Hyper-nationalists celebrate four ‘race and religion’ laws

The legislative package, which sped through the normal parliamentary slog in under a year, enacts measures that have been slammed by rights advocates for perpetuating gender and religious discrimination. The laws prohibit polygamy, force people to seek government approval before converting, restrict interfaith marriage and “organise” family planning with a 36-month birth spacing stipulation.

Ma Ba Tha, the organisation that put forward the controversial bills and is widely seen as an anti-Muslim pressure group, plans to hold festivities in every state and region to honour the lawmakers who supported the bills. Marches and rallies are already set for Magwe and Mandalay regions, according to the group’s Facebook page.

The celebrations started yesterday morning as members of Ma Ba Tha and hundreds of supporters gathered in the west of Shwedagon Pagoda. A procession of vehicles then headed to Pidakat Thone Bone Nikae monastery in South Dagon township, blaring nationalist songs along the route to mark the victory. Comedian Anyain – who secured a K 2.5 million contract for the event – entertained the revelers in the afternoon after a short presentation about the laws.

While opponents have criticised the controversial bills for violating human rights and ostracising minorities, the accusations are baseless, said U Aye Paing, a legal consultant for Ma Ba Tha.

“If we responded to all the criticisms, we would never be able to finish arguing. So instead, we proceeded to implement the correct actions,” he said.

He added that the four laws are aimed at protecting Buddhist women, so if non-Buddhist women desire protection they should convert.

The celebrations will next head to Mon State and in two weeks a victory ceremony will be held on the full moon of Tawthalin when supporters will circle back to Yangon, U Aye Paing said.

As the celebrations gear up, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo condemned the law for “institutionalising and mainstreaming extremist ideologies”.

“That these four bills were conceived not by the elected representatives of the Myanmar people, but by an extra constitutional fringe element – with its hate speech, packaging primordial anxieties into a national agenda for parliamentarians and the President – is a dangerous portend for the fledgling democracy,” the cardinal said in a statement.

The UN-backed Center for Diversity and National Harmony released a situation report that flagged the nationalist celebrations as evidence of how religion has become “highly intertwined’ in the elections process, fuelling the possibility of religious tensions boiling over.

“Given the increasingly evident role of religion in the election, any incidents stemming from malpractice between parties could conceivably degenerate into religious incidents, making their avoidance essential,” the situation report said, adding that Ma Ba Tha’s celebrations should be “closely monitored”.