NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Myanmar has gagged media linked to parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann after he and his allies were dramatically purged from the leadership of the ruling party by President Thein Sein on Thursday months before a historic general election.
The suspension of media connected to Shwe Mann comes after the heavy-handed involvement of security forces in his ousting this week and will add to concern about the progress of democratic reforms as the government uses tactics reminiscent of military-era purges.
Shwe Mann angered the military by supporting an attempt in parliament in June to amend the constitution to limit the military's political role.
The Ministry of Information ordered the Union Daily newspaper and the weekly Leader journal to suspend print runs, Yamin Tin, editor-in-chief of Union Daily, told Reuters on Friday.
Both publications are run by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and until Wednesday were regarded as mouthpieces for Shwe Mann.
"The staff were told to keep working so we expect we will be able to resume after some time," Yamin Tin said.
The Minister of Information was unavailable for comment.
Also on Friday, radio station Cherry FM, linked to Shwe Mann's daughter-in-law, was off air.
"We lost our signal," said Than Htwe Zaw, a manager at Cherry FM. He was unsure what the problem was and said Cherry had not received an order to stop broadcasting.
Security forces surrounded the monumental USDP headquarters late on Wednesday and shortly afterwards powerful politicians close to the president began meetings to purge Shwe Mann's faction.
The U.S. expressed concern about the apparent use of security forces in the dispute between the two rivals and emphasized the need to maintain public trust in the democratic process ahead of the Nov. 8 vote, which had been billed as possibly the first free and fair vote since the end of 49 years of military rule in 2011.
Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi canceled plans to travel to the northeastern Shan State after hearing about the USDP leadership change, party Central Executive Committee member Win Htein said.
"She thinks the change of leadership in the USDP is very important both for the country and the parliament and she shouldn't be traveling at this point."
Shwe Mann had built ties with Suu Kyi, who has called repeatedly for the military to withdraw from politics.
Her relationship with Thein Sein is more frosty. In an interview with Reuters earlier this year, Suu Kyi said the president ran a "hardline regime" and was insincere about reform.
"Shwe Mann is closer to Aung San Suu Kyi," said Win Htein. "As for the President Thein Sein, he and Aung San Suu Kyi are not very close so it is hard to tell how the situation is going to evolve from now on."
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept the polls in 1990 but was never allowed to rule by the military, is expected to do well against the USDP in November, but Suu Kyi is banned from becoming president under a clause in the military-drafted constitution.
Myanmar's president is chosen by parliament, not by the electorate.
High-ranking NLD members have said Suu Kyi may have backed Shwe Mann as a presidential candidate after the election, although she has since said the party does not want to see another former general as president.
With Shwe Mann out of the picture, Thein Sein has removed a powerful potential rival. That could be positive in terms of stability, given his better relationship with the military, said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It raised questions, however, about how much of a role the National Assembly would be allowed after the elections and what action the military might take if it was unhappy with the result.
Thein Sein's relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi was also a concern, Hiebert said.
"Obviously Thein Sein is someone who knows how to make deals and compromise ... but in light of what’s just happened, I can’t imagine he will be rushing off to have tea with Aung San Suu Kyi."