Making Buddhism state religion in draft charter will help it pass referendum: Buddhist group

A Buddhist network has submitted to the charter drafters a list of 100,000 supporters of a campaign to enshrine Buddhism as the state religion, saying it will help the draft constitution to pass the referendum.  

According to Matichon Online, at Government House, Bangkok, on Tuesday, 22 March 2016, Pol Maj Gen Rungroj Pekanant, President of the World Peace Organisation, members of the National Network to Protect Buddhism and representatives of the Thai Sangha (Buddhist clergy), submitted a list of 100,000 names to Supoj Kaimook, Deputy Chair of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).

The group claimed that the list was collected from people who supported the campaign to make Buddhism the state religion and urged the CDC, currently in the final stage of rewriting the draft constitution, to concede to their demand.

The group said that 90 per cent of population in Thailand are Buddhist, adding that by making Buddhism the state religion, the Thai economy will improve.

The Buddhist group also told the CDC that making Buddhism the state religion will make it easier for the draft to pass the upcoming public referendum, which will be held in early August.

In response, the Deputy Chair of the CDC told the group that the issue is sensitive, but the CDC will consider the group’s proposal.

The overwhelming majority of Thai people are Buddhists, but Thailand is a secular state despite the fact that no other religion in Thailand enjoys support from the state in a manner similar to Buddhism.

Although many Buddhist monks and laypersons view favourably the move to enshrine Buddhism as the state religion, many criticise the move for potentially stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, especially as Thailand is still locked in a protracted armed conflict between the state and Muslim insurgent groups in the Deep South border region.

Last month, Ashin Wirathu, a key leader of Ma Ba Tha, a racist Buddhist organisation from Myanmar known for its Islamophobic stand against Muslims in Myanmar, especially the Rohingya minority, was presented with a World Buddhist Leaders Award in Thailand for his role as an outstanding Buddhist monk.

A Buddhist organisation based in Thailand called the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth granted Wirathu the award.

Last week, after pictures were circulated online of Wirathu visiting the controversial Dhammakaya temple and Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), a public Buddhist university in Bangkok, Thai academics expressed alarm at his visit.

One of the pictures shows a group of Thai Buddhist monks holding up a banner reading “We Love Wirathu”.

Somrit Luechai, a Thai Buddhist scholar, posted on his Facebook profile in response to the pictures that he was surprised and frightened when he saw such pictures, saying that the Burmese monk was the one who incited hatred between Buddhists and Muslims.

“The worst is that it seems as if this is normal,” wrote Somrit.

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