For most of the Myanmar citizens, current democratic transition is largely unsatisfactory. The optimism we had in the beginning of was short-lived.
In 2017, International Republican Institute (IRI) Myanmar did a survey about public opinion of 3000 Myanmar citizens. According to the survey, 16% of the respondents think Myanmar is on the wrong direction and 9% has no response to the question. Compared to 2014 data where only 6% of the respondents think that Myanmar is in the wrong direction and 6% has no response to the questions. Among them, 53% said that economic related conditions are the main reasons for them saying the country is in the wrong direction. 20% of the respondents also thought that political situation has been less stable compared to the situation a year ago and 61-63% of respondents among 18-55 years old have described their preference on a prosperous economy than democracy.
Researches have pointed out that Myanmar citizens are more disengaging from politics. Recent voter turn out for municipal election in Yangon was only 10%. It was also seen in the IRI survey that nearly half of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that democracies are indecisive and too much squabbling, compared to only 17% in 2014. In July this year, we did a research about the imagination of university students from 3 universities in Mawlamyine to the future of Mawlamyine City. In our quantitative part, we have found out that 7 out of 10 university students said that they do not want to involve in any form of politics. Also, only 3% of survey respondents said that they had been contacted by a member of the national or state/regional parliament over the past year.
In every democratic transition in the world, we have found that there are improvements and set backs. It is crucial, however, just to remember that the heart of democracy is the people and the politicians always need to put the people in the center of the democracy. When people have no voice at any level of decision making, the feeling of powerlessness create more disengagement. In our survey, one fourth of university students said that they are not confident to speak with the government officials and 16% of the respondents even choose not to response to the question. Consider the youth generation do not dare to speak with the government officials, then what kind of future do we have?
For SEED for Myanmar, these figures are extremely alarming. We have been in this democratic transition for around a decade and the result has not been satisfying. One of the ruling part's electoral campaign promises was to include more youth in decision making. However, we don't really see youths are actively included in decision making. There has been slight improvements in the quantitative terms but qualitative empowerment was quite arguable. Youth policy was not efficiently nor effectively been funded by the government and even many of its execution members are old people. Youth are still facing a lot of discrimination.
We all know that freedom of expression is crucial for youth participation. That being said, we are worried that over 250 people who freely expressed their opinions have been sued in more than 70 of cases during the first 6 months of 2019 alone. That being said, a large number of youth activists have been sued under this government and some of them has gone to the jail. These discouraging stories affirm the rhetoric of former generations that politics is bad and youth should not deal with that.
Why do we point out these all?
We still believe that democracy is the only self-corrected system in the world that withstand the power monopoly. It may not be the ideal but it is the best shot we have so far. We believe that educating the democratic values to young generation must be more vigorous and more active. Mere voting every 5 years is not democracy. Decentralizing the power more to the local level and delegating the tasks to younger generation must be done by the government.
Democracy is not a "got it and done" thing. It has to be reborn with every generation again and again. Not including youth in democracy is like reaping all the old crops but not planting new ones at all. If not nurtured, we will have very inefficient and disabling democracy in the future. If nurtured properly, democracy will soar. Youth with whom we have been associating over the years show a lot of their good qualities and potentials that have been untapped.
All that said, we are looking forward to a positive future where every stakeholders are working together to invest in the knowledge, skills and attitudes of our youths like the very seeds for the future.