Burma’s military-backed opposition party has spoken out in support of hardline Buddhist nationalists, calling on the National League for Democracy (NLD) government to address their concerns.
Speaking yesterday at the divisional headquarters of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Rangoon, party spokesperson Nandar Hla Myint said, “The current administration should make efforts to understand why [Buddhist] nationalists are so concerned about the safety of their race and why they want to protect it.”
He said that the former ruling government, headed by the USDP’s President Thein Sein, had “dealt dutifully and carefully with the Ma Ba Tha’s religious and nationalist movement to avoid harming the culture of democracy.”
Ma ba tha, a Burmese acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, is led by Buddhist monks, most notably Wirathu, a firebrand orator frequently accused of inciting anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma.
“Whether the Ma Ba Tha continues or ceases to exist depends entirely on the policies of the NLD government,” said Nandar Hla Myint.
On 23 May, the highest order of Buddhist monkhood in the country, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, issued a 4-point statement which included an injunction on the use of the name Ma Ba Tha and a ban on all posters and banners bearing the group’s acronym and logo being displayed by the organisation. The Sangha committee gave the Association until 17 July to comply, after which time, it said, the matter would be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
After holding an emergency meeting, the Ma Ba Tha announced it would adopt the new title of Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, but continue its operations and agenda otherwise unaffected.
However, just a few days ago, the Karen chapter of the Association declared that it would not abide by the ruling, and would continue to refer to itself as the Ma Ba Tha.