YANGON—U Wirathu, a firebrand nationalist monk has again sparked controversy by comparing military-appointed lawmakers to the Buddha at a rally on Sunday.
Speaking in front of Yangon City Hall at the demonstration calling for Article 59(f) of the 2008 Constitution to be maintained and for Article 261 to be amended, the ultranationalist monk called for the military-appointed lawmakers to be worshipped like the Buddha.
“Today, soldiers sit in the Parliament, braving the wrath [of the people]. They don’t get the salaries of a lawmaker. The only get their soldiers’ salaries. You should, in fact, worship the soldiers who protect the country despite the wrath and their [modest] soldiers’ salaries. But now, you loathe them as an enemy. It is not yet time to amend the Constitution,” said U Wirathu.
The military-drafted 2008 Constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of seats in Parliament. Any amendment to the Constitution requires approval from more than 75 percent of lawmakers, giving the military veto power.
U Wirathu also criticized the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government and the NLD-dominated Parliament, saying that they should change their behavior first because they themselves do not meet democratic norms.
“I’d like to ask legislators if they are as qualified as their international counterparts. If they are, we would be happy to see that all the soldiers are removed [from the Parliament],” said the monk.
While the monk was addressing the crowd, one man heckled him from the audience, leading to a brawl between him and nationalist attendees.
“As Sayadaw was speaking on the stage, he jeered at him below the stage. He mocked the Sayadaw from the start of his talks, so we pulled him out for fear that he would get into trouble with the nationalists. But then, it resulted in a spell of commotion,” said a female nationalist who was at the event.
Members of the police force took the man to a nearby police station.
U Wirathu is notorious for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and is seen as having stirred the tensions that caused communal violence in Rakhine State in 2012. In 2013, his portrait was on the front cover of Time magazine with the title “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” He was banned by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the highest Buddhist authority of Myanmar, from preaching for one year due to his hate-invoking speeches.
On Friday, Thai authorities banned a sermon by U Wirathu scheduled to be held in Phuket in the far south of the country.
Myanmar migrant worker communities in Phuket regularly organize Dhamma sermons given by Buddhist monks invited over from Myanmar, and it was the first time an event had been prohibited, according to migrant worker advocacy groups.
Other notorious nationalists U Win Ko Ko Latt and U Hlaw Swe also spoke at the event. Their speeches focused on opposing the amending of Article 59(f), a controversial part of the Constitution which bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president for having been married to a foreigner, and because her sons are British citizens.
The demonstrators called for the protection of Article 59 and Article 361, plus the amending of Article 261 in line with the law.
Article 361 stresses the special position of Buddhism as “the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens” of the Union.
In February, despite strong opposition from the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the Union Parliament approved to form a 45-member committee to draft amendments to the Constitution.