Losing NLD candidate accuses USDP rival of using religion to win seat in Shan state

A monk who told voters in Shan state’s Pindaya township that their religion would be endangered if they voted for the National League for Democracy (NLD) cost the party a seat in the state parliament, according to NLD candidate Htein Lin.

Htein Lin, whose wife is Christian, said the monk warned against voting for him because it would lead to the disappearance of Buddhism.

In sermons to local villagers that were captured on video, the monk said that the wife of one of the candidates had opened a school to convert students on the pretext of teaching them language. 

Although the monk did not refer to him by name, it was clear who he was talking about when he urged voters to support the rival Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate, said Htein Lin.

“He referred to the rival of the chairman of this region, and he was talking about my wife, who has opened a school to teach Japanese,” he told Myanmar Now.

“They are persuading people to convert to their religion by teaching,” Sayadaw U Pyanna Tharra said of NLD candidate Htein Lin and his wife

Arkar Lin, the USDP candidate, is the chairman of the leading body of southern Shan state’s Danu Self-Administered Zone, which includes Pindaya and Ywangan townships. The NLD won all but one of the seven seats contested in the Danu SAZ.

On October 31, one week before the election, Sayadaw U Pyanna Tharra, a senior monk at the Zawtikar Yone monastery in Pindaya, told his followers in the village of Innpetlet not to make a mistake when casting their votes.

Daw Cho, an Innpetlet villager who heard to the sermon, told Myanmar Now that the monk said it would be better to vote for the USDP candidate, because if the NLD won, he was afraid it would be the end of Buddhism.

Videos obtained by Myanmar Now show the monk telling villagers that if Arkar Lin’s rival wins the election, it would give rise to “wrong view” in religion and lead to delusion. He added that the rival’s wife was a Christian who had opened a school to convert students to her religion. 

“They are persuading people to convert to their religion by teaching. What will happen is that religious problems will increase,” said Sayadaw U Pyanna Tharra.

“We have not said anything to the monks. We have to work within existing laws and regulations, and the monks have nothing to do with the election,” said USDP candidate Arkar Lin

Htein Lin responded that teaching Japanese is not a way to persuade anyone to convert to Christianity. 

Htein Lin said he won 12 of the 13 wards in the town of Pindaya, but lost the election because of the results in seven surrounding villages. 

“I lost mainly in the villages where the monk preached. Monks have about an 80-percent influence,” he said.

However, this was not the first time that the USDP had won the seat for state parliament constituency (1) in Pindaya. In fact, the party has held the seat continuously for the past 10 years, after winning in both 2010 and 2015.

Arkar Lin denied the accusation that the monk was campaigning on his behalf.

“We have not said anything to the monks. We have to work within existing laws and regulations, and the monks have nothing to do with the election,” he told Myanmar Now.

Under section 58(c) of the Election Law, it is illegal to invoke race or religion when campaigning for political office. Violators face up to one year in prison, a maximum fine of 100,000 kyat, or both.

On September 24, Pindaya township’s Sangha Nayaka committee, a body overseeing monastic affairs, issued a directive instructing monks to refrain from any involvement in party politics during the campaign period.

Myanmar Now contacted Sayadaw U Pyanna Tharra by phone for comment. He admitted to making remarks about election candidates, but said he was merely expressing concern about the future of the village’s inhabitants. Then he hung up.

Arkar Lin previously courted controversy by ordering the demolition of a church built in Ywangan township two years ago, a move that some saw as evidence of Buddhist chauvinism.

According to NLD supporters in Pindaya, the video of Sayadaw U Pyanna Tharra’s sermon was first posted on Facebook by two university students from the village of Sharbya. The monk later scolded the two students and told them to remove the video.

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