Buddhist monks in Thailand have been ordered by the country’s National Office of Buddhism (NOB) to abstain from participating in the ongoing anti-government protests. NOB director Narong Songarom made the announcement yesterday as Buddhist monks have been seen and photographed among the protesters in recent days.
The NOB and the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand had already established rules for monks forbidding political activity. A spokesman for the NOB stated that this week’s order “made resolutions to prohibit monks and novices from involvement in politics, including joining protests and expressing political opinions.” (Reuters)
Thus far, the protests, led mostly by college and high school students opposing military influence in the classroom, have not featured many monks. The protesters have issued three primary demands (a list that has changed over time and expanded to as many as 10 specific demands): the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, further limits to the power of the monarchy, and the drafting of a new constitution.
The protests began in February, when the nation’s progressive Future Forward Party was banned by Thai courts. The protests intensified over the summer, including a 16 August protest with some 10,000 people, one of the largest demonstrations since a 2014 crisis culminating in a military takeover of the government by then general Prayut Chan-o-cha. So far, this year’s protests have been largely peaceful with few clashes with the authorities.
On 8 November, Bangkok resident and teacher at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University Dr. Will Yaryan noted that monks had been spotted at the front lines of night-time protests in the Thai capital, writing: “This is a surprising sight at tonight’s protest near the Grand Palace.” (Facebook)
One monk, 21-year-old Chistnupong Praiparee, who had attended three recent protests said: “I will continue to join the protests to let them know that this is not right and inconsistent with the voices of most monks.” (Reuters) In addition to the other demands of protesters, Chistnupong added that he would like to see reforms to the Supreme Sangha Council.
In response to news of monks becoming involved in the protests where one monk reportedly questioned the monastic rule dictating the shaving of eyebrows, the NOB director, Mr. Narong said, “The rules clearly say that monks must have their eyebrows shaved regularly. If they cannot accept the rule, they should also leave the monkhood. Furthermore no one forces anyone to be ordained.” (Chiang Rai Times)
The NOB resolution states that monks who participate in protests could be expelled from the monkhood, while government offices have been tasked with confirming that those seen in saffron robes are in fact ordained monks.
Approximately 95 per cent of Thais are Buddhists. In 1995 the country passed the Sangha Act of 1995, which forbade monks from participation in politics. Nonetheless, monastics have played a role in popular unrest over the years, including large protests in 2010 and 2014. The country’s second-largest religion is Islam, with some 4.19 per cent of the country’s population. This week, many Muslims participated in rallies clad in yellow, the color signifying support for the monarchy, in a sign of support for national unity.
Thai monks ordered not to join protests (Reuters)
Bangkok Is Engulfed by Protests. What’s Driving Them? (The New York Times)
What Thailand’s demonstrators want (The Washington Post)
Thailand’s Monks and Novices Banned from Anti-Government Protests (Chiang Rai Times)