By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

90-year-old monk Thai Monk Somdet Chuang being investigated over vintage Mercedes-Benz.

A classic 1953 Mercedes-Benz has become the focus point in a political battle that is going on in Thailand over the future leadership of the country's prominent religion, Buddhism. The Supreme Patriarch or Sangharaja is the head of the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand. The formal appointment of a Supreme Patriarch is done by the King of Thailand based on the Prime Minister's nomination.

As of now, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is refusing to nominate anyone for the position because of the ongoing dispute between the government and some of the Buddhist monks, mostly the followers of Somdet Chuang. Somdet Chuang or Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn is a 90-year old monk who is a frontrunner for the post of the Supreme Patriarch. The government is investigating him for tax evasion on his aforementioned Mercedes-Benz car. The vehicle is worth more than $250,000. Somdet Chuang told the authorities that the car was a gift from one his ardent followers and that the car is kept in the temple museum.

The minister of Justice, Paiboon Kumchaya, said that Somdet Chuang refused to answer some of the questions asked by the police when they visited the temple. He said that if Chuang does not respond to the summons sent to him, they will have no choice but to arrest him. The followers of Somdet Chuang are of the opinion that the whole situation is politically charged.

The reason for that is because Chuang is a supporter of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister who was ousted by the current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha when he took power through a coup, in the year 2014. Last month, the supporters of Chuang took to the street demanding that the government stop interfering in religious matters. The army responded, and while they were trying to disperse the demonstrators, a scuffle ensued.

It was a group of Buddhists within the monastery only who exposed the story of Chuang's possession of the luxury car. They are of the opinion that Somdet Chuang is not fit to be the Supreme Patriarch. He is not qualified to lead their 300,000 congregation, but also, his alleged good relationship with Phra Dhammachayo, an embezzler and a distorter of the Buddha teachings, who was also a former disciple, makes him a very unfit candidate for the position of Supreme Patriarch.

A lot of people in Thailand are concerned about the fact that many Buddhists, who are supposed to follow in the footsteps of Buddha and rid themselves of earthly pleasures, are actually getting caught up in worldly materials. The fact that Somdet Chuang is building a personal collection of luxury and fancy vehicles has already hurt the sentiments of many believers.

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