SSC nominee faces new flak
Minister to hold talks as splits widen
The official nomination of Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn as the new supreme patriarch revealed Thursday has sparked a wave of opposition over his ties to the controversial Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Prime Minister's Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana has confirmed the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) had nominated Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn as the new supreme patriarch at a secret session.
Mr Suwaphan, who oversees the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), said he had received the council's written resolution from the NOB, which acts as the SSC's secretary.
The letter confirmed 17 senior monks at the 20-member council's unannounced meeting on Jan 5 agreed to nominate Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn as the country's 20th supreme patriarch.
Before forwarding the resolution to the prime minister for consideration, the minister said he will hold talks with the NOB, the monastic community and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.
- Editorial: Amend the Sangha Act
Mr Suwaphan said he could not specify when the matter will reach the prime minister because the issue was sensitive and he needed to gather more information to ensure transparency.
Mr Wissanu said the SSC's monks had completed their duty and the government must handle the matter according to the law and tradition, as well as trying to meet the people's expectations.
The government will not allow itself to be swayed by a wave of opposition by some groups to the nomination, he said.
However, Mr Wissanu said if a dispute remains over the nomination, the government must find ways to clear up the problem.
He conceded that the selection of the eighth supreme patriarch was postponed for as long as 37 years.
Pending his appointment, an acting supreme patriarch could perform the required duties, Mr Wissanu said.
Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, the 90-year-old abbot of Wat Pak Nam Phasi Charoen, also known as Somdet Chuang, chairs the monastic committee performing the supreme patriarch's duties.
A group of Buddhists in Pathum Thani led by Atthapol Arunoros handed a letter of opposition Thursday to the nomination to Mr Suwaphan.
The group accused Somdet Chuang of impropriety due to his relationship with Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Meanwhile, a group of followers of the late monk Luang Ta Maha Bua at Wat Pa Ban Tad in Udon Thani recently submitted a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to invoke Section 44 of the interim charter to amend the Sangha Act to give His Majesty the King the sole power to appoint the supreme patriarch. The group also sent 1.7 million signatures in support of the move.
Prominent social critic Sulak Sivaraksa also voiced opposition to the nomination, saying Somdet Chuang is not suited for the top monastic post because of his close ties to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
"While Buddhism teaches us to let go of material possessions, Wat Dhammakaya preaches that how much merit you get depends on how much money you donate to the temple," Mr Sulak said.
"If Somdet Chuang becomes the supreme patriarch, such distorted teachings would definitely rise. A dark era of Buddhism in Thailand will come," he added.
Phra Methi Thammachan, deputy rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, on Thursday warned the government not to delay the nomination process, or monks would press for a decision.