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. According to local and international observers, the 2020 elections were also mostly free and fair, although voting was cancelled in several constituencies due to security reasons. Former opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) got a landslide victory in both elections. 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. The military has continued to exercise much power in the country, and it seized power in February 2021, citing that there had been electoral fraud.
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. Developing an open, responsible and participatory democracy is important in the country’s pursuit of becoming a stable, peaceful and equal society.
Due to the military coup on 1 February 2021, Demo Finland has halted its activities in Myanmar for the time being and is assessing its possibilities to work in the country together with other international actors. While doing so Demo Finland follows the most recent rules and policies set by the European Union and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
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 has supported 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 300 politicians from more than 40 different parties.
- More than 200 politicians trained by the MySoP ran as candidates in the 2020 elections and 41 were elected to the position they applied for, mainly in the State/Region Parliaments.
- One third of these candidates, as well as those who got elected, were women, which is well above the national average.
- According to a survey, one third 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.
- A network of women politicians from 26 parties has been launched in Shan State to promote gender equality within parties and in their politics.
- More than 70% of the parties participating in the programme have taken steps to promote gender equality within parties.