Background: towards democracy after the military junta

Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country that has taken steps towards democracy after the military junta was overthrown in 2011. The country has opened up to the world and economic growth has been fast. A milestone was reached in 2015 when the country held a relatively free general election, 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. There are 10 national level parties. Developing an open, responsible and participatory democracy is important in the country’s pursuit of becoming a stable, peaceful and equal society.

There are over 90 political parties in Myanmar, out of which the majority are regional and ethnic-based smaller parties. At the national level, in the House of Representatives, only 11 parties won seats in the 2015 elections. National League of Democracy has more than 50% of the seats, while the Military, based on the Constitution, possesses 25% of the seats.

Our work in Myanmar:

Demo Finland and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) set up the Myanmar School of Politics -programme 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 building capacity and know-how in order to interact better with citizens and constituencies. MySoP focuses on capacity building and supporting multiparty dialogue both on the regional and state level.

The three-week MySoP core courses gather participants from all parties within one state or region at a time and train these politicians in 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.

MySoP courses have been organized in five eastern states in Myanmar (Kayin, Kayah, Mon, Shan and Tanintharyi) and the alumni, from 32 different parties, now number over 220. 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 bill proposal on food security. Drafting joint initiatives based on multiparty dialogue is a great achievement in the country new to multiparty co-operation and open conflicts.

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 (5 eastern states),
  • It has trained over 220 politicians from 32 parties
  • According to a survey, over a quarter of the MySoP alumni state that they 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 institutionalization has been created amongst the political parties at state-level and they have put forth a joint legislative initiative on food security.