The Irrawaddy

Ma Ba Tha’s New Political Party Denounces NLD Govt

Ma Ba Tha members announce the formation of a new political party at a press conference in Rangoon. ( Lawi Weng/The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The chairman of a new political party formed by supporters of banned ultra-nationalist Buddhist association Ma Ba Tha has accused the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government of failing to support Buddhism.

“The government banned the use of Ma Ba Tha’s name and signboards; they do not support us, they even oppress us,” said chairman U Maung Thway Chon last month in response to government moves to shut down Ma Ba Tha.

He said comments from government members, including from Rangoon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, that Ma Ba Tha was unnecessary amounted to an abuse of the rights of Buddhists.

“The former government did not support us, but they did not oppress us,” the chairman said. “We could do our work without being disturbed.”

Leading laypersons from the Association to Protect Race and Religion—commonly known as Ma Ba Tha—announced the formation of 135 United Patriots to “work for national interests, unity and sovereignty,” at a two-day conference attended by thousands of Ma Ba Tha supporters in Rangoon on Sunday.

The state Buddhist Sangha committee – known as Ma Ha Na – recently ordered Ma Ba Tha to cease all activities, including use of its name, citing actions of leading Ma Ba Tha monks, such as U Wirathu, who spread anti-Muslim hate speech.

Through the political party, Ma Ba Tha supporters hope to challenge the Ma Ha Na and the NLD on policies including the recent ban, Maung Thway Chon said.

“It is not enough to only protest, we need to enter politics in order to protect [Buddhists],” he said.