USDP Warns of Instability Over Ban on Nationalist Group

By The Irrawaddy 24 July 2018

YANGON — The opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) raised concerns about national stability following a decision by the government and senior monks to outlaw the country’s largest nationalist group, the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation, formerly known as Ma Ba Tha.

The state’s Buddhist clerics authority, Ma Ha Na, issued a five-point proclamation against the group on Friday that included a ban on the use of the foundation’s name, an order to take down its signposts across the country within 45 days, and a threat to take legal action against those who fail to comply.

In response to the proclamation, the foundation said it would ask its members across the country whether it should submit, adding that it was not a sangha association but a non-governmental organization comprising monks and laymen in support of state, race and religion.

On Tuesday, the USDP, the country’s main opposition party, issued an announcement warning that the dispute between the foundation and the government and Ma Ha Na could lead to disunity of the Buddhist clergy, public discontent and political instability.

Ma Ba Tha, the Myanmar acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, was founded in 2014 while the USDP was in power. With chapters across the country, it has become virtually synonymous with Buddhist-led nationalism.

Despite being accused of inciting hatred of Muslims, the USDP did little to curb its activities. Under then-President U Thein Sein, the government approved a controversial law on race and religion proposed by the association. During the 2015 election campaign, Ma Ba Tha lobbied for the USDP. The party and association are critical of how the new government, led by the National League for Democracy, has been handling the Rohingya crisis and rejected the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.