Thailand: Thailand votes against making Buddhism the national religion

The group drafting Thailand's new constitution voted Friday against a proposal to include a clause designating Buddhism as the national religion.
The decision triggered protests by Buddhist monks and others who have been staging rallies and hunger strikes in favor of the measure.
The Constitution Drafting Assembly voted 66 to 19 against the proposal to recognize Buddhism — followed by about 90 percent of Thailand's 64 million people — as the official national religion. The assembly was appointed in January to draft a new charter to replace the previous 1997 constitution that was scrapped in a military coup last year.

"It is not appropriate to register Buddhism as a national religion in the constitution simply because we will lose more than we gain from it," said Jaran Pakdithanakul, a member of the constitution drafting body.

The vote sparked an outcry by hundreds of Buddhists, including monks, who have been staging an around-the-clock rally outside Parliament. They threatened to vote against the constitution when it is submitted to a national referendum, probably in September.

They say that Buddhism has been under threat by an Islamic separatist insurgency in the country's Muslim-dominated southern provinces, and its official recognition is necessary to guarantee it will continue to be the country's main religion. Southern Muslims have long complained of discrimination in the Buddhist-dominated country.

29 June 2007