DIPD inspires dialogue between parties in the run-up to the November elections in Myanmar
by DIPD on November 10, 2015
On Sunday 8 November, Myanmar went to the polls in an election that has been characterized as the freest and most democratic ever. However, the challenges have still been huge due to the political environment, especially for the many new political parties in Myanmar.
In an attempt to support the democratic transition process, DIPD has supported a number of initiatives in the run-up to the 2015 election, including multiparty dialogue and political cafes. These have given the political parties the opportunity to cooperate, develop a political environment for the exchange of ideas on challenging issues. Below, the two DIPD-initiatives, multiparty dialogue and political cafes, are outlined
Multiparty dialogue on the Code of Conduct for Parties and Candidates
In May 2015, political parties reached a historic agreement with the signing of the first ever Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates in Myanmar. DIPD had provided support to this process through convening meetings and providing technical advice on the development of the Code. The Code of Conduct, drafted by the parties themselves, was primarily intended to provide a standard for the behavior of political parties and candidates during campaigns. With virtually all of Myanmar’s parties agreeing to abide by the Code, it became a powerful tool to promote ethical campaigning in the run up to the November elections.
Making the code work
To make the Code work, however, two major additional steps have been necessary. The first was to popularize and explain the Code to political parties down to their grassroots. The second was to promote compliance and where needed to collect and document instances where parties failed to adhere to the Code. DIPD provided support to both processes. During the political party agent training sessions, it disseminated and discussed the Code. DIPD also sponsored and convened two field visits of the Code of Conduct Monitoring Committee (MCOM), to observe the extent to which parties were following the Code.
Visits in Mandalay and Taunggyi
De. Darng Khin Than Nu, rising question to MCOM members
The first visit of the MCOM supported by DIPD targeted Mandalay, the scene of fierce campaigns and recent religious tensions that have led to sporadic violence. In Mandalay, where members of the Monitoring Committee met with regional party leaders, most parties expressed satisfaction with a relatively smooth and peaceful campaign process regarding the conduct of parties. Notable complaints raised included instances of vandalism of candidate billboard and signs, threats against party leaders, discriminatory language used towards female candidates, and the intimidation of party campaigners by security forces. The MCOM explained how the Code works and promised to forward the complaints received to the relevant authorities. DIPD emphasized the importance of multiparty dialogue in resolving political disagreements, and encouraged parties to continue to seek local solutions for violations of the Code wherever possible.
The second visit of the MCOM meeting targeted Taunggyi, where DIPD facilitated a meeting with representatives of political parties and township mediation committee members. During the meeting in Taunggyi, most participants reported that the campaign period has been largely peaceful except for a few instances of vandalism of candidate billboards. The mediation committee explained how it had addressed a complaint raised by the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party with the support of the relevant authorities. The MCOM members encouraged parties to respect the principles of the Code so as to ensure a peaceful electoral process. They also encouraged parties to find ways to disseminate the content of the Code to the party supporters and general public.
Why multiparty dialogue?
The Code has served as a valuable resource to parties seeking to resolve campaign-related disputes through multiparty dialogue. DIPD will continue to support multiparty dialogue that helps increase cooperation, trust and a democratic political culture across political parties.
Political parties in Myanmar faced huge challenges in the run-up to the 2015 elections as they managed their campaigns while trying to adapt to a rapidly shifting electoral environment. Complying with campaign finance laws and regulations is one challenge many parties were facing for the first time. Generating positive and balanced coverage for their campaigns in the media presents another hurdle. Finally, getting access to research on public opinion on electoral issues is crucial for parties to plan their campaigns and anticipate election results.
Roundtable discussion on conducts of public opinion polls for the 2015-election
To provide inspiration to parties looking for solutions in these areas, DIPD held a series of roundtable discussions as part of its political café series in October. At a roundtable on campaign finance monitoring, consultant Aung Tun shared findings from a campaign finance analysis developed by International IDEA that analyzed the rules and regulations governing campaign finance in Myanmar. Participants from political parties expressed interest in compliance issues and also discussed loopholes that might allow for abuse of campaign finance regulations.
The role of media and public opinion pools
At a café on media monitoring, Aung Soe Min of the Myanmar Institute for Democracy (MID) and Aung Khin of Mizzima Media discussed their ongoing initiatives to monitor the media. Many parties identified a lack of coverage of their parties by the media as a primary challenge. Other parties expressed concern over state media’s bias towards the ruling party. DIPD encouraged parties to consider using MID’s and Mizzima’s reports as evidence to advocate for more balanced and professional coverage, while also adjusting their parties’ campaign media strategies to generate newsworthy stories for the public.
During its third political café meeting, Susan Lee of the Asia Foundation and Jeremy Liebowitz of DIPD made presentations to launch a discussion on recently conducted public opinion polls and their relevance for the upcoming elections. Drawing on data from the Asian Barometer, the Asia Foundation survey on Civic Knowledge and Values, and the IFES survey on voter inclusion, café participants discussed voter knowledge and attitudes on governance, representation, likely voting behavior and policy preferences.
The further aim of the DIPD-initiative
Through its series of political cafes, DIPD was able to provide useful information and research reports to political parties, while also providing a relaxed environment for a free exchange of ideas on controversial topics. In the post-election period, DIPD will revisit the three topics to support parties to utilize media, finance and research to become more representative and accountable democratic institutions.
For more information
Khin Thazin Myint, Myanmar Country Coordinator, +95 9 421 009 560 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or
Hanne Lund Madsen, Senior Adviser, +45 38402802 (email@example.com)