Khin Yi, a central executive committee member and spokesperson for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has denied speculation that his party used the Association for Protection of Race and Religion—an association of nationalist monks better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha—for its own political gain.
The speculation followed the resignation of monk U Parmaukkha, previously a senior-ranking member of Ma Ba Tha, who has condemned the association for supporting only one political party in last year’s election. He has already left Ma Ba Tha and is planning to officially resign by the end of this month.
Ma Ba Tha allied itself with then-president Thein Sein’s USDP in last year’s election and campaigned against Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
“Probably, they [Ma Ba Tha] did this according to what they believe. We did not use them to solicit votes for us. We would not use a religious organization for that purpose,” Khin Yi, who also served as immigration and population minister in the previous government, told The Irrawaddy.
While political parties should not use race and religion organizations and monks for their party’s interests, race and religion organizations and monks also should not be partisan, Galonni Sayadaw Kawira, a senior monk who is not a Ma Ba Tha member, told The Irrawaddy.
“Monks should not be the stooges of a party. They should not do it. As monks, they receive the respect of all Buddhists, so it is a very bad thing if they are biased. Doing so might lead to unnecessary conflicts. It is also not good for Buddhism,” he said.
Though the USDP has said they did not use any race and religion associations including Ma Ba Tha in last year’s poll, there have been many allegations of the then-ruling party using Ma Ba Tha during campaign season and the 2015 November election.
“Ma Ba Tha proposed a so-called race and religion protection law, which was ratified by the USDP government. In gratitude, Ma Ba Tha encouraged the people to support the USDP during the election,” said Parmaukkha earlier this week.
The USDP has said the party is undergoing reforms after it suffered a crushing defeat in November’s general election.