That was only the latest in a series of other conflicts between the two men (including, most notably, a fight in September over a constitutional tribunal that Shwe Mann had set up as part of his efforts to boost parliamentary powers at the expense of the president's). In the end those plans went nowhere. But one government official close to the president told me that the episode demonstrated the extent of Shwe Mann's designs on the presidency. Shwe Mann, he said, was "a wolf in democratic clothes, waiting to pounce for the presidency in 2015." (The next general election is set for November 10, 2015.)
The struggle is likely to intensify. The president is planning a new anti-corruption campaign within the government and the USDP that will probably target some former ministers who are also senior officials within the party. Some of them were even re-appointed as central executive committee members at the recent congress.
Thein Sein recently launched a massive cabinet reshuffle, appointing many civilians and technocrats as deputy ministers. These changes are continuing, according to government insiders, but the president cannot get rid of everyone at once. The main problem is that the hardliners are still have a significant presence in parliament, and they still control massive amounts of money they accumulated previously under the old regime. Many senior officers who grabbed huge assets in key sectors of the economy (including timber, energy, agriculture, and fishing) are now being targeted for investigation.
The investigations into the officials' activities have been blocked by Shwe Mann's allies in parliament, such as the chairman of the finance and banking parliamentary committee, Aung Thaung. In the next few weeks, the government is preparing to release the results of its investigation into the activities of Maung Maung Thein, a former fisheries minister and ex-general secretary of the USDP. Sources in the fishing industry say that he will be accused of siphoning off more than $80 million a year into his private coffers, and depriving the country of some $200 million dollars a year in lost taxes.
The outcome of the investigation could have a big impact on the fate of Shwe Mann's political ambitions. But while Shwe Mann is facing a growing hornets' nest in the party itself, the old guard is still out to disrupt the president's reform process, using the USDP as their base.