Buddhist Nationalist Monks to Protest Christian VP-Elect

By Lawi Weng 18 March 2016

RANGOON — A group of nationalist Buddhist monks and supporters are preparing to protest the National League for Democracy (NLD) for appointing a Christian vice president-elect this month.

The group, called Buddha Gonyi, claims to be a protector of the Buddhist religion. Its leader, Ashin Aggadhamma, told The Irrawaddy that his members have already asked a police station in Rangoon’s Bahan Township for permission to stage the protest.

The NLD chose Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin Christian, as a vice presidential nominee last week, and this week Parliament confirmed him for that post. He will be the first Christian vice president in the majority-Buddhist country.

Ashin Aggadhamma, who will lead the protest, offered a nuanced or perhaps merely perplexing explanation for the group’s objection to Van Thio: “We aren’t protesting because he is Christian. Our country is Buddhist; 80 percent of the population is Buddhist. That is why we are against the NLD appointing a Christian vice president.”

He said his group is worried about future violence if the Christian vice president were ever put in a position to run the country.

Once the group receives permission from the police in Bahan Township, where the NLD headquarters is located, its members will launch a protest to show the party their disapproval.

“It is a democratic system,” he said. “As a democracy, the NLD will have to listen to the voice of the people.”

Buddhist nationalists have made headlines in recent years as an unfolding democratic transition has allowed for greater freedom of expression, most often for anti-Muslim rhetoric, but also late last year following a highly charged trial in Thailand that saw two Burmese Buddhist migrant workers convicted in a controversial double murder case.