Ma Ba Tha Lay Members Announce Plan to Form Political Party

By Kyaw Phyo Tha & May Sitt Paing 29 May 2017

RANGOON — Leading laypersons from Burma’s biggest Buddhist nationalist group, the Association to Protect Race and Religion—commonly known as Ma Ba Tha—have announced that they will soon form a political party.

Maung Thway Chon, one such Ma Ba Tha member, revealed the plan on Sunday after the association’s two-day meeting in Rangoon.

“We will set up a party named ‘135 United Patriots.’ We came to a consensus from all the laymen who attended today,” he told the media on Sunday. He is also the president of Dhamma Wunthanu Yakhita, a Ma Ba Tha sub-chapter.

He explained that the party aims to work for national interests, unity and sovereignty. Maung Thway Chon also said that the party would provide Burmese citizens with different faiths equality with Buddhists—yet leading Ma Ba Tha monks, such as U Wirathu, are notorious for engaging in anti-Muslim hate speech.

Due to these practices, the state Sangha committee, Ma Ha Na, recently ordered that Ma Ba Tha cease all activities, including use of its name.

“We have agreed to Ma Ha Na’s request, as we respect them,” Maung Thway Chon said. “But if there are more accessions, it will have an impact on nationalism. We have to protect religious associations as well as Buddhists,” he told The Irrawaddy.

When asked about the meaning of the number 135, he explained: “One stands for Buddha, three for Three Gems [the three cornerstones of Buddhism: Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha], and five represents the five infinite venerable entities [Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Parents and Teacher].”

On Sunday after the two-day meeting with members from across the country, the association released an announcement that they would “no longer use [the name] Ma Ba Tha, but would go by the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation,” rebranding themselves as a charity group.

“We urge all Ma Ba Tha groups across the country to keep carrying out the interests of country, race and religion under the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation name,” the statement read.

Maung Thway Chon said Ma Ba Th has a membership of 10 million people in nearly 300 townships across the country.

“It doesn’t mean that they all have to be members [of the new political party]. If they want to protect race and religion, they are welcome. Non-members are encouraged to join as well,” he said.

On Monday, Ashin Sopaka, a leading monk from Ma Ba Tha, said the political party in the pipeline is a separate movement initiated by patriotic forces and has nothing to do with Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation or Dhamma Wunthanu Yakhita.