General Elections of 2020 are critical for Myanmar for several reasons. Apart from being held in extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19 pandemic and its recovery, these elections are expected to put Myanmar firmly on the global map of successful democratic transition. While the issues and challenges related to the peace, national reconciliation and federalism remain the agenda for political parties and the process of electioneering coming under severe scrutiny, the overall enthusiasm of political parties and citizens reflect an optimistic view that Myanmar’s electoral democracy has taken roots in the society.
It is in this context, capturing the perspective of people on various issues and themes that they confront through public opinion surveys would be of immense value in terms of promoting a healthy debate and discussion among the citizenries.
CDES, a think-tank working on issues of peace and federalism has undertaken an opinion poll among the citizens during the period 11th Aug to 11th Sept 2020. The survey was conducted through CDES Facebook page by using a free online survey form. A total of 15 questions were posed and only Myanmar citizens over the age of 18 years were asked to fill the questionnaire. A total of 1,144 respondents from across the country have provided opinions through the survey.
Broad profile of the respondents reflects that about a quarter are from Yangon city and the rest are spread across the states and regions. The response rates broadly indicate the population as well as the penetration of internet and digital access among the communities. Larger states and regions like Kachin, Shan, Ayerawaddy, Bago, Magwe have response rate of over 6%.
Overwhelming response from females (80%) reflects an interesting dynamic which can be explained through a speculation that there is an overwhelming reliance of women on smart phone and Facebook for seeking information related to contemporary issues. This in fact belies the perception of the digital divide in many developing countries wherein women have less access to internet and smart phone compared to men. The age profile also reflects a standard normal curve with more politically active citizens being of the age group of 30-45. While this opinion survey may not reflect the voting preferences, it reflects the fact that women’s participation in the political arena as voters is to be taken note by the political parties as well as analysts. Future leadership is expected to emerge from women in due course, if this trend of political consciousness continues.
Respondents have provided wide range of opinions on various political issues that are part of the discourse in the current elections.
At the outset, it is to be noted that about 75% of respondents have exercised their voting right in 2015 elections and over 94% have expressed their desire to vote in 2020 elections too. This would mean that the respondents are politically (in terms of voting) active and aware of the procedures of electioneering. Their overwhelming view (75% respondents) is that the forthcoming elections are going to be free and fair.
Factors that determine the voting behavior of the citizens range from qualification of candidates (34%), party policies (30%), leadership (19%) and allegiance to the party (13%). This range reflects the political consciousness of the citizens which is moving towards more qualitative dimensions that would elevate the democratic quality in terms of moving towards more value based politics with clean image of candidates and party policies becoming more determining factors compared to mere affiliation to a political party. This in fact puts pressure on political parties to conduct their affairs in a much more transparent and accountable manner to win the trust of the voters.
Transcending gender norms is also a factor that reflected in the opinion poll. Over 76% respondents do not see gender of the candidate as a determining factor although political leadership in the country is predominantly male dominated (except for the supreme leader of NLD). In fact, the proportion of women as candidates has also not seen appreciable improvement. This opinion could be due to the fact that over 80% of the respondents are women.
While question on the prospects of political parties in terms of leading the next government is a value loaded, about 62% expect the next government would be led by the NLD. Response of about 34% that they are not certain or clear on the contours of future government also reflects the dynamic understanding of the electoral arithmetic by the respondents. The prospects of NLD aligning with ethnic parties in the formation of the next government is a possibility, expressed by about 40% of the respondents.
About 34% respondents were not able to express a clear view on nomination for the next president from either of the parliament houses, though about 49% expected the candidate nominated by the Pyithu Hluttaw would get the chance of becoming president.
In a multiple response scenario, peace (54%), constitutional amendment (50.8%), enforcement of rule of law (36.6%), economic issues (28%), education and health (21%) formed the core of the expected future agenda of the incoming government. An overwhelming majority of respondents have expressed their support to the government (74.6%) and about 47.4% have expressed that elections of 2020 would have effect on the ongoing peace process in the coming years. A more peace focused regime is expected by majority of the respondents (72.6%) and close to 98% have expressed the view that political parties would join the peace process. Views of political parties including ethnic parties are sought to be part of the peace process. Facilitation and development of framework for political dialogue is seen as an important agenda according to many respondents with over 62.8% in the coming years to foster peace. For about 23% the current NCA path is also a workable instrument.
The findings provide a very insightful perspectives of the citizens. It can be surmised that Myanmar citizens are aware and agile in terms of sharing their views and opinions on elections and there is an overwhelming positive environment about various contemporary issues.
While these findings are in no way representative of the views of the citizens as they walk into election booth, they reflect the fact that electoral democratic practice in Myanmar is getting traction with people’s aspirations and expectations and it is contingent upon the political parties to take cues from these and develop their agenda of governance and seek the mandate from the people.
Centre for Development and Ethnic Studies (CDES)