The new law on foreign investment, passed by parliament last week and immediately signed into law by the president, also reflects the struggle between the two rivals. Shwe Mann tried to win the support of local business interests by advocating for greater protectionism. Thein Sein pressed for a version of the law more open to foreign investment. In the end the president won.
"Everyone knows the foreign investment law is critical and that it is desperately needed for the country's economic development," Ko Ko Hlaing, the president's top political adviser, told me recently. Thein Sein and the USDP leaders know that they have to deliver on their economic promises if they are to avoid losing to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) at the next elections.
The battle for control of the USDP is set to become even messier as the party's members prepare for the next elections. They know only too well that, in the court of public opinion, they are rapidly losing ground to the NLD. For that reason there is now mounting pressure on Thein Sein -- who had earlier declared himself to be a one-term president -- to stay on as party head and serve a second term as the country's leader. But that will probably do little to fix what ails the USDP.