sunday in the capital. He has yet to receive the agenda for the meeting, he said.
A second lawmaker from the leadership body on his way to the capital also said the meeting was arranged for Monday.
“The Central Executive Committee expects Shwe Mann will use parliament to respond to the recent events,” said Hla Swe, referring to the party’s top governing body. “We might discuss the ‘right to recall’ bill.”
Under the bill, if 1 percent of constituents sign a petition and the electoral commission finds their complaint justified, their member of parliament can be recalled.
Shwe Mann faces a petition from his own constituents for supporting a bill in parliament to reduce the military’s political power.
Myanmar’s electoral commission sent a letter to Shwe Mann on Thursday, which featured prominently in state media, requesting he table a vote on the bill.
Shwe Mann has said little since his sacking on what he plans to do, and he has not responded to the letter.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, he said he would do nothing to endanger the country or the people, and that neither should anybody else.
“I don’t think Shwe Mann will give up easily. He is not that kind of person,” said Hla Swe, although he said parliament was unlikely to see a repeat of the drama at USDP headquarters last week.
“They can do whatever they want inside the party, but they can’t disrespect the parliament and its speaker.”
Meantime, farmers in flood-hit Myanmar face a scramble to replant damaged paddy fields in the next two weeks to avoid food shortages, and aid efforts in some of the country’s hardest hit areas remain a challenge, the United Nations said Saturday.
More than 1.3 million people have been critically affected and at least 106 people have died since heavy monsoon rains coupled with a cyclone last month caused floods across the country, according to the government.
Water has receded in many areas, allowing farmers to assess the damage to their crops and also to seed stocks as the end of planting season nears.
“If farmers aren’t able to get rice seeds and plant in the next two weeks the window for the next season is pretty much over,” said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.
“If they are not able to replant they will miss out completely on this season and the impact on food security will be much larger than if we can provide them with support to replant.”
Myanmar is a rice exporter, but has halted exports to stabilize prices.
The U.N. and NGOs have supplied emergency food assistance to 386,000 people impacted by the floods, OCHA said in its latest situation report on the flooding.
Over 1.4 million acres of paddy fields were flooded, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. The crops in over 500,000 acres have been destroyed in what has been the worst natural disaster in Myanmar since Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people in May 2008.
The government has provided $1.2 million for paddy seeds in Rakhine State, one of the hardest hit areas, but, “further support will be needed to help farmers and rural communities rebuild,” OCHA said.
In Chin State, a mountainous region bordering Bangladesh and India, where heavy rains caused major landslides, aid workers were still struggling to access some of the state’s more remote and hard to reach regions.
In the capital of Hakh five out of six townships experienced landslides that damaged hundreds of homes.
Zung Hlei Thang, an MP representing Chin State, said the prices of rice and other commodities had risen sharply since the landslides made many state roads largely impassable, stemming imports.
“The living conditions are difficult,” he said.
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