The Forum in Burma

Current Work

Project title: Supporting Burma’s Transition to Democracy and Devolved Governance

August 2, 2015 – March 31, 2016

Funder: Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

Project description and Major Objectives:

This projects aims at enabling political stakeholders in the country to make informed decision about Myanmar’s future state structure and to inform them about federal options. It is the third iteration of the Forum’s capacity building work in the country. With the national elections held in November 2015, the country faces a critical moment in its transitional process. Burma/Myanmar faces challenges such as the lack of capacity of the main opposition parties (including ethnic based parties), the low participation of women in the political process, and the lack of understanding of the people regarding critical political issues such as democracy, federalism, and constitutional reform. The Government has announced its intention to enhance the county’s decentralized structures. On December 2, 2014, the President is quoted as saying that “a firm political agreement […] has been reached on forming a federal union”. Also the NLD has committed to build a “genuine federal Union”.

Expected outcomes:

  1. Strengthen key, strategic stakeholders whose performances have major influences on democratic federal governance and the conduct of democratic elections;
  2. Enable citizens, including women and youth, to exercise their political rights and to meaningfully engage in discussions on political concepts such as democracy and federalism;
  3. Strengthen the dialogue on constitutional reform and transforming the role of the military.

Past Work

The Forum ran a project in Burma entitled Consolidating Burma’s Move Towards Democracy. When Thein Sein’s assumed the Presidency of Burma in 2011, the country showed cautious signs of moving towards democracy and greater citizen involvement in politics. That transitional phase Burma was embarking upon was keenly contested. The lure of manipulating news and engaging in disinformation and establishing “first movers’ advantage” could have created acute disharmony in an especially fragile and polarized polity, and thus compromise the prospects for the emergence of democracy and the management of diversity. Burma’s civil society, politicians and media operated under an authoritarian setup for long and benefited from participating in an exchange on comparative experiences in managing diversity.  The comparative approach permitted all stakeholders the opportunity to learn from experiences of others while drawing on the best practices to adopt and develop institutional mechanisms of governance which were suitable to Burma`s own social and political context. A contribution to the process towards democracy in Burma was made through extensive training sessions in order to equip civil society, politicians and the media with the necessary skills and knowledge about institutional design and processes required to manage a multiethnic state under democratic norms. This helped usher in informed citizen participation, meaningful devolution of power, and consolidate the democratic process. This project contributed to strengthening civil society capacity in a substantive way.

The Forum ran training sessions in Yangon and Nay Pyi Daw for Burma politicians, civil society representatives and media personnel. The training sessions were offered to politicians from all parties, civil society groups and independent and state-owned media from “Burma” as well as ethnic minorities. The training session introduced participants to the functioning of different democratic polities, how they balance diversity with unity, and the role that the media plays in such systems. Participants were trained to examine such proposals against the backdrop of their political system.