Activists quit state religion campaign

by AMPA SANTIMATANEDOL, The Bangkok Post, Aug 13, 2007

Rush to heed Queen's birthday speech advice

Bangkok, Thailand -- Buddhist activists have decided to discontinue their campaign for Buddhism to be acknowledged as the state religion in the new constitution. The decision was made after Her Majesty the Queen said in her 75th birthday address on Saturday that Buddhism should be free of politics and kept out of the new charter.

Government agencies are also stepping up efforts to solve pollution and environmental problems after the Queen also expressed concern about the dire state of the country's environment.

Thongchai Kuea-sakul, leader of the Buddhism Network of Thailand, said it would be appropriate for members of Buddhist organisations to pay heed to the Queen's advice and end their activities.

He said he would bring up the matter in discussions with representatives of 800 to 900 Buddhist organisations, and he believed they would all agree to cease campaigning.

Gen Thongchai said Buddhist activists previously had to stop their activities for fear that they could be infiltrated by politicians who wanted to use them for political gain.

The original plan, prior to Her Majesty's advice, was for the Buddhist groups to wait for the outcome of Sunday's referendum on the draft constitution.

If the charter was passed in the referendum, he said, the groups had planned to push for its amendment by collecting 50,000 signatures.

Critics of the campaign fear that even though the writing of the draft charter is complete, without any mention of Buddhism as the national religion, those pressing for such a clause may be rallying supporters nationwide to shoot the charter down at the referendum.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly earlier considered and then voted down their proposal to enshrine Buddhism as the national religion in the constitution.

''We should now follow the Queen's advice and put the issue to rest,'' Gen Thongchai said.

Phra Thepwisutthikavi, secretary-general of the Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand, said the centre would also cease its campaign, to avoid causing any offence to the Queen.

The monk said Buddhism was currently in bad shape and monks and laymen would have to take the necessary steps to revive and strengthen it.

The centre's next move would be be to push for amendments to the Ecclesiastic Act to streamline the organisation of Buddhist monks and better promote Buddhism.

Phra Thepwisutthikavi said monks would educate Buddhists in the provinces about various threats to Buddhism.

Government agencies and political parties yesterday promised to act on the Queen's call to preserve the environment.

Democrat spokesman Ong-art Klampaibul said the issue would be discussed at party meetings and they would hold activities to raise public awareness of the matter.

Royal Irrigation Department director-general Samart Chokekanapitak said the department would meet representatives of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Agriculture Ministry today to brainstorm urgent measures to tackle pollution in the Chao Phraya river.

Mr Samart said some major dams, such as the Pasak Jolasid dam, now have sufficient water stored and some would be released to decontaminate the polluted Chao Phraya and flush out the salt water in the river.

He said the department had also requested funds for a reforestation project from the cabinet, through the Agriculture Ministry.

Mr Samart said Their Majesties the King and Queen disagreed with the department's plan to buy water from Laos and Burma.

Their Majesties noted that Thailand had plenty of rain each year for its needs, but there were not enough reservoirs to store it, he said.

Their Majesties asked the department to seek ways to store as much rainwater as possible.

''The King's sufficiency economy principle suggests each local area make use of natural resources available in their locality. It's better than depending on others,'' Mr Samart said.