In an interview with reporter Myo Zaw Ko of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Ashin Wirathu of the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), lays out his Buddhist nationalist group's views on the Nov. 8 general elections, national security and communal relations in a country torn by strife between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims.
RFA: What do you think of the Sept. 15 statement by nine foreign embassies, including the U.S. and Britain, warning against the use of religion in the election campaign?
ASHIN WIRATHU: We should talk about the NLD (National League for Democracy), which asked its members to campaign for Muslim votes. The NLD appointed its Mandalay vice-chairman, Daw Win Mya Mya to do this. The NLD is the only party to appoint someone to campaign in Muslim society. Other parties have been doing normal campaigns for all religions with their policies. The NLD’s ways of campaigning are not according to Buddha’s teaching.
RFA: Can you please tell us which ways are not according to Buddha’s teaching?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Something like (Aung San Suu Kyi's speech), 'to vote by looking the party, not by looking party candidates'. Buddha said, not to give any precedence or priority, like love, hate or fear. We have to look at policy, not party; to see qualification of people, not groups persons. We have to select candidates who can work for people in our constituencies. If we look at only the party, it means we have to select even an NLD candidate who is an alcoholic or a gambler.
RFA: We have heard that some organizations have asked your Ma Ba Tha to make sure that the NLD can’t win the election. What do you say to these comments?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Nobody can make demands on our organization, as Ma Ba Tha is formed of head monks and abbots. Nobody or no organization can control Ma Ba Tha, not even (Barack) Obama or Ban Ki-moon. Ma Ba Tha is working to protect our nationality and religion.
RFA: Does Ma Ba Tha ask or order someone or some organizations to do something?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Yes, we have been telling people our policies, such as not to select candidates because you love them, not to ignore them because you hate them, just select candidates who can work for your districts and not have an obsession with any party.
RFA: Which parties are following your policies?
ASHIN WIRATHU: We are close with small parties, such the National Democratic Force, The National Union Party, and the Democratic Party. We see that these parties revere and respect protecting our nationality and religion.
RFA: What do you believe all monks, including you, should practice, and what attitude should they take, during the election period?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Monks are like Suns or Moons. We shouldn’t stand for a party or a side. Instead of asking people to vote for a party or a person, we should teach them to select candidates who can work for people. Also, monks should check and observe around all voting places while other international organizations are doing it. If so, we can solve problems if we see any unfair things on election day.
RFA: Do you think the upcoming election will be free, fair and peaceful?
ASHIN WIRATHU: The political weather is not good. Even right now, people are complaining about one another. As the election is getting closer, it could become like the clashes between Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt groups in Thailand. We do not wish for things to become like that. I would like to urge all monks to control or take care of problems. I will do so.
RFA: In your opinion, what kind of government would be the best for our country after the election?
ASHIN WIRATHU: We want a government that can work well for national security and development. Other parties will work for development. We want a government that can work for the country’s development by creating our own democratic system that suits our country, not by copying other countries' democracy.
RFA: What is your definition of National Security?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Some are planning to control our country by pointing to the boat people and Rohingya. We should see and take care of our country’s safety and security when we have these kind of problems. A country’s security will be broken if we open our doors for these people and problems by listening to international pressure or force. If about 60 million people from Bangladesh come into our country, Myanmar will be under other countries’ control. We just want a government that can work very well to protect national security.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar.