Myanmar Voters Have Positive Outlook for the Country - Issues Ahead of the 2015 General Election


A survey carried out between 14 and 31October 2015 found that a majority of voters have a positive outlook for the country, but this optimism had declined quite significantly over more than a year ago. 

In terms of the general outlook for the country, a strong majority (62 percent) of the respondents believes that the country is going in the right direction. The positive outlook can be observed across all demographic variables. 

There are multiple factors behind the positive outlook. Among the main factors are economic and infrastructure development (42 percent), greater democratic space (16 percent), improvement in education (9 percent), good governance (8 percent), reforms (7 percent) and more job opportunities (4 percent). 

Despite the strong positive outlook, the figure is relatively weaker compared to the previous survey in February 2014. The February 2014 survey indicated that 88 percent voters think that the country was going in the right direction, a drop of 26 percentage points. 

Indicative of the cautiousness of some respondents with the overall outlook of the country, 44 percent respondents said that their household income remained the same over the last two years while 21 percent said they were worst off. Only 34 percent respondents said that their household income was better off.

Low Level of Political Awareness

Another interesting finding of the survey was the lack of political awareness among the overwhelming majority of the voters. Only 29 percent of voters said that they are familiar with the candidates that are going to contest in their area while 43 percent said they are familiar with the political parties. These figures suggest that voters have a greater tendency to know the political parties that going to contest in their area as compared to the candidates. A record 6,074 candidates will contest the 2015 general elections and this huge numbers could pose a great challenge to voters in getting to know their respective candidates. Furthermore, this survey was carried out just a few weeks after the UEC had released the official candidate list, hence majority voters might not be aware of the candidates yet.

In respect to the voters’ familiarity with political parties, the emergence of many new parties could be the reason why majority voters do not know the political parties that are going to contest in their area. The 43 percent voters who said that they are familiar with the political parties are referring to well-established parties like USDP and NLD.

High Voter Turnout and Level of Confidence on the Fairness and Freeness of the 2015 General Elections 

Probed further by the survey, the respondents identified the following reasons behind their motivations to perform their voting rights on Sunday; to perform civic duty (30 percent), to make a difference (27 percent), bandwagon effect (everyone is going to vote and so do I) (16 percent), to choose a new government (12 percent), to exercise their democratic rights (2 percent), was told to vote by their family members (1 percent) and to end corruption (1 percent).

Based on these findings, it is estimated that the voter turnout on November 8th will be around 81 to 85 percent. 

Conduct of Elections

Despite numerous criticisms against the 2015 general elections, a huge majority of the respondents believe that the 2015 elections will be freer and fairer than the 2010 general elections. The survey found that only 34 percent of the respondents think that the 2010 elections was free and fair, but the level of confidence on the 2015 elections increased significantly to 66 percent. The level of confidence is significantly higher (72 percent) within the ethnic states as compared to the region (63 percent). This is similar to an earlier survey conducted in June 2014 by the Asia Foundation which found 68% of respondents expecting this general election to be free and fair.

In parallel with the high confidence level on the conduct of the 2015 elections, more than three-fourths of the respondents (77 percent) said that the Union Election Commission (UEC) was doing a good job in ensuring the freeness and fairness of the elections. There is a slight difference in the perception towards the UEC between the ethnic states and the region where the respondents within the region have higher approval rating (78 percent) as compared to respondents in the ethnic states (72 percent).

Despite the high confidence level in the conduct of the 2015 general elections process, about two-thirds (65 percent) of the respondents expressed their concerns with the voters list which can be observed across all demographic variables. Still, the level of confidence on the secrecy of the ballot was very high at 71 percent. 

Government’s Approval Rating Declined Significantly while NLD is expected to Secure Majority Votes 

The survey also found that overwhelming majority respondents were not happy with the performance of the government in several key areas. The government recorded moderate positive rating in the areas of fighting corruption and protecting religious freedom. While low positive rating in the areas of infrastructure development, gender equality, ethnic-based equality, improving education, and bringing peace and democratic reforms. The government is perceived to perform badly (negative rating) in controlling inflation, environmental protection, fighting crime, providing housing, providing employment and delivering quality healthcare. 

However, the approval rating of President Thein Sein remains high at 72 percent but it has also dropped very significantly compared to the February 2014 survey which recorded the approval rating at 91 percent; a drop of 19 percentage points.

Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s approval rating is also high at 70 percent, but it is slightly lower than President’s Thein Sein’s rating. It is important to note that the number of non-response is quite significant (14 percent) for Suu Kyi. The non-response could represent those who approve the opposition leader but held reservations over revealing their responses. 

Voting Intentions

In line with the declining popularity of the ruling party, the opposition parties especially NLD is set to lead the race to capture majority votes in the 2015 general elections. The survey found that 44.7 percent of the respondents said that they going to vote for NLD while 30.1 percent indicated their intention to vote for USDP. A significant number (6.5 percent) of the respondents expressed their intention to vote for state parties and only 1 percent said they going to vote for other national parties. It is important to note that 12 percent of the respondents opted not to give their responses who might be inclined to vote for the opposition but too fearful to express their voting choices. 

The voting patterns differ quite significantly between the region and ethnic states. More voters (49.8 percent) expressed their intention to vote for NLD as compared to USDP (28.8 percent) in the region. In the ethnic states, the popularity contest is very close with USDP slightly ahead at 33.5 percent while NLD at 31.2 percent. Ethnic parties are also very popular in the ethnic states with 22.2 percent respondents said that they are going to vote for ethnic parties. 

Expectations and Hope of Myanmar Voters 

Key Issues

The top issues that the Myanmar voters want the 2015 elected government to address are economic development (50 percent), peace (18 percent) and improvement in education (12 percent). 

In assessing the respondents’ optimism of the capability of the 2015 elected government in addressing these issues, more than two-thirds (71 percent) of the respondents said that the government should be able to address them.

An equally important hope expressed by the respondents is the need for decentralization of power. A total of 20 percent of the respondents said that more power should be given to the states while 39 percent said power should be equally shared between states and national government. Only 30 percent respondents expressed their support for centralization of power.  

Peaceful Transition

Concerns over a peaceful transition of power remain real among many voters. Although almost half (43 percent) of the respondents think that Myanmar can have a peaceful transition, a sizeable number (31 percent) of them still expressed their concerns.

Aspiration for Democracy

The people of Myanmar aspire for democracy. This is one of the significant findings of the 2015 survey. It is found that 60 percent of the respondents prefer civilian government while only 8 percent are inclined to a military government. This trend can be observed across all demographic variables. 

The support for democracy is more prominent when respondents were asked if they agreed to the statement ‘democracy a better form of government compared to others’. An overwhelming 79 percent of the respondents said that they prefer democracy. This figure could be higher since 13 percent gave no response. There is a significant difference between the region and ethnic states where 81 percent of the respondents expressed their support for democracy while the number is slightly lower in the ethnic states at 73 percent.

Voters’ aspiration for democracy is so strong that they do not believe in the propaganda by an influential Buddhist group that said by voting for the leading democratic party, NLD, would result in a favourable condition for the Muslim minorities. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of the respondents disagreed with this statement while only 19 percent believed in it. This trend can be observed across all demographic variables.

The controversial constitutional provision that bars an individual who is married to a foreigner to run for President received mixed responses among the respondents. Almost half (49 percent) of the respondents do not support this constitutional provision while 39 percent said that they support it.

Support for Human Rights

In line with the strong support of the respondents towards democracy, a huge majority also supports human rights issues. Almost all respondents (94 percent) said that all citizens should be allowed to practice their religious beliefs. This perception is true across all demographic variables.

However, when the respondents were asked whether the rights of religious minorities should be respected and protected, the figure declined quite significantly (66 percent) albeit the fact that two-third of the respondents believed in the protection of religious minority’s rights.

In fact, 78 percent of the respondents believe that ethnic minorities should be given self-determination. The support for self-determination is understandably stronger in the ethnic states where 89 percent respondents expressed their support for it as compared to 74 percent in the region. 

The survey was commissioned by a consortium led by Mizzima Media Group while Merdeka Center for Opinion Research (Malaysia) acted as the technical advisor. The survey implementer is Myanmar Survey Research (MSR). 1,200 adult Myanmar citizens were sampled as respondents via face-to-face interviews. Respondents were selected on multi-stage random sampling. The interviews were administrated in Burmese while interpreters assisted in ethnic minority areas. The survey covered the whole of Myanmar except for Chin state flooding prevented interviews from taking place. The survey is weighted to reflect the national population.

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