Why did Myanmar’s junta give Wirathu a national award? – The diplomat

ASEAN Beat | Politics | South East Asia

Last week, the ultra-nationalist monk was bestowed the title of Thiri Pyanchi, an award for “outstanding work for the benefit of the Union of Myanmar.”

Portraits of ultra-nationalist monk Wirathu at Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar, May 30, 2015.

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On January 3, Myanmar’s military government presented nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu with a national award for his “service” to the country. According to a report by AFP citing the military intelligence team, junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing bestowed the title of Thiri Pyanchi on the Buddhist arsonist, an award recognizing “outstanding work for the benefit of the Union of Myanmar.” “ acknowledges.

Wirathu, who has hardly been seen in public since his release from prison in September 2021, was just one of hundreds to receive awards and titles to mark the 75th anniversary of Myanmar’s independence from Britain, which took place on January 4.

But he was one of the stranger inclusions. In the early stages of Myanmar’s political opening up, the Mandalay-based monk became notorious for peddling an extreme form of ethnic Burmese chauvinism and Buddhist nationalism, and stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. He was also the main spokesman for the 969 Movement, which, among other things, encouraged Buddhists to boycott Muslim-owned businesses.

Wirathu’s rhetoric was a major factor in fueling sectarian tensions in many parts of the country and the August 2017 military brutal attacks on Rohingya Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

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However, Wirathu fell somewhat out of favor after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in 2016, and was jailed shortly before the NLD’s unilateral victory in the November 2020 election on charges of trying to stir up dissatisfaction with the government .

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Whether the awarding of the prize is more than a routine development is unclear. Wirathu’s relationship with the Myanmar military is complex. In the 2015 elections, he actively campaigned against the NLD and for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); In fact, he once urged people to “worship the USDP as if they were worshiping Buddha.”

In September 2021, after overthrowing the NLD government in a coup, military authorities released Wirathu from prison. As noted by the Democratic Voice of Burma At the time, he was just one of several notorious nationalists released from prison in the months after the military seized power. The junta nonetheless held Wirathu in custody for a full seven months before releasing him, a delay that reportedly frustrated the monk and led one observer to believe he was “no longer useful” to the military.

Wirathu has kept a low profile ever since. According to local media reports, he emerged in October last year while preaching a sermon discussing the principles of the 969 movement on the occasion of the Buddhist Kathina festival in Natalin municipality, Bago region. He reportedly arrived under police and military guard.

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Given their current struggle to crush nationwide resistance to their rule, it is no surprise that the coup government is seeking allies wherever it can find them. Perhaps she’s hoping for Wirathus’ help in supporting her chosen candidates in the staged elections she looks set to hold later this year. But whether the “Buddhist bin Laden,” as TIME magazine once exaggeratedly dubbed him, will be “mobilized” to serve the military government in a more substantive and long-term capacity remains to be seen.