State Sangha to rule on dis­solv­ing Ma Ba Tha

The fate of the hard­line na­tion­al­ist group will be de­cided at a quar­terly gath­er­ing of the se­nior-most Bud­dhist au­thor­i­ties later this week.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - AUNG KYAW MIN aungkyawmin@mm­times.com

‘[Chief Min­is­ter] U Phyo Min Thein ex­er­cised his rights in a democ­racy to ex­press his opin­ion.’

Thura U Aung Ko Re­li­gious and cul­tural af­fairs min­is­ter

THE state Bud­dhist au­thor­ity is back­ing a chief min­is­ter’s call to dis­solve na­tion­al­ist group Ma Ba Tha, but will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion dur­ing an up­com­ing quar­terly re­treat at Maha Pasana Cave, an of­fi­cial said.

Yan­gon Re­gion Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein met with the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Com­mit­tee (Ma Ha Na) on July 7 to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of dis­solv­ing the hard­line Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Na­tion­al­ity and Re­li­gion, known by its Myan­mar-lan­guage acro­nym Ma Ba Tha.

The chief min­is­ter called the na­tion­al­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion un­nec­es­sary and re­dun­dant, as the State Sangha al­ready ex­ists.

“When he ap­pealed to Ma Ha Na, he clar­i­fied that he had said in Sin­ga­pore that Ma Ba Tha should be dis­solved be­cause there is al­ready an of­fi­cial Sangha or­gan­i­sa­tion … Ma Ha Na ac­cepts this is the truth. The chief min­is­ter’s re­quest is rea­son­able un­der the Sangha Or­gan­i­sa­tion Law,” U Tun Nyunt, direc­tor of the Yan­gon Re­gion re­li­gious depart­ment, told The Myan­mar Times.

He added that a de­ci­sion on whether to pro­ceed in dis­solv­ing Ma Ba Tha will be made at a two-day gath­er­ing of all se­nior monks on July 13 and 14, at an ar­ti­fi­cial cave near Yan­gon’s Kabar Aye Pagoda.

Yes­ter­day, Union Min­is­ter for Re­li­gious and Cul­tural Af­fairs Thura U Aung Ko met with 47 mem­bers of the State Sangha. But when asked about the topic of the dis­cus­sion, the min­istry de­clined to com­ment.

Thura U Aung Ko ap­pears to back the chief min­is­ter’s sen­ti­ment, how­ever. Dur­ing an Eid al-Fitr cel­e­bra­tion at Se­dona Ho­tel in Yan­gon on July 9, he told re­porters, “U Phyo Min Thein ex­er­cised his rights in a democ­racy to ex­press his opin­ion.” He added that the re­li­gion min­istry will not be tak­ing puni­tive ac­tion against the chief min­is­ter for his re­marks, as mem­bers of Ma Ba Tha had re­quested.

After a five-hour emer­gency cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee meet­ing last week, Ma Ba Tha gave the Na­tional League for Democ­racy un­til July 14 to apol­o­gise for U Phyo Min Thein’s re­marks and to dis­ci­pline him. If the dead­line is not met, the group will stage na­tion­wide demon­stra­tions, ac­cord­ing to out­spo­ken monk U Wi­rathu.

NLD pa­tron U Win Htein told The Myan­mar Times the party has no in­ten­tion of heed­ing the re­quest, and will “not stand for” the in­ter­twin­ing of re­li­gion and pol­i­tics for any group’s ben­e­fit.

The NLD and Ma Ba Tha have re­peat­edly butted heads, with dif­fer­ences com­ing to the fore dur­ing last year’s elec­tion sea­son. Some of the na­tion­al­ist group’s mem­bers helped lobby for the pre­vi­ous rul­ing party dur­ing the cam­paign, which was widely seen as a quid pro quo for the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment rush­ing through a con­tro­ver­sial “race and re­li­gion” leg­isla­tive pack­age.

The NLD’s over­whelm­ing elec­tion vic­tory dealt a ma­jor blow to the self­ap­pointed guardians of “na­tion­al­ity and re­li­gion”. Ma Ba Tha has since tried to re­gain its po­lit­i­cal foot­ing through back­ing a se­ries of protests against the new gov­ern­ment’s re­pu­di­a­tion of the term “Ben­gali” in favour in­stead of “Mus­lims in Rakhine State” to re­fer to the mi­nor­ity in the state self-iden­ti­fy­ing as Ro­hingya.

The hard­line group was es­tab­lished in 2013 and cel­e­brated its three-year an­niver­sary in June by pledg­ing to con­tinue fight­ing against cit­i­zen­ship for self-iden­ti­fy­ing Ro­hinyga.

Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

Monks sup­port­ing Ma Ba Tha at­tend a cer­e­mony mark­ing the group’s three-year an­niver­sary in June.

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