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Myanmar lawmakers delay vote on bill that could end career of reform-minded politician

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NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Lawmakers decided Thursday to delay voting on a bill that could have resulted in the removal of parliament's embattled speaker, temporarily easing a political crisis gripping Myanmar ahead of national elections.

Shwe Mann, a reform-minded former army general, was considered by the United States and several other Western countries to be one of the most desirable candidates for the presidency.

His ouster as head of the military-backed ruling party in a midnight purge late last week sent shockwaves through the diplomatic community. Hundreds of armed police seized the party headquarters, confiscated phones and computers, and prevented some members from leaving.

Moves to strip Shwe Mann of his parliamentary seat ahead of the Nov. 8 vote would have effectively sealed his political demise.

Myanmar started moving from dictatorship toward democracy five years ago.

But experts say Shwe Mann's purge shows that despite some limited reforms — including a freer media and the release of hundreds of political prisoners — the military still runs the show.

"With regards to what happened in the middle of the night, this is not what you expect in a working democracy," opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Shwe Mann ally, told reporters Tuesday.

President Thein Sein, also a former general, has the backing of hardliners in the military and has sometimes indicated an interest in a second term.

Shwe Mann was being pressured this week to present a bill that could cause him to lose his seat as lawmaker. It says any member of parliament who loses the support of 1 percent of his constituency can be removed, and Shwe Mann was the target of a petition in June after he supported bills that could chip away at the military's role in politics.

The military holds 25 percent of the seats in parliament and has veto power over constitutional amendments.

The number of lawmakers who were against bringing the bill to a vote during this parliamentary session — the last before the elections — was 264. Another 235 were in favor and 10 abstained.

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