RANGOON — Buddhist nationalist organization Ma Ba Tha has publicly solicited an apology from the National League for Democracy (NLD) over claims that two candidates defamed the group after a November election.
Ma Ba Tha, an acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, claimed that two candidates wrongfully accused the group of supporting the outgoing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and influencing voters in Mandalay’s Yamethin Township.
In two letters dated Jan. 4, Ma Ba Tha’s Yamethin chapter singled out Tun Tun Win and Aung Myo Oo, both of whom lost their races for the Lower House and regional parliament, respectively.
Both NLD candidates subsequently filed formal objections with the Union Election Commission (UEC) against their opponents, claiming that they had attempted to use religion to sway voters during their campaigns.
The letters from Ma Ba Tha accused the two candidates of linking the offense with the group, which in the lead-up to the election had held a number of public rallies nationwide to celebrate passage of four controversial “race and religion protection laws.”
The legislative package passed with the support of President Thein Sein, ushering in new restrictions on religious conversion, interfaith marriage, birth rates and monogamy. Critics argued the laws targeted minorities and undermined women’s rights.
Celebrations following the passage of the laws were broadly viewed as thinly veiled political rallies, and in some parts of the country complaints surfaced about rhetoric and materials that attempted to sway voters against political parties that would “destroy the race and religion” of the Burman majority.
In both Yamethin cases, the NLD candidates have sought arbitration with their challengers, not with Ma Ba Tha. Tun Tun Win has filed an electoral objection against former Burma Army Maj. Ko Ko Naing, while Aung Myo Oo objected against Kyaw Myint, the divisional electricity minister. Both are under review by electoral tribunal.
Despite the group’s estrangement from the claims being investigated, Ma Ba Tha has demanded that the two NLD members apologize within 15 days of receiving their letters or risk possible defamation suits.
When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Tun Tun Win dismissed the letter and its implicit ultimatum.
“I do not plan to apologize to them,” he said, “but I will inform the party headquarters about this.”