With Myanmar’s general elections approaching in November 2020, some political parties and supporters are increasingly resorting to nationalist polarisation to gather voter support. This has included campaign messages that portray cultural and religious diversity as a threat and bears several risks both to a free and fair election, as well as to Myanmar’s peace process.
Pluralism is an essential element of democracy that helps build peace in ethnically and culturally diverse societies. It is safeguarded by a set of political, legal and institutional mechanisms to mediate the interests of individuals, groups and communities within the state. This is particularly relevant for Myanmar, a country with rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, but where ethnic minorities have limited civil and political rights.
Identifying comprehensive methods to promote pluralism was at the heart of a roundtable organised by DRI and Mosaic Myanmar, an NGO, on 1 February. Participants examined how promoting pluralism, as part of democracy and nation-building, can help root out the causes of conflict in the country.
Participants highlighted that fair and transparent citizenship rights are vital for ethnic and religious diversity. Building on these basic rights, promotion of pluralism would be strengthened through education, both formal and informal, that emphasises Myanmar’s diverse histories, ethnicities and religions. Moreover, ahead of the general elections, participants highlighted the importance of inclusive participation by all political parties to ensure political diversity and safeguard multi-party democracy in Myanmar and the importance of accommodating diversity in the constitution.
“I joined this roundtable discussion to collect the voices, which would be useful for the constitutional amendment process. I consider that an approach including federalism by enacting each state’s own constitution is the best way to pluralism” said Daw Thandar, a member of Myanmar’s House of Representatives (Einme Constituency, National League for Democracy).
This roundtable was conducted under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ – which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.