Thai king appoints new patriarch of country's Buddhist order

AP News
Posted: Feb 07, 2017 6:34 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's king has named a new supreme patriarch to head the country's Buddhist order, ending a deadlock that left the position empty for more than three years.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday that King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has appointed 89-year-old Somdej Phra Maha Muniwong to be the 20th supreme patriarch. His predecessor died in 2013 at age 100.

Muniwong is the abbot of Wat Ratchabophit, a Bangkok temple closely associated with the royal family.

The Sangha Supreme Council, the ecclesiastical governing body, in January 2016 had followed legal procedure and tradition in nominating its most senior member to the position. However, Prayuth refused to endorse the council's nominee, Phra Ratchamangalacharn, who has been accused of links to the prominent but controversial Dhammakaya sect as well as tax evasion.

The law was changed in December to allow the king sole authority to appoint the supreme patriarch.

The issue also appeared to be tangled up in secular politics. The Dhammakaya sect is considered sympathetic to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup and is the arch-enemy of Prayuth's military government.

"No conflicts please," Prayuth told reporters in making Tuesday's announcement. "Other monks are not better or worse. We have to look at their work and other accomplishments. It is up to the king's wishes and he has made this decision himself."

Muniwong is to receive his appointment this Sunday in a ceremony presided over by the king at Wat Phra Kaew — the Temple of the Emerald Buddha — on the grounds of the Grand Palace.