Myanmar: Promoting diverse and inclusive political participation

Given the current circumstances, we have removed the names of individuals and local organisations from this article for their own protection.

The people of Myanmar voted on 8 November 2020 for the second time since the military relaxed its grip over the country in 2011. DRI Myanmar has actively worked to promote greater political participation in the lead-up to the election, through the Myanmar Democracy Fellowship and a series of virtual talk shows.

These talk shows brought together candidates and Fellows to promote greater inclusion of youth, women, and minorities in the country’s political debates. The resulting talk shows were then edited and broadcasted on television across the country. This helped bring this topic to people that would not normally have seen this type of content online, facilitating a broader conversation on pluralism and diversity.

The topics addressed included the importance of young people voting, promoting participation from ethnic minorities and how to improve the participation and representation of women in politics.

”Women must be involved in the political process. To build a nation, an equal proportion of women and men needs to work together in a balanced way,” said one of the candidates to Myanmar’s House of Representatives from Kayah state.

This activity is part of the EU-funded STEP Democracy Programme, in which DRI supports credible elections and enhances the capacity of stakeholders involved in electoral advocacy. DRI will continue to support the activities of local civil society groups involved in election observation.

Photo credit: youngrobv / CC-BY-NC 2.0

We answer your questions ahead of Myanmar’s elections

We talk with DRI’s Country Representative in Myanmar, Eva Gil, ahead of this weekend’s elections in the country.

What is DRI Myanmar working on for the election?

DRI supports non-partisan domestic election observers, a specialised type of civil society organisation that monitors the election process to increase voters’ trust and issues reports with recommendations for improvements.

Here in Myanmar, we work with the support of the European Union and also to follow-up on the EU’s Election Observation Mission recommendations, promoting broad-based dialogue and awareness to improve Myanmar’s electoral framework. 

We are also keeping a closer eye on the situation in Yangon. We have prepared an overview of the top 15 townships to watch ahead of the vote during the election.

What are the greatest challenges during these elections?

Myanmar’s 2015 elections were held in a positive spirit and were seen as a chance for a fresh start that would remove stalwarts of the old regime from the government. The voter turnout was high, as were the expectations for a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Now there is increasing disappointment with the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) leadership and the 2020 elections are held in a climate of discontent. 

The political landscape has changed since 2015, with new national parties emerging – often these are spin-offs from the major government and opposition parties. New ethnicity-based political parties were founded, as the multiple small parties in Myanmar’s ethnic states merged to form a united front against the ruling party. There is a climate of antagonism particularly between supporters of the USDP, the successor party of the military regime, and the NLD. In some areas, unfortunately, we have seen more violent clashes between supporters of the two parties during this election campaign than during previous elections.

A big risk for the democratisation process is voter disenfranchisement, which particularly affects candidates and voters in areas with large ethnic minorities. Myanmar has highly restrictive citizenship criteria and many local and international actors, including the UNHRC Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, have recommended that the 1982 Citizenship Law should be reviewed. In addition, not only must candidates be citizens, but their parents must both be citizens (at the time of the candidate’s birth) to stand for election. The authorities have put more emphasis on the scrutiny of particular groups of candidates – resulting not only in Rohingyas but also other Muslim candidates being disqualified for this election.

These problems already existed in 2015 and a lot of work was done by domestic election observers and human rights defenders to raise this issue and put electoral reforms on the agenda. However, the government appears to have lacked the political will to strengthen civil and political rights while prioritising foreign investment or “economic development” and, to some extent, peace negotiations. It is important to continue supporting and pushing democratic and human rights reforms, as issues such as citizenship law or electoral laws are make-or-break matters that compromise the legitimacy of the political system as a whole.

If these issues were not enough, the covid-19 pandemic also represents an enormous challenge to the electoral process. Many parts of the country are under lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, which considerably limits voters’ and candidates’ freedom of movement. Unfortunately, the authorities did not consult the Union Election Commission (UEC), Myanmar’s election commission, and many precautionary health provisions came at very short notice. For example, the regulations on how to hold campaigns while respecting public health guidelines and “social distancing” came only one day before the start of the official campaign period. This caused a lot of challenges to parties and candidates who had to be creative and adapt to those restrictions at the last minute. 

Some of our partners and the media also report that the major parties, both the USDP and the NLD, have held mass rallies throughout the country despite UEC and public health requirements. This, again, can result in smaller, ethnicity-based political parties feeling alienated and unfairly treated in the electoral process. 

Was there increased online campaigning on Facebook due to covid-19? 

Of course, compared to previous elections, there was increased online campaign activity, which added to the challenges faced by candidates and parties. Facebook has made important efforts to improve its services in Myanmar, holding regular meetings with civil society and election stakeholders (the UEC, political parties, and the media) to better understand the country and more effectively moderate content. 

The specific problem in Myanmar is that candidates are using their personal Facebook accounts to campaign, rather than Facebook pages, which makes monitoring more difficult. Based on our research and that of our partners, we saw that nationalism was a dominant topic during the campaign along with the discrimination of ethnic or religious groups. 

At the same time, Facebook was used as a platform by many of those political parties that did not agree to air an abridged version of their campaign speeches on public broadcasters. All registered parties obtain free space to broadcast their manifestoes through public television, subject to prior review by the UEC. Unfortunately, the UEC applied a very wide interpretation of their powers to review the campaign speeches and many, mostly smaller or ethnicity-based political parties, disagreed to what they considered censorship and decided to stream their speeches on Facebook instead.

Interestingly, Tik Tok played an important role for youth: in particular followers of both the NLD and USDP uploaded thousands of videos to campaign for their party, achieving over 3 million views. If you consider that in Myanmar there are 4 million first time-voters, this is a high figure! Unfortunately, we also found some videos portraying clashes and violence among opposing party followers, as well as disinformation and content discriminating minorities. 

How about women’s participation?

Women’s participation in politics is very low in Myanmar – in 2015, 13% of candidates were women and, while better, this time the increase was only to 16%. On a positive note, while in 2015 the NLD fielded almost all the female candidates, many more parties are putting forward women candidates this time around and a few parties – particularly ethnicity-based parties – fielded about 30% women, a move that civil society was advocating for. 

Several constituencies will not be able to vote this weekend. What does this mean for the overall process?

I already pointed to disenfranchisement as one of the biggest challenges in general. In late October, the UEC announced that the elections would not take place in some areas, in many cases to the dissatisfaction of political parties and voters who felt that the decision was taken in an opaque and unfair manner. 

Of course, as a general rule cancelling a vote is an extreme measure that should only be implemented under very specific circumstances and, in that case, votes should rather be postponed than cancelled. The problem in Myanmar is that there are no clear criteria to determine where the vote would be cancelled or postponed, as the laws give the UEC very broad powers to cancel elections “where the situation does not permit”. There appears to be a lot of back and forth lately between the UEC, the government and the military about the number of constituencies where voting was cancelled and who is to blame. This could all have been avoided if there had been clear and objective criteria in the law that guide the UEC, along with written and public documentation of its decisions. 

When it comes to the right to participate in elections, the partial cancellations are a total restriction of voter rights: the election goes ahead and voters in some wards and villages are excluded, although the winning candidate for that area will still represent all voters in that constituency.

If the whole election in a constituency is cancelled, it actually means that it is postponed as voters might at least have the chance to vote at a later stage (probably within a year, through by-elections). The postponements might still have political implications, though, in particular at the state and regional level where the margins are smaller. 

Again, disenfranchisement is a huge problem in Myanmar and it has many dimensions. But when it comes to cancellations, for example, a solution such as agreeing on clear legal criteria in a broad consensus would avoid political problems and allegations of bias in the future. In other words, by failing to reform problems within the election framework, the credibility of the process is weakened. This is not only contributing to disenfranchisement but also affecting the credibility of the democratic institutions as such. We hope that the next government will take these up and involve all stakeholders in making the laws clearer and more specific so that election processes in future will be more inclusive, transparent and credible. 

What role are domestic election observers playing in the process? Will they be able to provide a truthful picture of the reality on the ground, given the covid-19 restrictions?

As Myanmar’s airports are still closed to all commercial air traffic, foreign journalists will not be able to enter the country and the international press will hardly cover these elections. The same applies to international observation missions: the EU has decided to send an Election Expert Mission, which does not include a big number of observers. Both the Carter Center and ANFREL were only able to deploy a limited number of locally established international observers. 

In this context, the pressure on domestic observers is huge and they suffered a lot of challenges as a consequence of the covid-19 restrictions. For example, observer organisations had trouble recruiting volunteers because potential candidates were afraid of coming into contact with the virus in overcrowded polling stations and travel between townships is restricted. 

We supported CSOs in adapting their methodology to these challenges and they will still have evidence and data to prepare their analysis and recommendations. Of course, we must manage expectations of what can be done under these special circumstances.

What is next for DRI Myanmar?

We hope that the discontent with this election, in particular with the election management body, will help us raise electoral reforms on the political agenda. Of course, the winners of any election will have little incentive to change a system that benefits them, but electoral reforms mean much more than electoral system change! 

I want to highlight that the grey areas and inconsistencies that we had already pointed out in 2015 have created big political problems in 2020. The next government and legislature should prioritise electoral reform and generate a broad debate – including with minority and ethnicity-based parties – to reform the democratic “rules of the game” so that everyone feels treated fairly. 

We also see this as an essential part of the peacebuilding process. You cannot build a new union if conflict actors, armed ethnic groups and ethnicity-based political parties do not agree to how elections, the very essence of democratic practice, are carried out.

Find out more about DRI Myanmar’s work here, or reach out to us at [email protected] with your questions.

This was prepared under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.  

Photo credit: United Nations Photo / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Myanmar: Civil society observers get ready for election

Given the current circumstances, we have removed the names of individuals and local organisations from this article for their own protection.

With  Myanmar’s 8 November elections approaching fast, DRI partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US-based non-profit organisation FHI 360 to hold a second Election Academy from 21 to 25 September, put together under the EU-funded STEP Democracy Programme. Participants from domestic election observation groups, political parties and media discussed electoral issues such as the mandate of the Union Election Commission (UEC), campaign rules, polling, counting and announcing results.

The training combined lectures on international standards for elections and the legal framework in Myanmar with interactive breakout discussions, in which participants could share their experiences. They also had the chance to evaluate the current election laws and determine which amendments would be necessary to meet international standards.

One participant shared her perspective on the academy:

“We all need to know the election laws and international electoral standards to make sure we have genuine elections. At this training, I learned new facts about election offences and malpractices, as well as dispute resolution procedures. As I am now working on communications in my organisation, I feel more confident to share news and information about the electoral process. In addition, I now have a clearer knowledge of the facts around elections and will highlight it in my communications community if they share wrong facts or disseminate misinformation.”

“I discovered details about each of the stages of the election cycle. As participants were from different states and regions, I could hear and exchange about the specific challenges across the country. I also found the case studies we discussed very useful: I learned about other countries which held and postponed elections due to covid-19, a very timely discussion for us in Myanmar. As I am now working on voter education, I will add these lessons to my training module and will share the knowledge in my community,” said another participant.

This activity is part of our work to support credible elections and enhance the capacity of stakeholders involved in electoral advocacy. In addition, DRI will work with participants to form an alumni network, which then can contribute to a debate on broad-based election reform.

This was prepared under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.  

Photo credit: soelin / CC BY 2.0

Meet the Country Representative – Eva Gil

The INGO Forum Myanmar sat down to interview our DRI Myanmar Country Representative Eva Gil. This interview was originally published in the INGO Forum’s September newsletter and is shared again here.

Eva has been with Democracy Reporting International (DRI) for 10 years already. She started back in June 2011 with DRI as Programme Officer in the organisation’s headquarters in Berlin, Germany. From July 2014 to July 2015 she was DRI’s Regional Manager for Asia and then moved to Yangon to take over her current role as Country Representative for DRI in Myanmar. Eva is an elections and governance expert and studied International Business at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, and Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. She also observed elections around the world including Egypt and Mongolia with international organisations.

Eva, please tell us a few things about yourself: How did you make it to Myanmar with Democracy Reporting International (DRI)?

I was working for DRI in its headquarters in Berlin where I was the manager for the Asia region. In 2013, when a parliamentary committee was formed in Myanmar to look into a possible review of the Constitution, I flagged this development to my managers and said that it would be interesting to travel to the country to understand the situation on the ground and to explore if DRI could do something useful over there. So that was the first time we went to Myanmar. We met with members of parliament and discussed possible advice on comparative constitutional processes, but we also met civil society organizations that were looking into democratic reforms, advocacy, and who were interested in the comparative experiences and the expertise that DRI had to offer. So that is how we started designing a program and started to explore possibilities to implement some activities in the country. We have about ten staff in Myanmar now, mostly local staff and right now we have three internationals here.

Please tell us also a bit more about DRI globally. You are the most recent member organisation of the INGO Forum, so some of the other members might not know you yet.

The DRI headquarters are in Berlin, Germany. We are quite strong in the MENA region, the Middle East and Northern Africa region. But we are also present in other countries in Asia, most notably Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Our work promotes civil and political rights and inclusive democratic institutions, although we might not be as well-known as some other organizations working on human rights, as we focus more on technical assistance to stakeholders rather than public advocacy. In other words, we provide technical expertise and hold dialogue events, but we are not speaking out in campaigning sort of way, like, for example, Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.

We do however publish all recommendations we provide and use our own research and publications in our work. In Myanmar we are focusing on elections and constitutional reforms, the  normative framework and the expertise we provide consists mostly of options and suggestions to implement the provisions of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the ICCPR. All of this follows a non-prescriptive approach, meaning that we provide suggestions, but we don’t say that a country should follow a certain election system or should amend the Constitution in a certain way. We simply illustrate, for example, what the right to participate in political affairs means and which would be the available options to protect this right through amendments in the constitution or election laws.

Who are the main stakeholders you work with on these issues in Myanmar?

In Myanmar, the primary stakeholders are civil society organizations that engage in democratic reforms, advocacy and election observation. What we want to do – or what’s our mandate as per our biggest program, which is EU-funded – is to strengthen CSO voices in democratic reforms debate. We want to do this by strengthening civil society organisations to be an authoritative resource on institutional reforms, being able to suggest concrete, legal or constitutional amendments and to justify these proposals with international standards and comparative expertise. For all the topics we discuss with civil society, we also work with elected representatives. We do that as a way of strengthening our convening power so that we can hold dialogue activities where we invite our civil society partners as well. That would translate more simply into bringing in international expertise, for example, an academic on a particular issue, working separately with elected representatives and civil society to have a common understanding of the issues that are being debated and then bringing them together into a dialogue session, ideally, leading into a consensus on things that should be changed or that should be improved. We tailor the advice to the situation in the country and bring experts that have been here many times so that the discussion is about pragmatic and realistic steps. Frankly, however, I have to admit that we have seen little appetite for improving the protection of civil and political rights within the current framework in these dialogues.

Why do you think there is little appetite for change? Is that due to the political history of Myanmar? And did this come as a surprise to you or was it expected?

Of course, the ambitions and the expectations are always high. In Myanmar as well as in other countries that are building their democracy after military or autocratic rule, nothing can change overnight. Our main challenge here is the institutional framework, as for instance the thresholds for amendments of a very important piece of the democratic system, which is the constitution, are high and the approval of a huge number of stakeholders is required to implement even small changes. That is to say: Yes, the expectations are high, but the challenges are high as well.

I know there are many competing priorities and Myanmar is facing a lot of challenges at the same time, so it’s not only building a democracy, but also dealing with economic or social development issues at the same time. The government is always drawn into many different things and trying to juggle many different priorities. Still, in our view, there are ways to strengthen democratic participation, accountability and representation that do not require drastic changes. One area that we have been working on are election laws, a key pillar of any democratic system. But there was no interest – not even from the opposition or extra-parliamentary parties – to fix the problems with the framework, as the focus of the agenda was more on major questions, such as federalism or the peace process.

Is the reason for this a lack of understanding of the processes?

To be honest, I actually don’t like saying that there is a lack of understanding, because that appears to me to be a little bit condescending. I think there is no lack of understanding as such. People have a vision and know what they want to achieve, including a clear image in mind of the Myanmar they want to see in the future. However, when it comes to institutional design, the details and nuances matter, so I think the main challenge is to develop a concrete description of Myanmar’s future political system as well as a step-by-step approach to build it. As this is not there, all dialogue and negotiation become a little bit of a zero-sum game.

And this not only affects decision-makers, you see that also on the civil society side: It’s very difficult for some activists to accept meeting half-way or to accept a small step and to then continue working on that small step to further improvements in the future, because they have so many demands, and so many grievances, in particular, when are you coming from the human rights based advocacy scene (“too little, too late” is often quoted as a motto here). I think that in fact more patience or a gradual approach would be more successful and would also help facilitate a more constructive discussion between different stakeholders. To come back to your question: I wouldn’t say it’s a lack of understanding, but the lack of nuances also means there is a different interpretation of terminology. For example, there appears to be a lot of discussion around constitutional reform and federalism being a way to proceed for Myanmar, but then what exactly those constitutional reforms would entail or what exactly a federal system would look like is not being discussed in detail. So it all becomes an “I’m in favour vs. I’m against” discussion and the nuances are totally lost.

Let’s stay with civil society for a moment: In your field of work, in the field of democracy, how would you rate the capacities of the local CSOs in Myanmar?

The work of capacity building for CSOs is a multi-dimensional issue. We have on the one hand the technical capacity and the CSOs that we work with are mostly working on research, democratic reforms and advocacy. That is one element. On the other hand, we have the organisational capacity, meaning the capacity of establishing a team, establishing internal procedures, financial management and all of this. Of course, our primary aim is to strengthen their advocacy capacity. But to do that, we also have supplementary programs to support the CSOs in terms of fundraising, donor and budget management and all these other things, because that will ultimately sustain the advocacy capacity building that we want to provide.

One thing that I see is maybe not so much related to capacity, but rather to the understanding of what it means to be a civil society organization advocating for change. One big issue is trust building and relationship building with decision makers. As they come from a history of resistance, opposition and confrontation to an authoritarian regime, although many are trying, I think it’s difficult for many CSOs to switch from being a “revolutionary” force to become a constructive player and establish themselves as reputable source of knowledge and expertise on reform options or as watchdogs that collect data and evidence on the government institutions’ performance as a basis for recommendations for improvement.

Of course, institutional stakeholders, such as Government or Members of Parliament also need to change their attitude towards consultations and inclusive policy-making. There is this very important element of relationship building and trust building, so that civil society will become a resource for government or institutional actors. Many CSO leaders are extremely knowledgeable and have developed great analytical skills. Actually I am amazed at how in particular the younger generation has absorbed a lot of knowledge in a relatively short period of time. But I think more needs to happen – on both supply and demand side – for them to establish themselves as an authoritative and non-partisan voice on democratic institutional reforms.

Sounds like you have a lot of work to do in terms of, let’s say, “diplomacy”.

Yes, there is a lot of mediation involved in the work that we do. We try to encourage coalition building, meaning uniting CSO voices behind reform messages, in particular around electoral reforms, which are normally a rather technical issue that does not capture decision-makers’ attention until it’s too late and elections are too close to fix the flaws in the system. There is a lot of politics involved in this, not only the politics between civil society organizations and decision makers, but also between civil society organizations themselves. That is not a criticism as such. I’m just saying that a lot of “shuttle diplomacy” between our partners is part of our work to strengthen CSO voices in this advocacy process, talking to each organisation individually and helping to identify common grounds before facilitating dialogues on joint advocacy points.

DRI publishes quite a number of reports and one of the recent reports was on social media. What can DRI do in this field in terms of suggestions for social media users in times of elections in Myanmar?

DRI is working on social media as a topic, because it’s part of our election work as social media are playing an increasing role in elections all over the world. We started to explore this phenomenon and developed a standard methodology to monitor online election campaigning in social media in order to understand what is the political discourse online and how that plays a role in elections. We support election observation in the classic sense as well, where we train domestic observer organizations to follow a standard and solid observation methodology so that their findings about the election process are reliable and based on the ICCPR. We have a similar methodology for social media monitoring and we’re implementing that in Myanmar at the moment with partner organizations and hope to issue a series of reports on the campaign and later on also issue a series of recommendations on the online campaign in Myanmar.

What we can expect for the current elections, of course, is a steep rise in using Facebook for campaigning as opposed to previous elections. And this is not only because the candidates and parties have become more aware of the tools they have available in Facebook to reach their audience, but also because we have a pandemic. In fact, online campaigning appears to be the only form of campaigning possible in many areas at the moment.

Do you think the elections go ahead as planned on 8 November? There have been some reports recently in the media saying that elections might not be possible with the COVID-19 numbers skyrocketing in many places in Myanmar now.

We know that elections are very sensitive political moments. It is very important that all concerned stakeholders view the framework for the elections as legitimate. Any discussion around postponement of elections should thus be held in an inclusive manner involving all political parties and a wide group of stakeholders, so that everyone together would agree on the best way ahead. You need the buy-in of everyone if you want to preserve stability and the legitimacy of the process to prepare yourself against accusations of biased decisions around election date.

What I can say is that not only parties and candidates are facing challenges, but also domestic election observers. The campaign has already started and such domestic observers have also started their work. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re suffering additional challenges, for instance, internal travel restrictions and the need to obtain permissions for the travel, not being able to hold physical meetings and having to (re)design the trainings for their volunteers online, where in rural areas, some of the volunteers perhaps do not have the means to participate in online training.

Another point is that there is an increasing fear among the volunteer community that by participating in domestic election observer efforts, they would expose themselves to contagion. With all these challenges, we really hope that there would be an inclusive discussion of concerned actors, meaning candidates, political parties, the Union Election Commission (UEC) and civil society to discuss these challenges and to agree on the best way ahead. No one is an expert in holding elections in times of pandemic, so the more people are discussed in the discussion, the more creative solutions can be found.

But looking at the situation right now, don’t you think that it will be extremely difficult to run the elections with the current restrictions around COVID-19 and also the conflict in some areas of the country and still have the election results internationally recognised?

For me, the most important part is that the elections are domestically recognised. This concerns Myanmar and Myanmar’s candidates and Myanmar’s voters. The international recognition is perhaps secondary if the process is accepted by all national stakeholders, as after all, it’s their process.

That is why I was highlighting earlier that it is important to have a dialogue with all stakeholders on the election process on whether to go ahead or not. It’s not impossible to hold elections during a pandemic and they have been taking place in other countries over the past months. But what is important is that all stakeholders consider the process legitimate and a way to achieve this is to allow them to raise all their challenges and to hold an inclusive discussion of ways to mitigate those.

Possible ways to hold elections during the pandemic are: informing the voters, candidates and media about health and sanitary standards, extending some of the time lines to avoid queues, allowing for more campaigning in public media campaigning and expanding free for candidates, being transparent about criteria for holding or delaying elections, extending advance voting possibilities. Unfortunately, at the moment, we haven’t seen a lot of discussion and a lot of extra provisions for the elections during the pandemic in Myanmar.

The UEC issued a campaigning directive, instructing candidates to respect the Ministry of Health and Sports’ provisions, but there was little open discussion with parties and candidates about it before it was announced, and this happened only two days before the official campaign period started. Communicating some of the extra measures well ahead of time and also getting feedback from stakeholders on the extra actions that are being taken to facilitate the election process during the pandemic would also increase stakeholder buy-in. It would probably also improve the measures, because the more voices are present in a dialogue, the more ideas we can have about possible challenges that we anticipate and possible ways to overcome them.

With regards to international election observation, there have also been some creative ways to go ahead with such an observation at least from the Carter Center, which will still deploy an observation mission despite the restrictions for entry of big groups of international observers.

DRI just joined the INGO Forum in Myanmar this September. Why did you decide to sign up for it, what do you expect from it and what do you plan to contribute to it?

I think it’s a very useful forum to exchange information about operational questions of our work in Myanmar and the framework for INGO work in the country. I also think that it’s really interesting that there are thematic discussions which I would hope will also lead to synergies and cooperation. Before joining as a member, I was forwarded a discussion on social media and elections, the ICJ presentation on Facebook and the Gambia vs. Myanmar case and the archiving of information that was taken down on Facebook but that is being used as evidence now. Really interesting and really helpful online discussions and presentations that are being organised by the Forum.

What we would like to contribute, hopefully, would be information about our work and insight into our work and any kind of report that we issue, we’ll be happy to share. If we can be a resource on questions relating to democracy or elections including social media, we’ll be happy to share that with all other members and increase their knowledge and insight this way.

Thank you very much, Eva, and looking forward to more insights from DRI coming soon!

Myanmar: Getting ready for the 2020 elections

Ahead of Myanmar’s general elections scheduled for 8 November 2020, DRI partnered with the Danish Institute of Political Parties (DIPD) and the Myanmar Network Organization for Free and Fair Elections (Mynfrel) to deliver comprehensive training for domestic election observers, political parties and journalists.

This Election Academy, held virtually from 20 to 26 July 2020, included seven modules that provided participants with a solid knowledge of the different elements of the election cycle under Myanmar legislation, ranging from the voter registration process to election dispute resolution.

Thirty political party representatives, domestic election observers as well as media representatives discussed issues such as the Union Election Commission’s (UEC) mandate, voter and candidate eligibility and registration, campaign and campaign finance regulations, polling, vote-counting procedures and election dispute resolution. One module held in cooperation with the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) focused on the Myanmar Code of Conduct for media reporting on elections.

With participants from so many different backgrounds, they were able to share their very different experiences throughout the Academy, including through applied group work. Beyond the 2020 elections, participants will be able to use their new knowledge and networks to advocate for improvements and electoral reforms.

“Elections are the essence of democracy. Elections should be transparent, free and fair. Through them, citizens have the right to choose the leader or government that represents them. Having learned about Myanmar’s electoral legal framework, I will share and reapply this knowledge in my academic work,” said participant U Thwin Ko Ko Latt.

As part of our work under the EU-funded STEP Democracy Programme, we are currently updating our manual on Myanmar’s electoral framework that was first published in 2015. In addition, we are working with participants to form an alumni network to help contribute to a broad election reform debate.

This was prepared under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.  

Myanmar: Helping build accountable local governments

Given the current circumstances, we have removed the names of individuals and local organisations from this article for their own protection.

DRI Myanmar looks at how local governance helps strengthen Myanmar’s developing democratic institutions.  

Democratically elected local government are the first interface with the community, responding to people’s most immediate needs and priorities. Myanmar has been building local governance since the creation of township administration committees in 2013 

Myanmar’s local governments have been experiencing operational and structural challenges as well as they grew to answer the needs for social service delivery, public engagement, tax collection, and enforcement by municipal committee members and staff. Township administrators are front-line responders to communities and are responsible for implementing national policies 

In order to gather experiences and discuss the challenges to municipal government in Myanmar, Democracy Reporting International (DRI), in collaboration with the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD), organised the Forum on accountable and participative local governance in Myanmar held as a series of webinars from 15 to 17 July.  

Participants from political parties, civil societyand municipal committee members from all of Myanmar’s states and regions discussed the challenges and opportunities for more democratic and efficient local government in Myanmar, including ways to coordinate the implementation of national policies. Local government officials and political party leaders from Sri Lanka and Nepal shared their experiences in reforming their countries, which have recently democratised local bodies.  

Elected township officials from the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) shared their experience from the first-ever municipal election held under universal suffrage and participants discussed possible ways to establish democratically elected local government bodies in all of Myanmar’s states and regions. A consensus emerged among all participants that both local authorities and the electorate should constructively engage in a discussion on stronger local bodies from the bottom-up towards more responsive and accountable governance in Myanmar.  

I am very pleased that I could work at the grassroots in terms of community welfare, as well as economic and health security matters during this unpredictable pandemic. I am sure that the community may realize the importance of accountable, participative local, government and I also hope for more decentralization and cooperation from the central government. Through this series of webinar dialogues, I could learn the other countries’ federal reforms and local government management experiences,” said the chairwoman of a Township Municipal Committee. 

As a part of DRI’s work supporting credible electoral processes and enhancing the capacity of stakeholders in Myanmar, we will continue to support local government and ensure widespread dialogue on local governance as the country moves towards federal democracy. These activities took place as part of the STEP Democracy Programme funded by the European Union.

Myanmar 2020: How to balance democracy and public health?

When it comes to democracy, countries across the world are faced with a dilemma during the covid-19 pandemic: should they hold elections at the cost of public health or postpone them at the cost of people’s right to vote?

Before Myanmar’s general elections set for November 2020, the Union Election Commission and election stakeholders must discuss and decide on how to adapt the electoral process to mitigate public health risks. Civil society groups have a key role to play, presenting their concerns as well as proposing potential solutions.

To help overcome this challenge, DRI Myanmar has been holding a series of webinars with civil society and international experts to share experiences from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, as well as some European and African countries. This shared knowledge forms the basis for constructive discussion on how to tackle risks during Myanmar’s election.

One civil society participant noted: “Through the webinar series, I was able to learn about other countries and felt that we are not alone in overcoming this situation. I could share my perspective and insights on the possible approaches to mitigate the public health risks during elections and I believe that with my knowledge from the webinar series, I can effectively present advocacy points to political parties and the government. I also plan to share these on social media for public awareness on elections.”

DRI supports national election observers in Myanmar as part of the STEP Democracy Programme funded by the European Union. We will continue to organise webinars on elections and covid-19 to strengthen local civil society groups involved in election observation and advocacy.

STEP2 Democracy: Sub-Grant Controller (Myanmar)

STEP2 Democracy – Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy in Myanmar Phase II Sub-Grant Controller

Form of Employment:  Medium-Term consultancy

Position Location: Online or Yangon-based (depending on Covid 19 restrictions impacting DRI activities)

Reporting lines:  Head of Grants and Programme Management

Contract Period: July 2020-January 2021



Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation registered in Berlin. Democracy Reporting International promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide.

As part of the EU funded programme “STEP Democracy Phase II”, DRI will provide technical, operational, and capacity building assistance to approximately 4 CSOs to work on domestic election observation, women political participation and social media monitoring.

DRI is looking for the services of a Sub-Grant  Controller who will oversee compliance with all aspects of the sub-delegation agreements, including compliance with DRI and donor rules and regulations as well as DRI’s accounting requirements.

Objective and Role

The consultant will be responsible for the administration of the Sub-Delegation Agreement DRI will enter into with local partners and monitor compliance in terms of operational plan and financial accounting. The Sub-Grant Controller will be tracking project progress to ensure timelines as agreed in the workplans and review the financial reporting. A substantial amount of the consultant’s work will be dedicated to coordinating accounting and financial reporting and controlling financial reports for accuracy and meeting of donor and DRI policies.


  • Provide capacity building and training to DRI sub-delegates on administration and finance as per agreed training plans and in cooperation with DRI team and technical-electoral consultants;
  • Ensure financial reports and MEL reports are received on time;
  • Review financial reports to ensure compliance with donor rules and regulations, and DRI policies and procedures;
  • Participate in the recruitment process of Partner financial and administrative staff as needed;
  • Track project progress, incl. highlight delays to DRI Management
  • Propose additional training requirements, as identified through financial report process


Yangon, with possible travel to project locations within Myanmar as required (e.g. to review regular financial reports, payment request, audits).


  • Minimum BSc degree in relevant field;
  • Experience in project finance management, familiarity with EU grant contract regulations;
  • Experience/interest in programme management and project lifecycle management will be an asset
  • Interest in politics, elections, human rights;
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills;

Detail oriented, willingness to work on manual/excel-based accounting systems;

  • Excellent organisational, planning, and analytical skills, adaptable and flexible;
  • Strong training/mentoring skills, motivated to work with local CSO;
  • Excellent communication, interpersonal and influencing skills with an ability to work in a multi-cultural environment;
  • Experience working with local partners and/or INGOs will be an asset;
  • Fluent in English required, Burmese an asset

DRI values diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. Women are encouraged to apply.

Deadline for applications is 23rd June.


Candidates should submit a Cover Letter and CV to [email protected] with ‘Subgrant Controller (Myanmar)’ in the subject line.


Organisation responsible for this vacancy:

Democracy Reporting International gGmbH
Prinzessinnenstraße 30
10969 Berlin, Germany
Tel +49 30 27877300
Fax +49 30 27877300-10

Data processing of personal data in third countries will not take place. We process your data in accordance with the provisions of § 26 German Federal Data Protection Act. More information about processing your personal data: privacy policy.

Senior Election Advisors (2) – Myanmar

STEP2 Democracy – Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy in Myanmar Phase II

 Form of Employment:  Short-Term consultancy

Position Location: Online

Reporting lines: Country Representative Myanmar

Contract Period: June-November initial contract for maximum of 25 fee-days each consultant, with the possibility of extension



 Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation registered in Berlin. Democracy Reporting International promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide.

As part of the EU funded programme “STEP Democracy Phase II”, DRI will design and implement a series of trainings on the legal framework for elections in Myanmar, mostly targeting civil society organisations working on election reforms, inclusiveness and election observation as well as members of political parties. DRI is also discussing technical and financial assistance to a coalition of Myanmar CSO to implement a domestic election observation mission for the upcoming general elections.


Objective and Role

The two election advisors will work with DRI team and a team of Myanmar experts to deliver project activities in support of domestic election observers.


Expected outputs 

  • Coordinate a team two Myanmar election experts and work with these experts and DRI team to develop a curriculum of 7 online modules on the framework for Myanmar elections, adapting DRIs internal resources on international standards for elections and supporting local experts in the development of Myanmar-specific training materials
  • Work with one civil society partner in developing and implementing their own election observation mission, including:
    • Provide advice on project strategy and description
    • Support the development of election observation methodology
    • Design LTO and STO trainings
    • Support in the development of LTO and STO Manual
    • Support the development of observation mission report, including data and legal analysis



 Home-based, online work


  • 10 years of experience in electoral assistance or election observation;
  • Professional experience in work with civil society organisations, ideally domestic election observer support;
  • Demonstrated knowledge of international standards for elections;
  • Experience in designing and implementing trainings, in particular interactive adult training facilitation;
  • experience in online trainings will be considered an asset;
  • Expertise with Myanmar elections and election laws, including constitutional law and administrative regulation will be considered an asset;


The two Senior Advisors will be contracted for June-December 2020, for an initial duration of 25 days each, with the possibility of extension at project partner request. Specific task order will be developed for each assignment, with timelines to be agreed with each consultant, in line with project needs and consultant availability.

DRI values diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. Women are encouraged to apply.

Deadline for applications is 17th June.

Candidates should submit a CV to [email protected] with ‘Senior Election Advisors (Myanmar)’ in the subject line.


Organisation responsible for this vacancy:

Democracy Reporting International gGmbH
Prinzessinnenstraße 30
10969 Berlin, Germany
Tel +49 30 27877300
Fax +49 30 27877300-10

Data processing of personal data in third countries will not take place. We process your data in accordance with the provisions of § 26 German Federal Data Protection Act. More information about processing your personal data: privacy policy .

Consultancy on Digital Work and Advocacy Facilitation – Myanmar

Consultancy on Digital Work and Advocacy Facilitation

Form of Employment: Short term consultancy

Position Location: Yangon or remote (Online consultancy)

Reporting lines: Country Representative Myanmar

Contract Period: ASAP – max 3 working days (2 preparation days and handout drafting, 1-day webinar)


Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation registered in Berlin. Democracy Reporting International promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide.

As part of the EU funded project “STEP II”, DRI will be delivering a series of webinars to domestic election observers, covering different topics such as reporting skills, social media and elections, response to Covid 19 and elections etc. DRI is recruiting a Digital Consultant to deliver a webinar for a network of CSOs based in Myanmar, on digital working and online advocacy tools.


The trainings will focus on CSOs learning the basic skills to work remotely as well as to organise webinars and online dialogues. The consultant will prepare and deliver a one-day training session, and a short-written resource overview on tools and tips for online-work, covering:

  • Introduction to the different platforms/softwares on online learning and working within a team
  • Tools for webinars, online dialogues and digital advocacy;
  • Do’s and don’ts for hosting successful webinars.

The consultant will also deliver a short handout with key do’s and don’ts as well as a list of available resources.


  • Proven and accomplished practical experiences relating with online learning or online communication platforms/tools/software;
  • A minimum of one-year relevant experience in delivering online trainings, preferably experience delivering webinars and using online working tools with CSOs;
  • Knowledge of the Myanmar context, preferably elections;
  • Knowledge of specific challenges in Myanmar such as slow internet, frequent electricity blackouts, etc.;
  • Knowledge of Myanmar language will be considered an asset.

DRI values diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. Women are encouraged to apply.

Deadline for applications is 3rd May.

Candidates should submit a CV to [email protected] with ‘Digital Work and Advocacy Facilitation (Myanmar)’ in the subject line.

Organisation responsible for this vacancy:


Democracy Reporting International gGmbH
Prinzessinnenstraße 30
10969 Berlin, Germany
Tel +49 30 27877300
Fax +49 30 27877300-10


Data processing of personal data in third countries will not take place. We process your data in accordance with the provisions of § 26 German Federal Data Protection Act. More information about processing your personal data: privacy policy .


Myanmar: Achieving greater inclusivity through pluralism ahead of general election

Given the current circumstances, we have removed the names of individuals and local organisations from this article for their own protection.

With Myanmar’s general elections approaching in November 2020, some political parties and supporters are increasingly resorting to nationalist polarisation to gather voter support. This has included campaign messages that portray cultural and religious diversity as a threat and bears several risks both to a free and fair election, as well as to Myanmar’s peace process.

Pluralism is an essential element of democracy that helps build peace in ethnically and culturally diverse societies. It is safeguarded by a set of political, legal and institutional mechanisms to mediate the interests of individuals, groups and communities within the state. This is particularly relevant for Myanmar, a country with rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, but where ethnic minorities have limited civil and political rights.

Identifying comprehensive methods to promote pluralism was at the heart of a roundtable organised by DRI on 1 February. Participants examined how promoting pluralism, as part of democracy and nation-building, can help root out the causes of conflict in the country.

Participants highlighted that fair and transparent citizenship rights are vital for ethnic and religious diversity. Building on these basic rights, the promotion of pluralism would be strengthened through education, both formal and informal, that emphasises Myanmar’s diverse histories, ethnicities and religions. Moreover, ahead of the general elections, participants highlighted the importance of inclusive participation by all political parties to ensure political diversity and safeguard multi-party democracy in Myanmar and the importance of accommodating diversity in the constitution.

“I joined this roundtable discussion to collect the voices, which would be useful for the constitutional amendment process. I consider that an approach including federalism by enacting each state’s own constitution is the best way to pluralism” said a member of Myanmar’s House of Representatives.

This roundtable was conducted under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.


Universal Suffrage in Myanmar: Next steps for a more responsive local government

In late 2020, Myanmar will hold its second general election since the introduction of a civilian government in 2011. With the election deciding more than a thousand seats in the country’s legislative bodies, national attention is increasingly drawn to next year’s vote – but recent progress of municipal election reform is just as significant for strengthening democracy across the country.

Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) held its first municipal election based on universal suffrage in March 2019. Previously, the 2014 municipal election was based on a household suffrage system, where each household had one vote. This left women and youth particularly detached from the voting system, whilst women’s representation in local municipal governance remains strikingly low.

Municipal governments are the closest layer between the public and the government. It is the space where the public’s trust in democratic processes can be built and directly provides services for the people. Building this trust requires local governments that mirror the diversity of their communities. The participation of women in decision-making at the local level brings a valuable viewpoint to inform citizen outreach and policymaking; enhancing accountability and responsiveness at the local level.

Despite the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) and the re-establishment of the Myanmar National Committee for Women Affairs in 2012, progress continues to be slow for improved female representation.  In the March YCDC elections, out of the 233 candidates running for election in March 2019, 44 were women (approximately 16%). There are now 26 women (25%) from among 79 township committee members in Yangon.


Women Committee Members of the YCDC attend trainings to improve their skills including public outreach, moderation and digital literacy.  

Challenges facing women in local politics

To support and strengthen the role of women in elected local government, DRI and the New Myanmar Foundation (NMF) are delivering a series of trainings with 26 elected Women Committee Members of the Yangon City Development Committee. The trainings will help committee members conduct public consultation workshops with their constituents and establish a Women Councillor’s network.

These activities are the results of a needs assessment undertaken in October 2019 to understand the concrete concerns and training needs of women council members. The candidates expressed their need for trainings in public speaking, leadership skills, and the need for women peer network for inspiration and effective communication among themselves, as well as with their constituents.

According to the survey, the key challenges facing women in local politics is their ability to organize effective public hearing meetings within their constituencies. The councillors also expressed that women in local politics are not seen as capable as men and receive less respect from their constituents. They even feel isolated from spaces where male councillors discuss local issues.


Participants used simulations of real-life policy challenges to put their skills in to practice, as well as learning how to dealwith specific challenges that women face in politics.  

YCDC Women Municipal Members Trainings in Yangon

Six months after the March elections in Yangon, DRI held a training for the 26 women councillors on 2 to 4 November 2019. This was an opportunity for women councillors to exchange on the new Standard Operating Procedures for township officials and learn the basics about YCDC law, budgeting, as well as strengthening their public outreach, digital literacy and moderation skills using interactive simulations drawing on real-life policy challenges. Participants also engaged in sessions on how to overcome specific challenges facing women in local politics and how to organise a town hall meeting to engage with their constituents.

“This event gave me so much strength. I was somehow depressed before because I was quite new to this field and had limited knowledge on laws and procedures and, after these three days I feel confident and hope to do my job more effectively as elected official,” said one female municipal committee member.

The women committee members met again to create the peer network on 23 November. During this meeting, women members identified the local issues they want to solve together, such as drainage issues, the need for a better rubbish management system and sanitation systems.

In 2020, the women councillors will put their skills to practice with NMF through nine town hall meetings to be held in coordination with the YCDC committee and Yangon Region Cabinet.


The women councillors presented with certificates following the three-day training session.


The training was conducted as part of the STEP Myanmar Project funded by the European Union.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.