The great supreme patriarchs of Cambodia’s two Buddhist sects yesterday urged the government to enact a legal “procedure” that would not only forbid monks from participating in political activities, but would also forbid them from exercising their right to vote.
At the 23rd National Monk Congress at Chaktomuk Hall yesterday, Great Supreme Patriarch Bour Kry, of the Dhammayuttika sect, and Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, of the Mohanikaya sect, said such a regulation would help improve the practice of Buddhism.
“I would like to ask the institutions concerned, including the National Assembly, Senate and the government, as well as the political parties, to define appropriate procedures to let monks be independent, and to skirt voting and activities supporting or opposing political parties,” Kry said. “Monks should strengthen their roles in building, educating and training their spirit, and respect morality, virtue, knowledge and good manners in the society.”
Monks have been a highly visible fixture of protests since 2013’s national elections, and have attached themselves to a number of causes. Yesterday’s call came just over a week after Kry, Vong and Supreme Patriarch Non Nget, chief of monks, reiterated that a ban on participating in political demonstrations issued by the monastic leadership was still in effect.
The Venerable Khim Sorn, Phnom Penh’s chief monk, said he supported the top monks’ call, saying the clergy should remain neutral for the sake of the public.
“Like in the neighbouring country – Thailand – they do not allow monks to vote either, and over the past months, there have been requests from many Buddhist followers asking the monks not to vote or politicise things. I agree with it,” he said.
However, the Venerable But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, denied that monks voting damaged the values of Buddhism.
“The ban on monks joining social activities such as voting can cause a step backwards in democracy, and put a wide gap between Buddhism and society,” he said.
CNRP lawmaker Yem Ponhearith, who leads the parliamentary commission that oversees religious affairs, said yesterday that the right to vote should extend to every citizen, and that singling out monks was unfair.
Seng Somony, spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said that he would forward Vong and Kry’s request to the parliament and government, but that any decision was in their hands.
Monks were barred from voting in the 2003 elections, but the decision from the clergy was reversed before the next poll in 2008.