Myanmar began a transition in 2011 that ended almost 50 years of military rule. During the transition, a nationalist movement called for protecting Buddhism from an “Islamic threat.” Anti-Islam nationalism was not new in Burmese history, yet the timing of its resurgence deserves attention. I argue that the incumbents’ anticipated electoral weakness in transitional elections was the primary reason for its resurgence. The incumbents sought to maximize societal support, and they faced a strong contender, the National League for Democracy, whose probability of winning was high. Social opposition was also significant by the time military rule ended. In a campaign to pass reforms to better “protect” Buddhism, the incumbents used monks to cast doubt on the NLD’s ability to represent Buddhist interests and to recruit former regime opponents who were nationalists. The incumbents garnered wide support for the reforms, yet it was insufficient for an electoral victory.

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