MYANMAR SCHOOL OF POLITICS: ADVANCING DEMOCRACY AND MULTIPARTY DIALOGUE
Background: 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 land-slide victory. However, the constitution still guarantees one fourth of parliamentary seats to the military, so multiparty reforms have not been easy to realize and the general political situation still unstable.
Despite the long peace process there are still on-going conflicts in many states in 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 on 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 in 2014 to support the democratization 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 multiparty dialogue both at the regional and state level in 6 states altogether. At the state level, increasing democratic skills is needed as the the governance is decentralized as part of the democratization 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 multiparty 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 organized in five eastern states 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 multiparty co-operation.
In addition to training politicians, MySoP aims at strengthening democratic ways of doing politics and multiparty dialogue on a practical level. The first permanent multiparty dialogue platform was set up in Shan State in 2018 and the platform has already drafted a joint bill proposal.
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 organizing 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 on 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 multiparty training program in the country at the state/regional 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 a joint legislative initiative.
- 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.
- 54 female politicians have been trained using this material on Myanmar’s governance structure, gender equality and ways to enhance the political participation of women.
- 29 representatives of different departments of the Election Commission and 46 members of political parties have been trained on conflict management skills.