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