søndag 20. februar 2022

Is Thailand’s Buddhist Sangha Undergoing a Political Sea Change?

On November 11, 2020, Thailand’s Buddhist governing body, the Supreme Sangha Council, ruled that monks were forbidden to take part in the wave of protestsagainst Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration. Expected to be “above politics,” monks do not have the right to vote, as per Chapter VII, Article 96 of the 2017 Thai Constitution. The reasoning behind this is that giving monks the electoral franchise would polarize society.

The government’s mandate that monks and nuns (mae chi) could not take part in protests exposes its fear and fragility. Just as importantly, it points to a parallel fear and fragility within the Buddhist establishment, where a shift is occurring in the willingness of monks to help legitimize state power. It is also a sign of a top-down approach to “religion-building,” whereby the government seeks to reign in the Sangha (monastic community), while at the same time, instrumentalizing the ambiguities surrounding public speech to promote, if not increasingly enforce, public silence.