In an interview with reporter Khet Mar of RFA’s Myanmar Service, Ashin Wirathu of the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), outlines his Buddhist nationalist group's views on Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) after meeting with senior party official Tin Oo, as well as on other political parties ahead of Myanmar’s Nov. 8 general elections.
RFA: What did you discuss when you met with Tin Oo of the NLD?
ASHIN WIRATHU: I told him that Ma Ba Tha generally agrees with NLD policies. We agree with the NLD’s goal of eliminating the constitutional clause which gives [25 percent of parliamentary] seats to the military, but we don’t agree with amending Article 59(f) [which includes eligibility requirements that effectively bar Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president], because it is like a national fortress for the country.
RFA: People say that Ma Ba Tha shares the same goals as the [ruling] Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). What is your response to these comments?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Yes, we share the same goals not only with the USDP, but also with other smaller parties. We adhere to these principles because they are necessary to protect the country.
RFA: According to recent reports, Ma Ba Tha members have distributed pamphlets calling on the public not to vote for the NLD. What is your response to these claims and what is your opinion on the NLD?
ASHIN WIRATHU: Some people distributed these brochures while we held a Ma Ba Tha conference. As soon as we realized this we stopped them and released a statement the following day, saying that Ma Ba Tha didn't endorse them. However, they continued distributing them in other places. While there might be someone from Ma Ba Tha involved in this, the organization never asked them to do it—that is not our policy. They likely acted on their own beliefs.
My opinion on the NLD is that our organization agrees with part of their name, as we are acting in the interest of democracy. But the NLD is weak when it comes to nationalism, and we can’t depend on them to stand up for the country. We’d rather refer to them simply as the "League for Democracy."
RFA: You said you share the same goals as the USDP. What is the nature of Ma Ba Tha’s involvement with the USDP? And which party do you want to win the election?
ASHIN WIRATHU: I have no involvement with the USDP, and the party exerts no control over our organization. However, we share the same attitude on nationalism, as the USDP’s leaders are former members of the military. I have been working in the interest of nationalism … since before the USDP was even formed. I don’t fully trust either party [the NLD or the USDP]. We have been calling for a multiparty system since 1988. I will be pleased if candidates from a variety of different parties win in the election, as long as they deserve to be in parliament.
RFA: Ma Ba Tha has been asking people not to vote for non-Buddhist candidates. Everybody knows about Ma Ba Tha’s anti-Muslim stance, but there will also be candidates who are not Buddhists, including Christians and Hindus. As you have spoken out about non-Buddhists, does this mean that Ma Ba Tha is against Christians and Hindus as well?
ASHIN WIRATHU: No, we are not against them. We are only afraid of the danger Muslims pose, as Islam has been destroying the world. We have no problem with Hindu and Christian people, who are our brothers and sisters. Many Christian people have been helping us—supporting Ma Ba Tha. We even have Christians in our organization. We feel that all 135 ethnic groups [officially recognized in Myanmar] are our brothers and sisters. We feel the same even about the ethnic Kamans, who are Muslim.
RFA: A few weeks ago, a mob attacked a Christian church, which is against the law. We haven’t seen any statement about this issue from Ma Ba Tha. What is your response to the incident?
ASHIN WIRATHU: We don’t accept that kind of attack at all. The Ma Ba Tha group in that area has a responsibility to do something about it. It appears they were derelict in their duties.
RFA: Monks from two famous monasteries—Masoeyein and Maha Gandayon—have released statements saying they have no connection to Ma Ba Tha and are not supporters of the organization. Other groups and individuals that offer alms to monks have announced that they will no longer make offerings to Ma Ba Tha monks because they believe the organization’s activities harm unity within the Sangha [monastic community], as well as the relations between monks and laypeople. Do you see Ma Ba Tha’s activities as disrupting the peaceful nature of Buddhism?
ASHIN WIRATHU: These are monks and individuals who are egotists. They make their decisions based on their passions and concern for political gain. They have launched a personal attack against us because they think we are harming them. But actually, we give no priority to passion—we are working to protect the nation and our religion for the people of Myanmar.
RFA: So you believe that Ma Ba Tha’s activities are in line with Buddha’s teachings and do not go against the peaceful nature of Buddhism?
ASHIN WIRATHU: I do. Ma Ba Tha is acting according to Buddha’s teachings. If someone believes otherwise, he or she should point out how that is so. If we are wrong, we are ready to apologize.
Reported by Khet Mar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar.