Sunday, August 20, 2017

State Sangha disowns Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion

The state Buddhist authority has agreed to disband the controversial nationalist lobby Ma Ba Tha, according to a state media announcement.

Senior members of Ma Ba Tha held a press conference yesterday amid continued moves to terminate the group. (Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times)Senior members of Ma Ba Tha held a press conference yesterday amid continued moves to terminate the group. (Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times)

In documents that were initially leaked on social media yesterday, and then picked up by MRTV, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na) has disowned the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, known by its Myanmar-language acronym Ma Ba Tha.

“Since the first to the fifth Sangha conventions of all Buddhist orders from 1980 to 2014, none had endorsed Ma Ba Tha’s legitimacy or even used the term, ‘Ma Ba Tha’,” said a version of the State Sangha’s statement that appeared on Facebook yesterday.

Citing section 4 of the State Sangha’s basic rules, the statement said there must be only one Sangha association composed of all Buddhist orders in the country, which repudiates Ma Ba Tha’s claim that it was formed in accordance with the Sangha’s rules and laws.

“This is to clarify the confusion among the public: Ma Ba Tha is not a Buddhist organisation that was formed in accordance with the basic Sangha rules, regulations and directives of the State Sangha authority,” the leaked document said.

According to the statement, there are only nine Buddhist orders around the country and the formation of a new Buddhist order is prohibited. Such organisations may also never deal in political affairs, the law said.

The State Sangha plans to issue orders banning members of township Sanghas from participating in Ma Ba Tha, or activities led by the group.

Ma Ha Na was asked to review the nationalist lobby force by Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein.

He has been after Ma Ba Tha since a trip abroad to Singapore when he called the self-appointed guardians of “nationality and religion” redundant and unnecessary due to already-extant Ma Ha Na. The chief minister further raised the ire of the nationalist monks when he reiterated the comments to reporters outside Yangon International Airport.

Ma Ba Tha members pledged to stage protests starting on July 14 if the government did not issue a retraction and reprimand the official.

With the organisation’s future in the lurch, Ma Ba Tha members attempted to soften their tone during a press conference called at Insein Ywama monastery yesterday.

Backtracking from insulting U Phyo Min Thein and a previous castigation of his “womanly” remarks, central committee member U Tawpaka said all Ma Ba Tha members have been given instructions to drop the nationwide protest.

“The protest plan arranged last week cannot continue peacefully,” he said.

Instead, the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion vowed to peacefully support the country under a new theme, “Ma Ba Tha’s Myithar covers the world”.

Ma Ba Tha’s statement added that the group will not be paying attention to the chief minister and regards his personal views as irrelevant. The reversal comes after National League for Democracy patron U Win Htein said the party would not be heeding Ma Ba Tha’s demands for retributive action against the chief minister.

“We will not devote attention to his [U Phyo Min Thein’s] opinions because they are only his personal belief. What he said does not represent the state government. So we won’t respond,” U Tawpaka said.

Throughout last year’s election season, Ma Ba Tha was vocal in its campaign against the NLD, urging voters to cast their ballots instead for nationalist parties that had stood for the controversial “race and religion” bills – a package of legislation backed by the monks, and signed into effect by then-president U Thein Sein. NLD MPs had lobbied against the legislation when it was up for debate in parliament, but the new government has since stood up for the bills at a recent UN meeting in Geneva.

Senior members of Ma Ha Na are slated to gather for a two-day quarterly summit starting today, after which a public pronouncement on Ma Ba Tha is expected.