Burma: Ultra right-wing monk calls for Suu Kyi’s govt to step down
Buddhist ultranationalist monks from the radical Ma Ba Tha group attend a meeting to celebrate their anniversary with a nationwide conference in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 27, 2017. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
‘Don’t blame on Ma Ba Tha and make it a culprit.’ – U Wirathu. Source: AP
AN influential Burmese ultranationalist monk has called on the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government to step down amid the intensifying rift between her administration and the outlawed Ma Ba Tha group.
In an 11-minute video posted on Facebook, Ashin Wirathu – popularly known as U Wirathu, made the call following the government’s July 15 deadline for the Ma Ba Tha (Association for Protection of Race and Religion) to remove their signboards, the Irrawaddy reported on Monday.
“The NLD government better step down. Don’t touch Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha is not the opposition, ” U Wirathu was quoted as saying in the video clip.
“Ma Ba Tha is protecting the nationality, which the government cannot do.”
“Ma Ba Tha is the association protecting the religion and Sasana. The government is not an expert in that sector. Don’t blame on Ma Ba Tha and make it a culprit,” he said.
“If you [the government] think you are brave enough, be transparent and hand over the power to those who can well handle the country.”
According to the Irrawaddy, the government’s State Buddhist Sangha authority (Ma Ha Na) and the Information Ministry earlier threatened legal action against Ma Ba Tha members who defied state orders to disband the ultranationalist group and cease carrying out activities.
The ministry last week also issued warnings against Ma Ba Tha chapters in Mandalay Division and Karen State, which have refused to remove their signboards despite government directives to do so since May.
Earlier this month, the government vowed to take action against the Ma Ba Tha if the hardline Buddhist organisation proceeds with plans to rebrand itself to circumvent the government’s ban.
Religious Affairs Minister Thura Aung Ko also pointed out the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation was a direct offshoot of the Ma Ba Tha.
U Wirathu’s call signalled mounting tensions between the democratically elected government and the influential ultranationalist group linked to incidences of hate speech and religiously-motivated violence against the country’s minority communities.
In May, the Ma Ba Tha said it planned to change their name to enable the group to continue their activities in response to a ban imposed by the government
Thousands of members defiantly attended a two-day conference despite the government’s May 23 order to disband it.
The hardline group also held a series of protests since then and expressed interest in forming a political party to run in the next elections, due in 2020.
U Wirathu said he was forced to react to the government’s ban and that the authorities’ move to eliminate the Ma Ba Tha “could not be forgiven.”
“Ma Ba Tha is the fortress of Theravada Buddhism. I will not let this fortress be destroyed. If signboards of Ma Ba Tha fall, our religion and Sasana will disappear,” he said. “I will protect it with my life.”
The monk said the state of the country had declined since the end of junta rule under ex-president Thein Sein, accusing the government of mismanaging the economy.
He said the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi was only just beginning to understand peace as she is only starting to realise the difficulties of maintaining stability in the country.
Burma (Myanmar), the monk opined, fared better under Thein Sein when the costs of commodities were lower while the number of goods in the market were higher.
“In the past, we were poor, but it was nothing compared to under NLD rule. If the government continues like this, more people will suffer,” he said.
In banning the Ma Ba Tha, U Wirathu said the government was covering up its weaknesses.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma is most potent in the troubled Rakhine State, where most of its stateless Rohingya Muslim minority reside. They have been subjected to persecution and violence at the hands of Burma’s security forces and Buddhist vigilantes influenced by Ma Ba Tha.
The United Nations has claimed more than 1,000 Rohingya people have been killed in the army’s operations in Rakhine and at least 70,000 have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late 2016.