Leader of Myanmar Military’s Proxy Party Visits Nationalist Monk for Advice

By The Irrawaddy 28 December 2022

Two infamous hardline nationalists closely connected to Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing met in Yangon on Monday.

Former Brigadier-General U Khin Yi, chairman of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), met with U Tilawka Bhivamsa, the ex-chairman of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. The visit came as the junta prepares for a so-called election next year that has been branded a sham by Myanmar’s civilian leadership and much of the international community.

Khin Yi posted on Facebook that he had received advice from U Tilawka Bhivamsa, also known as Insein Ywama Sayadaw for serving as abbot of Insein Ywama Monastery in Yangon’s Insein Township. He said he also presented cash and offerings to the influential Buddhist cleric, but did not elaborate on what advice the nationalist monk had given.

Ma Ba Tha was born in 2012 out of the 969 movement, a nationalist campaign that called for a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses. In 2013, members of 969 rebranded the group as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, now known as Ma Ba Tha.

Hate speech by the group sparked confrontations with the now-ousted National League for Democracy government. Ma Ba Tha was eventually declared unlawful in May 2017 and has since rebranded as the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation.

In March, the regime handed U Tilawka Bhivamsa the title of Abhidhajamahāraṭṭhaguru, the highest honor conferred to monks who have contributed to the study of Buddhism.

The junta also rewarded firebrand nationalist monk U Wirathu, who is notorious for his racial and religious hate speeches, with the title of Thiri Pyanchi title. The monk whom Time magazine once dubbed the “Buddhist Bin Laden” spent a year on the run from a sedition charge in 2019 over remarks he made about now-jailed State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He surrendered to authorities in November 2020 and was released from prison in October 2021.

In 2019, Myanmar’s military donated 30 million kyats (about US$19,600) to the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation as nearly 1,000 Buddhist monks and followers from across the country gathered at the group’s headquarters, Insein Ywama Monastery, for their annual meeting. Myanmar military spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun said Ma Ba Tha was necessary and must be supported in the name of Buddhism.

Accompanying U Khin Yi on Monday’s visit to the abbot at Insein Ywama Monastery was U Khin Maung Soe, chairman of Yangon Region USDP and former electricity minister in general Thein Sein’s government. U Khin Yi engaged in talks with USDP officials from various levels in the monastery compound.

A henchman of successive military dictators, U Khin Yi was also involved in planning last year’s coup while serving as a USDP vice chair, organizing pro-military rallies in which thugs rampaged through Yangon, punching and stabbing those who denounced them. He was appointed immigration minister following the military takeover.

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing, who accuses the NLD of “failing to protect Buddhism”, was praised by the abbot during a visit to Insein Ywama Sayadaw in December. The abbot’s praise came 10 months after Min Aung Hlaing led a coup that has plunged the country into chaos and seen thousands killed at his orders.