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Twenty-seven political parties including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) issued a statement on Monday accusing the National League for Democracy of taking advantage of religion, as the ruling party has organised interfaith vigils at locales across Burma in recent weeks.
The joint statement said that such alleged abuse of religion for political purposes is constitutionally prohibited.
The statement also claimed that the Shan State government had instructed civil servants to comply with an order for “mandatory” attendance of an interfaith prayer ceremony in the state’s capital, Taunggyi, describing the directive as “contradictory to the Constitution.”
“I have not read the whole statement,” Nyan Win, a spokesperson and member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee, told DVB. “Why would prayer exploit a religion? Which laws would prayer be in defiance of? … That is all I want to say.”
The joint statement called for action against “political parties that exploit religion for political gain,” in violation of constitutional provisions and Burma’s Political Parties Registration Law. It also stated: “It is the responsibility of the Union Election Commission [UEC] to take legal action against any political parties that contravene certain laws.”
Beginning last month, local NLD chapters have organised interfaith prayer events in cities and towns across Burma. Monday’s statement from the 27 political parties was not the first time controversy has arisen regarding the gatherings.
Inter-religious tensions continue to simmer in Burma, particularly between the country’s Buddhist majority and minority Muslims in the wake of unrest between the two faith communities over the past several years, and most recently the emergence of a militant group claiming to fight for western Rakhine State’s persecuted Rohingya population.
The intermingling of religion and politics was also an issue in the lead-up to the 2015 general election. Then, however, it was the NLD that accused the then-ruling USDP of violating the constitutional ban on using religion for political purposes as the latter’s candidates repeatedly implied that the NLD would be “weak” when it came to protecting the country’s majority-Buddhist character.