RANGOON — In the wake of Sunday’s landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD), outspoken firebrand monk U Wirathu has expressed doubt over the party’s ability to govern, and warned that he will work to protect the recently enacted ‘race and religion’ legislative package from any attempts at repeal.
By 3pm on Thursday, the NLD had won 291 seats in the Union Parliament, 38 shy of what the party needs for a majority with 132 contests yet to be called.
Wirathu, a leading figure in the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he did not believe the party had the ability to ensure a smooth transition to a new government, while conceding that the party was the overwhelming choice of the people in Sunday’s poll.
“This will be a good game to watch if they know how to play it smartly,” he said. “But if they keep acting in their old style, the political situation will not be stable. We love democratic government indeed, but they do not have good experience.”
The association, also known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, lobbied the government heavily over the so-called “race and religion” legislative package, which places new criminal sanctions on polygamy and adultery, adds restrictions to religious conversions and interfaith marriage, and gives the government new powers to implement birth control measures.
Rights groups and other observers have alleged that the four laws, enacted by the Union Parliament earlier this year, were aimed at Burma’s Muslim population, estimated to comprise about 5 percent of the country’s population and the perennial target of Ma Ba Tha’s sermons, rallies, teaching programs and publications.
In September, Ma Ba Tha began a fortnight of public rallies across the country, congratulating President Thein Sein for passing the laws and suggesting that the NLD would be beholden to the nation’s Muslim community, in what critics deemed an unconstitutional intervention in the election campaign by members of the Buddhist clergy.
On Wednesday, Wirathu claimed that the four laws had broad support among the country’s Buddhist majority, and said that monks aligned with his nationalist movement would work to ensure the measures remained on the statute books.
“Ma Ba Tha will stand within the rule of law and will keep fighting for our rights,” he said. “About 5 million people supported and signed a democratic petition to have these laws and the Parliament passed it. We hope these laws will continue to exist.”
The nature of the relationship between Ma Ba Tha and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is much debated. Senior Ma Ba Tha figures have denied receiving financial support from the soon-to-be-former ruling party, but leading figures have been a regular presence at Ma Ba Tha rallies, particularly in the Irrawaddy Delta.
In September, Myanmar Now reported that outgoing Irrawaddy Division Chief Minister Thein Aung had colluded with the association to close down Muslim-owned slaughterhouse businesses. The cattle were then shipped to Arakanese Buddhist farmers who had returned from Bangladesh to settle in Maungdaw, a majority Muslim township on the Bangladeshi border.
Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson.