MANDALAY — Ultranationalist monk U Wirathu released a video on Saturday, calling for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government to step down.
The 11-minute video, which U Wirathu issued on Facebook, came after the July 15 deadline set by the State Buddhist Sangha authority (Ma Ha Na) for the Association for Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) to remove their signboards.
Ma Ha Na said last year that Ma Ba Tha was not a “lawful monks’ association” as “it was not formed in accordance with the country’s monastic rules.” Founded in 2014—two years after Burma experienced religiously motivated riots largely targeting the Muslim minority—and now with sub-chapters across the country, Ma Ba Tha has become virtually synonymous with Buddhist nationalism.
The State Buddhist Sangha authority banned Ma Ba Tha from operating under its current name on May 23 and ordered that all signboards be removed. Clerics from Ma Ba Tha signed the notice but some sub-chapters have failed to comply.
“The NLD government better step down. Don’t touch Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha is not the opposition. Ma Ba Tha is protecting the nationality, which the government cannot do,” said U Wirathu, in the video clip.
“Ma Ba Tha is the association protecting the religion and Sasana. The government is not an expert in that sector. Don’t blame on Ma Ba Tha and make it a culprit,” he said. “If you [the government] think you are brave enough, be transparent and handover the power to those who can well handle the country.”
The video message followed a statement from the Ministry of Information that said the government would take legal action against persons defying state orders, whether Buddhist monk or layman.
The statement said that the government had warned Ma Ba Tha chapters in Mandalay Division and Karen State, which have refused to remove their signboards despite being instructed to do so by the State Buddhist Sangha authority since May.
In his video message, the nationalist monk said he had been patient when Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said Ma Ba Tha was not needed in the country and when the government banned him from delivering sermons for one year.
However, he said the intention to eliminate Ma Ba Tha could not be forgiven and he was forced to react.
“Ma Ba Tha is the fortress of Theravada Buddhism. I will not let this fortress be destroyed. If signboards of Ma Ba Tha fall, our religion and Sasana will disappear,” said he. “I will protect it with my life.”
U Wirathu also accused the NLD government of mismanaging the economy, stating that it has declined since ex-President Thein Sein’s rule.
He also said that the country’s Noble laureate was only just beginning to understand peace.
Peace is not easy as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi thinks it is. Since she is starting to realize the difficulties, she should admit this to the people, said U Wirathu.
The nationalist monk said the country was better off under Thein Sein, when commodity prices were low and there were plenty of goods in the market.
“In the past, we were poor; however, it was nothing compared to under NLD rule. If the government continues like this, more people will suffer,” he said in the video, which was reacted to or shared on Facebook by nearly 8,000 netizens as of Monday.
The government must not put the blame on Ma Ba Tha to cover up their weakness, he said.
Meanwhile, at Kin Wun Mingyi Monastery in Mandalay’s Maha Aung Myay Township, dozens of nationalists are guarding the signboards at the local Ma Ba Tha office, in fear of a police crackdown.
However, as of Monday, no signs of a police crackdown or the forcible removal of signage were seen. Nationalists asked journalists not to take photos or videos.