Sharing Democratic Principles and Civic Knowledge with Myanmar’s Citizens
As Myanmar increasingly becomes a more open, inclusive society, citizens have a need and desire to understand how their democracy works, what their rights and responsibilities as citizens are and how they can actively participate in democratic processes. Following the historic 2015 national elections in Myanmar, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted a post-election survey that found that while knowledge of election processes had greatly increased during the 2015 elections, some critical gaps in civic knowledge remained.
Despite widespread voter education efforts leading up to the 2015 elections, many individuals lacked knowledge on vital functions of Myanmar’s democratic and electoral processes. For example, only 26 percent of survey respondents reported they had knowledge of how a candidate is elected. Additionally, gaps existed between men and women’s participation in civic activities, with 44 percent of men reporting they had participated in at least one civic activity compared to 22 percent of women. The survey also found that while 72 percent believed that democracy is the best form of government, 78 percent believed that Myanmar’s democracy is functioning with minor or major problems. These survey findings emphasized the need to engage Myanmar’s citizens in civic education activities to encourage active civil society participation in the country’s evolving democracy and to increase their knowledge about how political processes function.
A participant reads a civic education pamphlet as part of the MYNFREL campaign in Mon State.
IFES partnered with seven civil society organizations (CSOs) in Myanmar – Creative Home, Kadu Youth Development Organization, Hornbill Organization, Magway Regional Youth Network, Myanmar Network for Free and Fair Elections (MYNFREL), the Myanmar Youth Capacity Building Network (MYCBN) and Scholar Institute – to conduct a widespread civic education program entitled Naing Ngan Thar Kaung, or Model Citizen. To ensure the program was locally-designed and owned, IFES held a one-week curriculum design workshop with CSO representatives and Union Election Commission (UEC) officials in July 2016 to develop an interactive civic education training curriculum for the program.
The Naing Ngan Thar Kaung curriculum was presented through a wide-variety of creative strategies designed by IFES’ CSO partners. These included cascade training programs, advocacy campaigns, plays, debates and documentary viewings. The curriculum provided information on democracy, qualities of good representatives and how to be an active citizen. Targeted populations for this project were areas with low voter turnout and high invalid ballot numbers from the 2015 elections, with a specific emphasis on traditionally marginalized groups such as women, youth, ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The program was well-received, resulting in 13,745 trained individuals who spread the information to an additional 55,000 people in their communities. A total of 45 different ethnic minorities were included and 80 percent of the program participants were youth between the ages of 18-35. The program was also piloted in six IDP camps.
A “Community for Peace" activity was conducted at a Creative Home training in the Myitkyina IDP camp in Kachin State.
In interviews following the trainings, many noted the importance of raising civic awareness in areas with ongoing or recent conflict. As a young female participant from a Creative Home training in Karen State noted, “Civic education is very important for our country’s current peace process and national reconciliation project. From this training, I am going to conduct additional trainings in my home town.”
Trainers noted that the “Active Citizen” module helped reinforce the notion that every citizen has an important role to play in the success or failure of Myanmar’s democracy – a concept most participants were not previously aware of. As one participant noted, “I am interested in this civic education training because a country’s peace, development, and so on depends a lot on individual citizens. If the citizens have better knowledge about civic education, this will eventually lead to development of other sectors.”
Working on "Community for Peace" at a Creative Home training in the Myitkyina IDP camp in Kachin State.
Naing Ngan Thar Kaung participants and CSO partners emphasized that Myanmar’s citizens need further civic education programming throughout the 2020 electoral cycle. Citizens are eager to participate in the democratic process and want to work together to create an inclusive democratic transition. IFES remains committed to engaging traditionally marginalized people in civic education activities so that all people feel empowered and are informed about how to be active participants in democratic processes. Emphasizing this goal, one youth participant said after a training in Kayah State, “I now understand that democracy is an all-inclusive society.”
IFES supported the Naing Ngan Thar Kaung civic education program under the “Support to the Electoral Process in Myanmar” program funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the UK Department for International Development and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.