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Posts from the ‘Myanmar’ Category

Policy Advocacy and Budget Monitoring in Myanmar

The Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Programme (MMDP) conducted a two days capacity building session on “Policy Advocacy and Budget Monitoring’ for the political party youth in Kachin State on 3-4 May. The event supported political party youth to understand how to advocate on Myanmar’s National Youth Policy, raising awareness on budget processes at regional and state level including how to monitor it make the budget process more responsive to youth demands. Youth representatives from the National Youth Policy drafting committee also briefed the participants on the current process of making the Myanmar National Youth Policy. The event was held from 3rd to 4th May 2017 at Myitkyina, Kachin State.

A total of 43 youth from 14 political parties attended with 36 percent of the participants being young women. U Zaw Win, member of parliament form the Kachin State Parliament and the Chairperson of Public Finance and Accounts Committee shared the process of how state budget allocations work and the political party youth had a chance to asked questions and reports on their local issues. Local partners Naushawng Development Institute (NDI) and Kachin State Youth Network (KSYN) facilitated a discussion among the participants on their role in budget advocacy.

According to U Zaw Win, Budget monitoring is everyone’s responsibility. The member of national youth policy drafting committee and the youth coordinator of DIPD shared the process of National Youth Policy and the local youth policy timelines and drafting process. “Who will be effectives from National Youth Policy and is it only for one Ethnic group? asked by Maran Bran Shawng from Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). That is the main concern from ethnic group on adopting process of Myanmar National Youth Policy. They have a chance to be raising their feedback on consultation process of youth policy in coming June to July.

The trainer Pyae Phyo Aung from the Way partner of DIPD explained the meaning of advocacy and tools for political party youth with good examples, the process and type of advocacy. The female participant, Taung Alay Mie from Lisu National Development Party said” The training is really effective because we got a lot of advocacy tools, knowledge and information.

The DIPD will continue to support political party youth to increase their meaningful participation concerns in the Myanmar Youth Policy process and in the budget monitoring. This support will contribute to enhancing the abilities of parties to ensure that youth policies and government budgets reflect the concerns of their youth constituents throughout the country.

Reporting on Peace and Conflict in Kachin

Is there press freedom under the new government? Are the media and political parties able to channel the voices of citizens living in conflict situations? These questions are very crucial for the media and parties wrestling with such challenges in Myanmar today.

To understand these questions, and to promote dialogue between parties and the media on these issues, DIPD and the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), jointly organized a dialogue on “Reporting on Peace and Conflict: Enhancing People’s Voice and Accountability” in Myitkyina, Kachin State, one of Myanmar’s conflict-affected regions, from 30 April-1 May. During the course of the two days, representatives of the MPC shared information on press freedom, the media law, and the role of media in reporting on conflict. The group of media and parties identified the challenges and discussed possible solutions to generate more effective and people-centered reporting on the peace process and ongoing conflicts.  As U Thiha Saw of the MPC explained, “The media has to raise the public’s voice to increase accountability.”

During a panel discussion on the second day panel discussion, Lamai Gum Ja, a member of the Peace Talk Creation Group, U La Seng Aung, Senior Research and Lecturer of Naushawng Development Institute, U Kyaw Swa Min, co-secretary of Myanmar Press Council and Maran Seng Mai, the Chief Editor of Myitkyina News Journal held an open discussion on accountability in reporting on peace process and ongoing conflict situations. The participants raised questions on the Kachin peace process to the panelists and discussed their view on the talks of panelists.

Media in Kachin State highlighted that the regional government has seldom communicate with media in one year of their term. So Media and parties discussed the way to strengthen relationship between media and regional government in this workshop.

A total of 47 persons from 13 political parties and media groups participated in the event. In response to the issues discussed, participants committed to provide more publicity for the voices of members of the public affected by conflict. The participants also resolved to hold more regular dialogues on issues affecting different communities in Kachin State in order to promote public discussion of priority demands of the public.

Innovations and Inspiration in Party Building

Two political party pioneers in party building visited DIPD and the Myanmar political parties for frank and inspiring talks on party building with an innovative approach.

With the conclusion of the April by elections in Myanmar, political parties now have a three-year window before the next general elections. During this period, political parties will have an opportunity to re-organize, strategize and remake themselves in advance of the 2020 elections. As Myanmar’s political parties are relatively recently established or re-established, this window also provides a valuable opportunity for parties to concentrate on strengthening themselves to serve as more robust and participatory institutions. To provide inspiration to parties to take advantage of this opportunity, at the beginning of May DIPD hosted a delegation of party leaders from two of the fastest growing and most innovative parties in its network—the Alternative Party of Denmark and the Aam Aadmi Party of India.

Creativity in Party Building

Both the Alternative Party and the Aam Aadmi Party were formed in the last five years. They have used innovative methods to attract members and win voters. The Alternative won nine seats in Denmark’s Parliament, and the Aam Aadmi Party became the dominant party in Delhi’s Assembly. The Alternative has used creative methods to increase public participation, such as their policy laboratories to develop their party’s platform. Aam Aadmi uses new technology for transparent and ethical financing of its campaigns, which has attracted voters dissatisfied with vote buying and other unethical practices in Indian campaigns.  Each of these parties demonstrates how using creative new approaches can not only lead to more ethical campaigns and greater participation, but can also be winning strategies for parties.

Reaching out to new communities and constituencies

DIPD held a series of bilateral technical advisory sessions with political party leaders and political party alliance leaders, where the Alternative’s Tom Richter Hansen and Aam Aaadmi’s Raghav Chadha shared ideas and inspiration from their experiences in political party building and development. Myanmar’s political parties were particularly interested in the way in which the two parties had used new technologies for communication and new strategies to reach out to constituents to grow their membership and generate support from the younger generation. Raghav Chadha shared how Aam Aadmi had reached out to universities to generate greater youth participation, while also nominating young candidates to give young people an opportunity as representatives. Drawing on the Alternative’s innovative strategies, Tom Richter Hansen discussed how parties can increase participation by inviting the public to participate in policy formulation for the party, and also encourage party members to engage based on their specific policy interests.

Turning the challenges into opportunities

Party representatives participating in the bilateral meetings raised a number of interesting questions and ideas, claiming that the exchanges with the delegation were “quite useful” as they “consider lessons of how to reform themselves.” The party representatives also expressed interest in Aam Aadmi’s approaches for selecting clean candidates. In the area of reaching out to members and supporters, both Aam Aadmi’s techniques of using technology to cultivate a broader base of supporters and the Alternative’s intensive engagement of both members and non-members in policy program development contained useful lessons for Myanmar’s parties. On the final day of the delegation visit, the two visiting politicians shared ideas on a number of topics including party finance, party organizational development, and party communications with a multiparty group of political party leaders.

The innovations and inspiration shared by the delegation comes at an opportune time for parties as they have a chance to strategize and prepare for their political future. As U Tin Oo, the patron of the National League for Democracy remarked, “DIPD always gives us food for thought.” DIPD will continue to work with parties to provide technical support on how to incorporate relevant ideas communicated during the visit, helping parties to institutionalize themselves in a democratic and sustainable fashion.

Myanmar’s By-Elections: Another Step Forward

On 1 April, Myanmar held its first elections under the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government. These by-elections, targeting 19 seats in the national and state/regional assemblies, showcased another well-administered election that returned a wide range of political parties to represent their constituencies. The ruling NLD won 8 of the 12 seats at play in the National Assemblies and 1 of the 7 seats up for grabs in the state/regional assemblies. The other big winner in the elections was the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which captured 2 seats in the national assembly and 4 seats in the Shan State Assembly. The military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was the ruling party before the 2015 elections, won one seat at the National Assembly and one seat in the Shan State Assembly, including a seat in the ethnic minority Mon State, which it captured from the NLD.

Other parties which won seats included the Arakan National Party, whose party leader Aye Maung captured a seat in the Pyithu Hluttaw from the USDP in Rakhine State. In Kayah State, ethnic minority party the All Nationals’ Democracy Party (Kayah State) won a state legislature seat in the only constituency that the ruling NLD did not contest.

Factory workers in Hlaing Thaya line up to vote during their lunch break

A peaceful and stable process

The results in the by-elections build on the previous success of Myanmar’s 2015 elections with high voter turnout in most locations. Preliminary turnout figures show turnout as high as 70 percent in some locations, with most areas having turnout numbers in the 40-50 percent range, reflecting generally high levels of interest for a by-election. The exception to this trend was Yangon, where turnout levels were low, especially in densely populated Hlaing Thayar Township, where turnout barely exceeded 12 percent.

Voters also demonstrated a high level of competence in casting ballots, with relatively few invalid votes cast. The exception was in the townships of Kyethi and Mongshu in Shan State. Here voters were casting ballots for the first time in seven years after a period of instability, and high levels of invalid votes were recorded.

Preliminary statements from observer groups gave positive assessments of the overall election process. Executive director Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint from the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) noted:

“Generally the election process was peaceful and stable. There were no major problems that disrupted the elections.”

European Union observers congratulated the UEC for managing “smooth, professional and transparent by-elections” that were part of a “credible and competitive electoral process.” The Asian Network for Free Elections largely agreed with these assessments, noting that the UEC “did well.” Polling stations visited by DIPD generally demonstrated an orderly and transparent voting process that enabled voters to cast their vote in secret and allowed party/candidate polling agents to witness the counting process.

Proud voters in Hlaing Thaya show their inked fingers

Ethnic minority parties demonstrated both strength and weakness

While the elections will not have a significant effect on the balance of power in any of the assemblies (with the exception of Kayah State where the NLD has lost its majority), a few notable areas stand out in terms of continuity and trends of change. First, the NLD remains extremely popular, especially in the areas dominated by the majority Bamar ethnic group, winning landslide victories in Yangon, Bago, and Monywa. The NLD also held on to its Upper House seat in Chin State, an ethnic minority area, and its seat in Nyaungshwe, an ethnic minority area in Shan State. On this evidence, the popularity of the NLD remains very high, despite some modest shifts, as in the party’s loss in Kayah State (where the NLD failed to field a candidate) and in Mon State, where the NLD was defeated by the USDP.

Second, ethnic minority parties continue to demonstrate both strength and weakness. Ethnic minority parties easily captured some seats in ethnic minority regions, including Shan State’s Kyethi and Mongshu, as well as in Rakhine State and Kayah State.

However, ethnic minority parties performed relatively poorly in a number of other ethnic minority states including Chin State and Mon State, where the NLD and USDP continue to command the largest shares of voters.

Even in Shan State, where ethnic parties won a majority of seats up for grabs in the by-elections, the NLD and the USDP still captured seats in areas where ethnic parties were weak or divided. A number of observers predicted a swing away from NLD to ethnic parties during the by-elections, but evidence for this shift is mixed. The NLD lost its seat in Mon State, but the seat went to the USDP rather than to ethnic parties. The USDP also lost one seat in Rakhine State to the Rakhine nationalist ANP – Rakhine is the clearest case of a shift toward ethnic minority parties.

Government performances have an impact

Finally, the by-elections provide tentative evidence that government performance has an impact on voters’ behavior at the polls. In areas suffering from conflict, such as in Shan State, voters cast their support for an ethnic minority party promising them a voice. In Mon State, where a recent dispute over whether a bridge should be named after a national leader or given a Mon name, voters may have expressed their dissatisfaction with the NLD’s response to local demands. Rakhine State serves as a case study of how ethnic minority grievances can lead voters to support ethnic minority parties that campaign to address those grievances. Although these conclusions are still preliminary, they provide a modest indication that voters will unseat parties that fail to meet their expectations.

Polling officials display a ballot in Mongshu

Preparing for the by-elections

In the run-up to the by-elections, DIPD provided a range of support to parties and their candidates, including campaign training, party polling agent training and convening dialogues between parties and election commission representatives. Win Than, a USDP polling agent in Kyauktagga, Bago Region received training from DIPD that helped him understand his roles and responsibilities as a polling agent, and also the codes of conduct that observers and polling station members should follow.

SNLD’s Sai Win Aye described how SNLD’s polling agents in Mongshu were trained directly by DIPD and also shared updated information with other party polling agents. Sai Win Aye, who won the Lower House seat for Mongshu Township, also highlighted the importance of campaign training that helped prepare parties and their candidates for the by-elections.

Party and candidate agents, one of the major targets of DIPD’s assistance, were an important factor in the by-elections, serving as observers to prevent malpractice and fraud. According to a preliminary report of PACE, party/candidate agents were present at 86% of polling stations, including 94% of Yangon polling stations. Most of the observers were from leading parties NLD and USDP, but PACE also noted the presence of observers from ethnic minority parties in ethnic minority regions.

DIPD’s team members in Mongshu, for example, observed a very well-organized polling agent team for the SNLD in the constituency. While the level of competence of these party/candidate agents varied greatly—in one polling station in Yangon DIPD witnessed party observers carefully checking off voters on the voter list, whereas in other polling stations agents seemed to have little understanding of their role—the widespread presence of agents provided an important check against fraud and abuse on polling day.

A number of areas for reform still remain to consolidate the progress made in holding democratic elections in Myanmar. These include changes to constituency delimitation, candidate eligibility, election dispute resolution procedures, among others. The 1 April by-election, however, represents an important step in consolidating the holding of credible and transparent elections that broadly reflect the will of the voters. DIPD will continue to work with political parties and other stakeholders in the electoral process to support transparent and credible elections in 2020 and beyond.

A large crowd waits to vote at a polling station in Mongshu

 

More information

Read more about DIPD’s work in Myanmar, where we are part of the EU supported STEP Democracy Programme.

Contact DIPD’s Country Coordinator in Myanmar, Khin Thazin Myint: ktzm@dipd.dk

Contact DIPD’s Senior Advisor, Hanne Lund Madsen: hlm@dipd.dk

DIPD’ polling agents training activities for by-election

In advance of Myanmar’s 1 April by-elections, the first test of elections under the NLD government, parties are watching to make sure that the elections are conducted in a credible and transparent way. To this end, parties are their organizing teams of polling agents to observe the by-elections.

In support of parties’ efforts to observe the by-elections, DIPD’s Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Programme replicated its 2015 political party polling agent training sessions, targeting party polling agents in Shan State, Chin State, Yangon Region and Bago Region. During February and March, DIPD used interactive and innovative training methods to give party polling agents practical and hands on experience in the key elements of election observation. A total of 258 participants learned about the roles and responsibilities of party polling agents, the detailed steps of polling day processes and how to monitor them, and identified possible irregularities in the elections. “This training is good opportunity for me; in this training I learnt election processes, voting procedures, and rules and regulations through interactive exercises…[there are not a lot of such opportunities] in rural areas like Chin State”, according to Van Thawng from Nga Phyne Thae Village, Htantlang, Chin State, representing the NLD.

MMDP Polling Agent Training ahead of Myanmar by-elections in March 2017.

On the second day of each training session, DIPD also invited chairpersons and other representatives of the Electoral Commission, which allowed participants a useful opportunity to clarify important information regarding election and their roles as polling agents, and raise any questions or concerns for response by the electoral officials. “It’s very rare chance to meet and hold interactive discussion with the UEC sub-commissioner. I was able to clarify my confusion of some information which was released by the UEC,” reflected U Myo Naing Oo from the Akha National Development Party, Kengtung, Shan State.

U Than Lwin Mying, the secretary of Shan regional UEC, provides valuable inputs.

According to U Ye Myint, the Chairperson of the Yangon Division Election Commision, “We welcome DIPD doing polling agents trainings and supporting with effective courses and information for political parties before by-election. This kind of political party capacity support is necessary for our country during its democracy transition.” DIPD will continue to support parties’ participation in the electoral process in Myanmar, including as party polling agents, in the run-up to the 2020 general elections.

All smiles at the MMDP Polling Agent Training.

More information

Read more about DIPD’s engagement in Myanmar.

Contact DIPD’s Country Coordinator in Myanmar, Khin Thazin Myint: ktzm@dipd.dk

Contact DIPD’s Senior Advisor, Hanne Lund Madsen: hlm@dipd.dk