By Attayuth Bootsripoom,
THE NATIONAL Legislative Assembly (NLA) is expected to pass an amendment to the Sangha Act at its meeting today, returning power to appoint the Supreme Patriarch to the King, sources said yesterday, in a move that could provoke protests by the monkhood.
The bill is expected to be approved in three consecutive readings by the assembly. In essence, the amendments revert to the original 1962 version of the Sangha Act, which gave the monarch discretion to select the candidate for the country’s top ecclesiastical post. The original version was amended by the 1992 Sangha Act, which is currently in force.
The proposal involves just one article but has sweeping implications. Phra Methee Dhammachan, a senior ecclesiastical figure and key supporter of the current acting Supreme Patriarch Somdet Chuang, has threatened to stage protests.
If the proposed amendment is passed, the chances of Somdet Chuang, who is also known as Somdet Phra Maha Ratcha Mangkhlachan, becoming the country’s permanent Supreme Patriarch would become more unlikely.
According to the proposal, the King will appoint the new Supreme Patriarch and the prime minister will countersign the appointment. The proposal will remove the legal clauses that have given the Sangha Supreme Council the right to nominate a candidate when the post becomes vacant.
Early this year, the Council nominated Somdet Chuang as the new Supreme Patriarch, but Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has not submitted the 91-year-old’s nomination for royal endorsement, citing many issues.
One issue that has been cited is the accusation that Somdet Chuang owned a Mercedes-Benz, which was illegally imported into the country. The acting Supreme Patriarch is also seen as being close to Phra Dhammachayo, the controversial former abbot of Dhammakaya Temple who is now a fugitive.
Pol General Pichit Khuande-chakupt, chair of the NLA committee on religions, arts, culture and tourism, proposed the change to the 1992 Sangha Act on the grounds that the country should return to its traditions.
Eighty-four NLA members have already signed in support of the proposed change.
Initially, today’s NLA meeting was not slated to include deliberations regarding the Sangha Act amendment. However, NLA President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai announced in additional documents yesterday afternoon that the proposed change would be considered today. “Given that the proposed change involves just one article, it will likely sail through the NLA within one day,” a source said.
However, Phra Methee Dhamma-chan issued a warning on Facebook yesterday that Buddhist organisations across Thailand would stage protests if the NLA went ahead with the change to the law.
“What you [NLA members] plan to do will wreak havoc in society,” he said.
Phra Methee Dhammachan has been pushing for Somdet Chuang’s appointment as the permanent new Supreme Patriarch since he was first nominated.
Meanwhile, Thai People Sovereignty Party secretary-general Kamphi Khamphirayannont, who describes himself as the representative of 48 Buddhist organisations, demanded that the NLA cease its effort to amend the 1992 Sangha Act and for authorities to suspend the ongoing legal proceedings against Phra Dhammachayo.
“We have already submitted a petition to the King, asking that the NLA suspend deliberations on any law about Buddhist monks and that government agencies suspend any legal proceedings related to monks and Buddhism,” Kamphi said.
PM’s Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck, who oversees the National Buddhism Office, urged opponents to the proposed amendment to remain calm and let the NLA do its work.