Currently the USDP, with more than 60 percent, holds the overwhelming majority of the seats in parliament. But if the party fragments, it is likely to break up into several smaller groups, leaving the military with the largest single bloc -- and thus potentially giving it effective veto power over planned reforms. A parliament of fractured parties might see soldiers taking a more active role, probably by stressing core military values and putting security as the top priority. Some have even warned of the potential for a "soft coup" that would put the military back in charge of policy.
The reasons for the USDP's underlying weakness lie in its history. The party was formed by the country's former dictator, General Than Shwe, out of the old political movement of the ruling military back in 2010. This opened the way for the USDP to compete in the first general election in 20 years, also held in 2010. The USDP's members are a mix of former military men, ministers, civil servants, and businessmen. Its main purpose was to ensure the military's continued dominance, but aside from that it has no real ideology to hold its disparate constituents together.
Aside from its vaguely populist approach to the economy, and its strong commitment to law and order, the party has had difficulty forming a proper policy approach. It suffers from its association with the old military rulers, many of who still play prominent roles. Educated and cosmopolitan former ambassadors, civil servants, and intellectuals resent being forced to cohabit with authoritarian and corrupt former ministers.
The tensions between the president and the speaker have become increasingly open lately. Early last month, Shwe Mann declared that laws passed by parliament should take immediate effect and did not need the approval of the president. Many observers saw this as a de facto declaration of war on the president and his cabinet.
Shwe Mann's move exacerbated the conflict within the party-- especially during the USDP's first national congress in mid-October. "To elaborate, I am the one who is mostly responsible for convening the convention and reorganizing the party," Shwe Mann told party members at the time, even though Thein Sein had been elected as the party chairman and was obviously in charge. A Burmese businessman with close ties to the USDP told me. "It was a slap in the president's face, and his declaration that he controlled the party [was] sheer arrogance."