One of the factors that made election observers skeptical about the prospects of an NLD sweep at the polls was the campaign mounted by nationalist monks affiliated with MaBaTha to paint the opposition as the “party of Islamists” and incapable of or unwilling to sufficiently protect Myanmar’s Buddhist heritage. This, combined with influential MaBaTha monks’ explicit endorsement of current President Thein Sein and the ruling USDP, was expected to erode popular support for the NLD. As we now know, the religious nationalist arguments did not exert nearly the influence on people’s voting as many had worried. But what does this apparent defeat mean for MaBaTha and similar groups moving forward? Opinion among analysts seems to be somewhat divided.
NLD MPs had been among those opposing the four laws that passed through Parliament earlier this year, regulating interfaith marriage, religious conversion, polygamy, and birth spacing. While the domestic and international groups that opposed the laws might reasonably expect an NLD government to work to repeal them, this will likely generate strong opposition. Even as he struggled to explain the resounding NLD victory, MaBaTha’s most prominent face, U Wirathu, made it clear in a conversation with the Myanmar Times that he will “fight her [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] over the race and religion laws.” He also sought to distance himself and MaBaTha from the USDP, claiming that the USDP loss was somehow evidence that MaBaTha was not simply a puppet