Training the Future Political Leaders of Myanmar

There is a great need for training and competence building after decades of isolation and military rule, says Thazin Htun, the founder of Myanmar Minerva Education Center (MMEC).

Yangon 17.05.2014, text and photo: Emil Jeremic

Myanmar will have their first free general elections in decades in 2015.

Emerging from isolation only three years ago with President U Thein Sein’s commitment to transition to democracy and end six decades of civil war, there are many challenges associated with transition from conflict to peace and from military rule to democracy. There is a general agreement that a sustainable peace must include representation of democratically elected representatives of various ethnic groups in order to put an end to decades of conflict in Myanmar.

With funding from SIDA and support from NPA, MINERVA has made it possible to expand their training programme for political parties. Minerva was requested by ethnic political parties for help in preparing for the 2015 general elections. Five trainings for five days are conducted for 16 ethnic political parties.

Van Lal Tan Pui, is a 23 years old man from the town of Thantlang, in Chin state – the most remote and impoverished part of Myanmar – attended the training. Van Lal represents the Chin National Democratic Party (CNDP).

“We have learned a lot about how to build political parties, and I now have a better understanding of policy issues regarding economy and development. We talk a lot about mutual trust, but it is very difficult to find our role in the transition period. Our role is not clear to us, Van Lal says, and explains:

“Armed groups are talking about dialogue with the government, but the role of political parties is still unclear. I want to be actively involved in my political party and work for the rights of my people. I am concerned about the rights of my people and want to serve them. I hope to be a minister in Chin state in the future”.

Bernt Berger from the Institute for Security & Development Policy, gave a lecture to the participants on security policy.

“I think the fact that you are all gathered here in Yangon from all parts of the country, discussing all these relevant issues is a significant step in the right direction for Myanmar”, Berger said.

Thazin Htun is proud of the achievements of her organization, laying the foundation for a pluralistic future Myanmar, in which minorities rights are voiced through regular political channels.

“In this room, we are looking at Myanmar’s future political leaders, most of them will probably be MPs after the elections in 2015” said Thazin Htun.

She explains that these trainings are very important, because of Myanmar’s history of military dictatorship; there were no possibilities to study either political science or other social sciences. Therefore, the people have limited knowledge and experience, and are in need of capacity building in order for them to represent their people.

“Our intention is to bridge this gap between lack of knowledge and need for political representation not least by the minorities in the following elections and the transition period. We already see that the representatives for the 16 ethnic political parties have gained new self-confidence through these trainings.”

Nang Khin Nyo Yin is a young woman from the town Moemeik, in Shan state, representing the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).

“I hope we will have more freedom and be able to develop our local communities and our country in the future. I will do my best to use my newly acquired knowledge in the best interest of serving my local community. We have the responsibility to implement what we have learned here at the trainings”, she said.

Myanmar is a country with overwhelming challenges, but the representatives from all these diverse ethnic political parties surely gives hope for a future pluralistic democracy, the main test will be the elections in 2015, for which they are now better prepared.

Myanmar Minerva Education Center (MMEC) originally started as an English school in Yangon, training former political prisoners after their release in 2012. The former political prisoners were given a three month training course for strengthening their respective political parties. Building on their past experience, Minerva currently arranges educational courses for 16 ethnic political parties from all states and regions of Myanmar. Drawing on experts from Myanmar and abroad, a relevant training program for the future political leaders in Myanmar has been designed based on the needs of the political parties. The issues cover election campaigning, economic policy guidelines, designing rural development plans, security policy as well as discussions about the ongoing peace process and inclusion of women both in the peace process and in political parties.