Myanmar 2014 - Civic Knowledge and Values in a Changing Society


Executive summary

Myanmar is undergoing an extraordinary period of change. The transition from military rule to a quasi-civilian government since 2011 is exemplified by shifts from a closed economic system to one that is market-oriented, from an isolated country to one that is engaging actively in regional and global affairs, and from decades of conflict with multiple. ethnic armed groups to a push for a national ceasefire and political dialogue. Changes of this magnitude within such a compressed time frame are not easily accomplished, however, given the urgent need for updated knowledge and the lack of capacity in many sectors within government and society. as well as continuing distrust of the government's reform agenda among ctlmic armed groups and civil society organizations. After so many years of severely curtailed social, political, and economic development under military rule, many within society remain skeptical about whether cumin reforms can bring genuine, inclusive development and peace, or will be captured by crony capitalism and the old political order.

In this challenging context, 'the Asia Fotmdation carried out a nationwide survey in 2014 to document public knowledge and awareness of new government institutions and processes, and to gauge the political, social, and economic values held by people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, which will inform the country's long-term development and the nature of state-society relations. Conducted during the months of May and June, the survey included face-to-face interviews with more than 3,000 respondents across all fourteen states and regions. States and regions are constitutionally equivalent in Myanmar, but they have different historical roots. States typically encompass the areas where a large number of ethnic communities live, while regions are where the ethnic Burman majority resides. The survey over-sampled in the states to ensure a better understanding of their views. It should be noted that, given the complex ethnic map of Myanmar, the views of the states as reported in the survey should not he taken as the views of the ethnic groups themselves.

The survey results show that in the early stages of Myanmar's transition to democracy, people are generally hopeful about the future, though that optimism is tempered by a number of challenges. People have very limited knowledge about the current structure and functions of various levels of government, particularly the subnational levels. They are most knowledgeable about the national government on the one hand, and the lowest levels of village and ward administration, with whom public interaction is highest, on the other. People express a strong preference for democracy in the abstract and a high level of expectation that voting will bring about positive change. but they possess a limited understanding of the principles and practices that underpin a democratic society. Democmcy is viewed as having provided new freedoms, but there is little association of democracy with rule by the people. Social trust is particularly low, and political disagreements are deeply polarizing. Gender values remain highly traditional, with hods men and women expressing a similarly strong view that men make better political and business leaders than women.

On the whole, people are positive about the current situation in the country, but there is a pervasive underlying uncertainty, with positive sentiment dropping among the stares. The tangible results of the reform process in delivering roads, schools, and economic growth are cited by respondents who believe that the country is going in the right direction, whereas ongoing conflicts, a bad economy or lack of development, and problematic governance and corruption are highlighted by those who are negative about the direction in which the country is heading. Economic performance figures prominently a s a public concern, serving as a key indicator for how well people feel the country is doing. In this regard, the economic values that people express bode well for the future if properly harnessed to drive inclusive growth as market-oriented reforms continue. People feel strongly that competition, individual effort, and hard work contribute to a better life, and that there is enough economic opportunity to benefit everyone. Nevertheless, the public continues to have a high expectation that the government will play a strong role in ensuring an equitable and inclusive society.