04/28/2007, 00.00
THAILAND
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Buddhism the state religion, a “useless and dangerous” proposal

by Weena Kowitwanij
Monks hold protests, urging the Constitutional Assembly to recognise Buddhism as the national religion, “to preserve and improve the profession the faith”. The population, politicians and religious, maintain that the proposal is both useless and dangerous and warn: “it could aggravate tensions in the South”.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The proposal to insert Buddhism as the state religion within the new Constitution, currently being finalized, has little support among Thai people.  The proposal was put forward by monks from the Buddhism Promotion Foundation and the Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand, who have been peacefully rallying before Parliament in Bangkok for the past ten days in efforts to pressure the Constitutional Assembly, (CDA) to “protect Buddhism”, by elevating it to the ranks of a National Religion, within the Constitution.

 

The monks appeal has re-awakened a ten year old debate.  The front pages of the main newspapers speak of little else.  Even if the CDA has promised to evaluate the request, the chances that it will come to pass are few.   Noranit Sethabutr, Chief of CDA  appealed to the protesters “ may I suggest all Buddhists to reconsider their request and listen to other people faiths as they were also Thai”. Yesterday an advisor to interim premier Surayud Chulanont, also warned of the grave risks this proposal ran: it could aggravate tensions in the Southern provinces, where relations between the Muslim and Buddhist communities are already strained”.

 

Neither are the monks and people of the countryside in favour of this move; many feel that the recognition of Buddhism as a state religion “will do little to guarantee the correct practice of Buddha’s teachings”.  Out of a total population of 62.8, 95% are Buddhist with 4% Muslim and 1% other including Christian.  There are only 300,000 Catholics in Thailand including hill tribe inhabitants.

 

Saknarin Keun-onn, the youngest CDA member, has invited the protesters to see the positive aspects of the future constitution, which aims to “guarantee a greater participation for the people of the nation in the country’s political life”.

 

In order to be approved, a draft text of the Constitution will have to pass a referendum vote due to take place in September.

 

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