Between November 5-11, 2017, PACE conducted a survey to assess citizen’s opinions on their democratic aspirations, with 2,808 interviews nationwide. The respondents were selected using proven statistical methodologies, and interviews were conducted by 343 well-trained enumerators in 254 townships. The main purpose of this survey is to inform stakeholders who are involved in policy making and implementing projects to promote Myanmar’s political transition process with the gaps, barriers and citizen’s aspirations for their country, with the ultimate goal to help ensure that citizen needs are met.

Even though there were no significant changes in the political institutions established by the 2008 constitution, the 2015 general elections were an important turning point in Myanmar’s political transition. The National League for Democracy (NLD), whose victory in the 1990 elections was ignored by the military, in 2015 won 79 percent of the seats in the national Parliament and formed the first democratically-elected government. However, several major challenges remain for the government and the country: constitutional reform to meet democratic standards and the political aspirations of all ethnic peoples; reforming the political institutions inherited from the previous government; improving the record on human rights, rule of law, peace and armed conflict; ethnic minority issues; religious intolerance and racism; and economic development and infrastructure development.

Participation in civic activities 

A high level of involvement in civic activities in community groups such as social organizations, worker associations, cultural groups or sports groups is an indicator for higher level of social capital such as interpersonal trust and social networks, and is related to a higher level of political participation. Civic participation also is a fundamental element for democratic values and strong democratic institutions. Especially for a country like Myanmar that has been under an authoritarian regime for half century, citizen participation in civic and political activities is crucial to the country’s political transition.

Given its importance, since 2015 PACE has assessed citizens’ level of participation in the civic life of their communities. In this survey, PACE asked the respondents if they had participated in any civic activities such as cultural groups, sport groups and worker associations in the last year. Only less than one quarter of the respondents said they participated in this type of activities. Among those activities, people are more likely to have participated in social service organizations. Respondents from states are more likely to have participated in cultural and sports groups than respondents from regions. Men were more likely to answer that they participated in civic activities in last year.

When PACE asked if respondents were interested to participate in civic activities in the future, 40% indicated that they were interested in participating in social service activities, 20% in cultural groups, 16% in worker associations, and 9% in sports groups.

Participation in political activities

Voting is the primary form of citizen participation in politics. However, to make sure that elected officials are accountable to the people and to prevent misuse of power, citizens also need to participate in other forms of political activities. Especially for a transitional country like Myanmar, it is important to make sure that citizens have sufficient space and opportunities to participate in political activities. In this survey, PACE sought to understand citizens’ level of political participation, and to what extent they are allowed to participate in political activities or are provided enough space. PACE asked respondents if during the past year they participated in political activities, including gatherings to discuss local issues, meetings with government officials or members of parliament, civic education trainings/workshops/meetings, signing petitions or protests/demonstrations. PACE also asked those who did not participate in political activities the reason why they did not. Except from attending gatherings to discuss local issues (29%), only less than one quarter of the respondents (5% to 22%) said that they had participated in specific political activities during that period. When considering gender, women are less likely to have participated in political activities. Respondents from rural areas are more likely to have participated in gatherings to discuss local issues and meetings with government representative/MPS than respondents from urban areas.

Top Reasons for not participating in political activities

When PACE asked the respondents who did not participate in these activities the main reasons for not participating, the main reasons cited were that there were no activities in their areas, or that they were busy or not interested.

Overall, there is a large degree of apathy, based on the proportion of respondents who said that they were either too busy or not interested. On the other hand, it appears that some people did not have the opportunity to participate, either because activities did not happen in their areas (more likely in rural areas), or because they were not invited to participate. Women were more likely to respond that they did not participate because they were not heads of their households, reflecting the effect on women’s political participation of local politics being based on households, not citizens.

As inclusiveness is one of the most important principles for democratic elections, it is important for all electoral stakeholders, including electoral management bodies, political parties and civil society organizations, to make sure that all citizens are able to cast their votes on election day. To understand if there are any institutional or administrative barriers to voting, PACE asked Myanmar citizens who are 18 and above if they would be able to cast their votes if there were general and local-level elections in the weekend following their interview. Most citizens (more than 85%) believe that they would be able to vote in both general and local level elections. There is no difference based on respondents’ gender, or whether they live in states or regions, wards or villages.

The main reasons why some respondents think they would not be able to vote are lack of interest, administrative issues such as lack of proper identification or an incorrect voter list, and institutional issues like being ineligible to vote. Despite the fact that current legislation allows only one representative per household to vote in local elections, citizens in general thought they were as likely to be able to vote in local elections as in general elections.

Priority problems at the national level 

Since participatory policymaking is one of the best practices in good governance, it is important for the elected officials in Myanmar to understand and take citizens’ concerns of local and national level problems seriously into consideration when designing public policy and projects. PACE asked the respondents what kinds of problems Myanmar as a whole is facing now. Issues related to conflict and peace are the most mentioned by the respondents, followed by the economy, government services and infrastructure, and law and order. Issues related to the environment and constitutional reform were the least mentioned.

Respondents from regions and states shared priority issues such as peace and conflict, economic policies, infrastructure, and religious/ethnic tensions. However, respondents from the regions included the cost of living, while those from states mentioned education as part of the priority problems at the national level (Table 1).

 

Top five issues at the national level
RegionsPeace and armed conflict25%StatesPeace and armed conflict27%
Economic policies16%Economic policies16%
Infrastructure / roads12%Education14%
Cost of living / goods11%Infrastructure / roads12%
Religious / ethnic tensions8%Religious / ethnic tensions10%

 

Table 1: Top important issues at the national level (Regions vs States)

 

Top five issues at the national level
Urban Peace and armed conflict28%RuralPeace and armed conflict25%
Economic policies19%Economic policies14%
Cost of living / goods14%Infrastructure / roads14%
Religious / ethnic tensions10%Education9%
Rakhine issue10%Religious / ethnic tensions9%

 

Table 2: Top important issues at the national level (Urban vs Rural)

 

Priority problems at the community level 

When PACE asked about the most important problems at the community level, issues related to government services, infrastructure and the economy were the most mentioned, followed by law and order, and conflict and peace. The environment and constitutional reform were the least mentioned.

When it comes to regions and states, respondents from states were more likely to mention peace and conflict than respondents from the regions. In terms of specific issues, there was not much difference between regions and states. However, urban respondents emphasized crime, security and the cost of living, while rural respondents were more likely to mention electricity, education and healthcare (Table 3).

Top five issues at the community level
UrbanInfrastructure/roads20%RuralRural Infrastructure/roads37%
Economic policies9%Electricity20%
Other government services9%Education13%
Crime and security8%Healthcare11%
Cost of living / goods8%Economic policies9%

Table 3: Top important issues at the community level (Urban vs Rural)

 

Top five issues at the community level
MenInfrastructure/ roads33%WomenInfrastructure/ roads31%
Electricity17%Electricity15%
Education11%Education11%
Economic policies10%Healthcare9%
Healthcare9%Cost of living / goods9%

Top important issues at the community level by gender

Performance of Members of Parliament 

PACE asked the respondents how they would rate on a scale (where 1 is very poor and 5 is very good) the performance of their Pyithu Hluttaw MPs in terms of:

  1. active participation in parliament sessions;
  2. introducing legislation;
  3. cooperating with other MPs;
  4. asking question to ministers and members of the executive branch;
  5. visiting their constituencies; and
  6. development activities.

Less than one fourth of the respondents rated the MPs’ performance as good on specific tasks. However, a similar percentage got a poor performance review. Many of the participants indicated that they did not know how to rate their MPs’ performance. In general, respondents from states are less satisfied with their MPs’ performance than respondents from regions.

PACE asked the respondents if there are areas where their MPs can improve to meet their expectations. Understanding community issues was the most mentioned area, both in states and regions, followed by understanding national issues, communication with citizens, visiting their constituency, and understanding the law-making process. There were no significant differences between respondents from states and regions.

Government performance 

PACE asked respondents if they thought that the Government is addressing the most important national issues that the country is facing now. More than a third (38%) agreed that the government is addressing the most important national issues. When it comes to regions and states, the respondents from states were less likely to agree than the respondents form regions.

When PACE asked the respondents if they thought that the government is addressing the most important local problems, less than one third of the respondents agreed. Respondents from states were less likely to agree that the government is addressing the most important local issues.

PACE also asked the respondents if they thought that the government was transparent in implementing public projects. Less than one-third (29%) agreed that the government was transparent when implementing public projects. Respondents from states (13%) were less likely to agree with the statement.

Awareness of peace process activities 

Since it took office in 2016, the government publicly announced that 2017 would be the year of peace. Accordingly, it has been organizing the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference and related activities. PACE asked the respondents if they were aware of conferences, workshops, meetings and dialogues related to the peace process. More than half (56%) said that they were aware of those activities. Citizens are more likely to be aware of these activities if they are men (62%), or live in regions (60%) or urban areas (71%).

Perception of the process 

When PACE asked the respondents who were aware of the peace process whether they thought it is proceeding on the right direction, more than half (60%) said it was on the right track. When PACE asked whether it is advancing too slowly, too fast or at the right pace, nearly half of the respondents (46%) said that the peace process is progressing at the right pace. Respondents from states were more likely to answer that the current process is too slow.

Representation of people’s interests 

Currently, various stakeholders such as the government, military, ethnic armed groups, parliament, political parties, local civil society organizations (CSOs) and international organizations are involved in the process in some capacity. PACE asked the respondents who were aware of the peace process which of these stakeholders best represent their interests. A plurality (39%) of the respondents said that the government best represents their interests, followed by the Tatmadaw and Parliament. A smaller proportion responded ethnic armed groups (6%) or political parties (4%).

Role of civil society organizations 

In the previous 21st century Peace Conferences, civil society organizations were only allowed to discuss issues related to economic federalism, internally displaced persons’ affairs, and land and natural resources. PACE asked the respondents whether they thought that civil society organizations also should be allowed to discuss the remaining two issues, political federalism and the role of the military. Around two thirds said that civil society organizations should be able to discuss political federalism (64%) and the role of military (60%).

Awareness of civil society organizations’ activities on peace 

Since 2012, CSOs have played an important role to promote public awareness and public participation in the peace process. In order to understand to what extent those activities have reached the public and to be able to plan future activities strategically, PACE asked if respondents were aware of peace-related activities organized by CSOs during the last year within their areas. One third of the respondents (34%) said that they did not hear of any activity being conducted within their areas. Respondents were most aware of conferences (13%), rallies (12%) and educational campaigns (10%). Respondents from the regions were more likely to report that there were no activities in their areas.

Participation in CSOs’ activities 

In this survey, PACE measured not only citizens’ awareness of CSO peace-related activities, but also their actual participation in the process. Very few people (14%) reported that they have participated in peace-related CSO activities, and only less than a quarter indicated that they would like to participate in the future. Respondents were most interested in participating in conferences (18%), educational campaigns (18%) and rallies (15%) followed by cultural events (11%) and surveys (10%). The only significant difference between regions and states is that citizens from states are more likely to participate in conference than those from regions.

PACE asked the respondents if they think that the current political institutions in Myanmar guarantee certain important democratic principles:

One quarter of the respondents (26%) agreed that having three branches of government in Myanmar leads to having checks and balances

  • Almost half (42%) agreed that elections in Myanmar lead to responsive government
  • Less than one third (31%) agreed that the rule of law in Myanmar leads to justice
  • Less than one third (29%) agreed that freedom of the media in Myanmar leads to people having diverse views
  • More than one third (38%) agreed that legal protection in Myanmar leads to freedom of expression
  • 40% agreed that legal protections in Myanmar lead to freedom of association
  • Nearly half (46%) agreed that tolerance of local authorities in Myanmar leads to people being able to come together to discuss local issues in their communities.

Generally, between one quarter to one third of the respondents answered “Don’t know.” Respondents from states were less likely to agree that the current political institutions guarantee certain democratic principles than the respondents from regions do.