Burmese Junta's Proxy Forms New Buddhist Organization

By THE IRRAWADDY, January 13, 2011

Rangoon, Burma -- The Burmese junta’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has formed a Buddhist organization to discourage Burmese from joining others religions, in a move that some observers called a misuse of religion for political purposes.

The new organization, called Sasana Nugaha, will be chaired by Khin Shwe, a prominent businessman who was elected to the  Upper House of Burma's Parliament last November as a USDP candidate.

Speaking to local journalists, the US-sanctioned tycoon said that the organization was “formed under the guidelines of the Head of State”—referring to junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

“The main purpose is to prevent poor people in rural areas from joining other religions,” he said. “Rural people are very poor, so missionaries from other religions use aid to get them to change their religion.”

According to USDP sources, the organization will be structured from the state to the village/ward level and organize Dhamma talks, or Buddhist sermons, across the country.

Some observers criticized the move, saying it only served to politicize Buddhism.

“I don’t think their agenda is to promote Buddhism. They are just trying to use religion to manipulate people for the junta’s political purposes,” said Ashin Akka, a Buddhist monk who was involved in mass monk-led protests in September 2007.

“In 2007, we saw them beat monks and raid monasteries during the crack down on the protests,” he said. “I don’t think we can say that they have the good of Buddhism at heart.”

Political leaders also objected to the USDP’s creation of a religious organization, on the grounds that it violates provisions in Burma's 2008 Constitution that bar political parties from using religion for political purposes.

“This is against the Constitution, which says that spiritual leaders are prohibited from involvement in politics and prohibits political parties from forming religious organizations,” said Thu Wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar).

Irrawaddy correspondent Hsat Lin contributed to this story.