Myanmar citizens root for democracy and continued reforms, according to survey 

Myanmar citizens root for democracy and continued reforms, according to survey 
Ms Sonja Gloeckle. Photo: IRI

Myanmar citizens’ faith in democracy is unwavering and a vast majority believes it is the only route available for enhancing the well-being and welfare of the people.  A significant majority, over 77%, believe ‘our country is heading in the right direction’.   

These were the topline findings of the Public Opinion Survey, conducted across the country in the months of June-July 2019 by International Republican Institute (IRI). Improvements in infrastructure (roads and bridges), economic conditions, education and access to electricity appear to be the top four areas that received thumbs up from the citizens, which of course reflects the priorities of the current government as well. In fact, enhanced budgetary allocations for these sectors in the recent years appears to have worked well at the ground level in shaping the public opinion.

Sharing the findings at  a press conference, Senior Director of Centre for Insights in Survey Research, Ms Sonja Gloeckle pointed out that the findings of the survey reinforces the citizen’s backing for the political and economic reforms initiated by the government.  

“Throughout the ongoing political transition, the people of Myanmar have had a positive outlook about the country’s direction. At the same time, they are concerned about a number of issues that are important for the government to address,” she said. 

IRI has so far conducted three rounds of public opinion surveys in Myanmar (2014, ’17 and ‘19), that informs the pulse of the citizens on various social, economic and political developments of the country.  Using a rigorous methodology and sampling techniques that match global standards, the current IRI survey brings out public opinion which is analysed across demographic, geographical and gender specifications. One significant development this year, according to IRI, is that of sharing these datasets online at their website, through an interactive dashboard, there by users can access the data and generate their own analysis across different metrics.

While there are many positive opinions, there are also areas of concern.  For Myanmar citizens, illicit drugs use, corruption, cost of living and crime are significant concerns. These were the top three problems identified. Other issues like land grabs, ethnic conflict, and environment concerns have also figured as issues in some of the ethnic states.

Government’s efforts in improving economic situation in the country is also received broader popular support with over 61% across the country opined the situation as ‘very good and somewhat good’; though this appears to be three percentage points lower, when compared to the score for the same question in Apr 2017 survey (64%). 

Even at the household level there appears to be tangible improvements with 67% reporting their economic situation at the household level as ‘somewhat good’ (about 3% expressed view that their situation is very good).  About 39% respondents identified their personal economic situation has improved compared to the previous year.  And an additional 36% reported their situation remained the same as it was. These findings no doubt will give confidence for the current government to accelerate economic reform process.  However, if compared over the time horizon, living conditions of people appears to have remained the same. About 54% respondents identified themselves with the statement ‘living comfortably on present income’ in 2014 as well as in the latest survey (2019).  At one level these findings does reflect a overall positive mood, there appears to be disquieting concerns with the economic situation.  About 26% identified economy (cost of living and high prices) and another 16% have identified unemployment as ‘most important problem facing our country today’. These findings are pointers towards the need for calibrating economic and social policies that boosts redistribution in order to retain the public confidence.
IRI Survey has also brought out some significant findings which reaffirms the faith and confidence of citizens on democracy and political system and the processes of reforms that are currently undertaken. An overwhelming 76% of citizens feel democracy is the only form of government. Respondents strongly agreed in large proportion to the statements that it is the best form of government (51%) and that it may have problems but it is better than any other form of government (48%).   Inclusion of marginalized population, particularly women, youth, minorities and people with disabilities in political decision making is also identified as very important step in this direction.  Over 54% of young people (18-35 age) identified themselves as supporter of any political party, which reflects the increasing political consciousness among the aspirational youth with education.  Opinions of citizens on issues of contemporary political discourse, like amendment of constitution, more decision making powers for regional/state governments, control of natural resources by state and regional governments appear to be somewhat mixed with respondents from states seeking for more devolution. 

For democracy to take root and thrive, vigilant and responsive media is vital; in the current era, social media is a significant player.  Findings of IRI survey on media usage presents the dilemmas of citizens in terms of forming their opinions based on reliable information. While 45% citizens think that most content that they see on Facebook is ‘true’; another 46% feel that ‘most of it is false’.  While television remains a major source of news and information (32%); Facebook stands next with 28% of citizens receiving news and information from it.   Over 45% of citizens of the age group 18-35 identify Facebook as a major source of news.   Taken together, these findings compel the need to address the challenges of tackling ‘fake news’ and development and application of rigorous community standards. 

In all, IRI survey while presents an optimistic opinion of citizens on the state of affairs of the country, they are also perceptive and incisive in providing pointers on the areas of improvement. It is for the political leadership and other concerned stakeholders to address them in order strengthen the democratic processes and overall welfare of citizens of the country.