Democracy Vs Dictatorship : A lessson from Sri Lanka - Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathna

According to Sinhala Ravaya General Secretary Magalkande Sudaththa Thera, stern action should be taken to arrest Muslim Ministers who supported Muslim extremism, before Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Gnanasara Thera was arrested. Sudaththa Thera told a news conference that Muslim political factions were trying to label Gnanasara Thera as another Prabhakaran who was igniting racism and causing harm to the Muslim community.

“According to them Gnanasara Thera is the worst criminal in the country and the one who is destroying the archaeological sites in the country, the one who has destroyed forest reservations and the one who bring drugs into the country,” the Thera said. On the contrary, he said, Gnanasara Thera raised his voice against the destruction of the Sinhala Buddhist archaeological sites and the clearing of forest reserves in the country. Speaking further Sudaththa Thera said several attempts had been made by several extremists groups to assassinate Gnanasara Thera and contracts had been offered to these groups. Obviously if the accusation of Thera is real, police should give serious attention provided of course BBS make complain with relevant evidence. In this foremost Theravada Buddhist country, where president, prime minister and IGP are all Theravada Buddhist, there cannot be any chance for harassing and intimidating reverent Buddhist monk by Muslim political factions. Certainly it is a difficult thing to believe.

It is true a warrant had been issued to arrest Gnanasara Thera. In this country warrants are issued and carried out by judiciary and police when necessity arises, hence it is faulty to say that there is no one in charge of issuing the warrant. Said warrant has been made after complaints not only by Muslims but also from Sinhala and Tamils. Hence it is ,  totally un reasonable to believe that there is an attempt to abduct Gnanasara Thera and assassinate him. It is good that Sudaththa Thera said the BBS was not responsible for the attacks on Muslim religious centers and that there should be credible inquiries regarding these attacks. “We also condemn these attacks. Investigations should be made to arrest Muslims who attacked their mosques,” he said. Thera also wanted many leaders arrested; the list included Chief Minister Wigneswaran, NPC Sivajilingam, State Minister Vijaya kala, Minister Richard Badudeen and NUA leader Azath Sally. We can compare what is happening here with the democratic developments taking place in Myanmar. There is much to learn from what is happening there, while we could be an example for them to follow in the field of mass participation for democracy.

On 23 May 2017 Myanmar’s State Sanga Maha Nayaka (MHN) Committee, - government appointed group of monks responsible for regulating the country’s Buddhist clergy, inspired by the new government, announced a “four-point order” effectively banning the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha. Latter was established on 27 June 2013 and has spent the past four years promoting its version of Buddhist nationalism. It successfully lobbied for “four race and religion restrictions” which became law in 2015, with that attacked Suu Kyi. The former president U Thein Sein supported the four proposals, so Ma Ba Tha threw its support behind him and condemned the NLD ahead of the 2015 general election. When the vote was drawing near, Ma Ba Tha stepped up its attacks on the NLD. But then the NLD won. Initial speculation suggested that Ma Ba Tha would disappear. Yangon Regional Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein said in July 2016 that the organization was unnecessary. But it remained.

In Myanmar, before the democratic change, Right wing organizations attacked National League for Democracy party (NLD) and Aung San Suu Kyi, painting them as pro-Muslim and anti-Buddhist, while they conducted pro-Buddhist social campaigns. Suu Kyi was condemned as a western stooge with alien habits and behaviour. Her defence of human rights was also considered to be due to cultural influence of the west. It is some what similar to the campaign of Mahinda who attacked Ranil as a product of western culture. They never expected Suu Kyi to win but their hopes were shattered. Inspite of a military controlled constitution a chance for democracy has emerged in Myanmar. Peoples organizations have started to function, while democratic Buddhist Sanga have come forward to counter sectarian racist organizations.

Even before the order announced on 23 May, the MHN has tried to make moves against Ma Ba Tha. On 12 July 2016 the MHN released a statement declaring that Ma Ba Tha was an organization not in line with existing Sanga (Buddhist) organization law and rules. But it failed to state whether MBT was legal and didn’t clearly condemn it. We can compare this with our yahapalana measures taken against Lankan racist Buddhist organizations; both are considered Theravada Buddhist countries. No need to import liberalism from the west; Theravada thinking include liberalism in general practice. In Myanmar, despite its weak legal implications, the move still garnered considerable praise from Myanmar democrats, although some were more reserved in their assessment. However it is generally accepted that Ma Ba Tha has largely stopped its anti-Muslim activities and anti-democracy sermons. At the same time the organization’s central leadership based in Yangon has taken steps to distance itself from the hate-mongering of its more provocative, controversial campaigners like U Wirathu and likeminded groups such as the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union and the Myanmar National Network.

The MHN has attempted to take action against these other Buddhist nationalist groups before the democratic take over. They banned U Wirathu from preaching for one year. In defiance, he continued to tour the country, asking his deputies to give speeches on his behalf and playing pre-recorded speeches while he would sit with his mouth covered with two pieces of red and black tape (red referring to the NLD flag and black to Muslims).

Monks from the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union and civilian Buddhists from the Myanmar National Network and the Patriotic Association continued to stir trouble. But most of those monks and people are now in prison, facing trial, or in hiding. So the MHN order on 23 May could be the final blow to Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalist movement. But the anti-Muslim, anti-democracy, anti-human rights and anti-inclusion discourses that Ma Ba Tha preached and propagated in the past four years will linger among their staunch supporters. According to the constitution military has control over two ministries. Hence, another potential hurdle is that the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs may not fully implement the MHN order.  The state will have difficulty in countering Ma Ba Tha’s four years of spreading intolerant ideology across Myanmar. One cannot be sure of whether the state, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture will quickly and effectively respond to Ma Ba Tha if it comes back in another form. Similar to Lankans the people of Myanmar should intervene to release the constitution from dictatorial bonds, in particular the ties to the military. Also the constitution should protect the rights of minority nationalities.

- http://epaper.dailynews.lk -

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