Towards democracy after the military junta
Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country that has taken steps towards democracy since 2011 after the military junta was gradually overthrown. The country has opened up to the world and economic growth has been fast. A milestone was reached in 2015 when the country held the first relatively free general elections, with the opposition gaining a landslide victory. However, the constitution still guarantees one fourth of parliamentary seats to the military, so multi-party reforms have not been easy to realise and the general political situation is still unstable.
Despite the long peace process there are still on-going conflicts in many parts of Myanmar between ethnic groups and the military. There are over 90 political parties out of which most are small and based on ethnic groups. 11 parties function at the national level. Developing an open, responsible and participatory democracy is important in the country’s pursuit of becoming a stable, peaceful and equal society.
Our work in Myanmar
Demo Finland and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) set up the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) in 2014 to support the democratisation process in the country through multiparty co-operation and capacity building. The aim of MySoP is to create safe and institutionalised co-operation between political parties, build the parties’ capacities so that they can better represent their constituencies and to increase the political participation of women and youth.
The majority of political parties in Myanmar are small and lacking in resources. Parties need support in drafting political programmes and interacting with citizens and constituencies. MySoP focuses on capacity building and supporting multi-party dialogue both at the regional and state level in 6 States/Regions altogether. At the state level, increasing democratic skills is needed as the the governance is decentralised as part of the democratisation process.
The three-week MySoP core courses gather participants from all parties within one state or region at a time and train these politicians for example in political theory, policy-making, inter-party dialogue, gender equality and best practices in politics. The courses also introduce the politicians to international examples of multi-party co-operation and democratization processes. The participants share their knowledge with their parties, which adds to the reach of MySoP especially when it comes to strategic planning and political programming. The courses aim to have 50% of women as participants.
MySoP courses have been organised in five eastern States/Regions in Myanmar (Kayin, Kayah, Mon, Shan and Tanintharyi) and in the Yangon Region. The alumni, from more than 40 different parties, now number over 280. The alumni are engaged in additional trainings where they can deepen their knowledge and continue multi-party co-operation.
In addition to training politicians, MySoP aims at strengthening democratic ways of doing politics and multi-party dialogue on a practical level. The first permanent multi-party dialogue platform was set up in Shan State in 2018.
MySoP is funded by the Ministries for Foreign Affairs of Finland and the Netherlands.
In August 2018 Demo Finland and NIMD also begun implementing their part in the EU funded Step Democracy programme. The programme is coordinated by International IDEA and the work of the consortia supports for example the Myanmar Election Commission in organising the upcoming election in 2020 as well as civil society. The programme also aims at building the capacities of political parties and supporting them in facilitating the participation of women, youth and vulnerable groups. Demo Finland and NIMD focus especially on strengthening the programmatic work and inclusivity of political parties at the state and regional level. Demo Finland supports specifically the capacity building of female politicians and advocates for awareness of gender equality and action plans within the parties.
Results of our work
- MySop is the first intensive multi-party training program in the country at the State/Region level.
- It has trained over 280 politicians from more than 40 different parties.
- According to a survey, over a quarter of the MySoP alumni state that they now work with representatives of other political parties monthly.
- The MySoP Shan State Multiparty Dialogue Platform (MDP) has created a certain level of safe space and the parties in the forum have put forth joint legislative initiatives.
- In the EU-funded Step Democracy programme, training material for strengthening female politicians’ capacities has been produced, as well as a guide for political parties on gender equality. Female politicians have also been trained.
- 29 representatives of different departments of the Election Commission and 46 members of political parties have been trained on conflict management skills.