Following the 2020 election, Myanmar is preparing for the next phase in the electoral cycle. This new phase comes with its own challenges: constituents have high expectations for their new government, and MPs have to balance multiple interests while beginning a new (and maybe first ever) term as an MP. But with that is a window of opportunity for the Myanmar of School of Politics (MySoP), whose work aims to strengthen politicians’ and political parties’ democratic role at the region/state level, and enhances the practice of multiparty dialogue. MySoP is supported by NIMD and Demo Finland.
Specialized training for new MPs
MySoP used this window to host the ‘How to be a Great MP’ Forum, a multiparty event run over five days in December that offered training and support for newly elected MPs. The Forum consisted of three main components: parliamentary knowledge and law-making, practical skills, and important political issues in Myanmar. Over 30 MPs, representing a dozen political parties hailing from 6 of Myanmar’s regions, came together for the event.
This is not the first time MySoP has provided this support after the electoral cycle. MySoP also ran a successful ‘How to be a Great MP’ Forum for newly elected MPs in 2015, where MPs were welcomed by Dutch and Finnish Ambassadors and given training from a host of parliamentary experts. Although the 2020 Forum was hosted online via zoom instead of in-person, the curriculum and space for dialogue was equally well-prepared.
What a great MP needs to know
Being an MP is an immensely complicated task, no matter the context. MySoP’s selection of speakers and subjects for the week was designed to equip new MPs with both theoretical and practical knowledge that will help them be an effective and democratically-minded MP. The subjects covered during the Forum included the specific functions, procedures and offices of Myanmar’s government, as well as public speaking skills and principles of multiparty negotiations.
But a forum, as opposed to academic-style teaching, focuses on learning through shared experience and dialogue. MySoP’s How to be a Great MP Forum therefore gave the participants a chance to hear the experiences of those further on in their political careers, including Deputy Speakers from Myanmar’s regional parliaments and their fellow MPs.
On day one, participants got a chance to hear from Deputy Speaker of the Mon State Parliament Dr. Aung Naing Oo of the Mon Unity Party. In the Forum he shared his five tips for being a dependable MP, which revolved around listening to local people (whether they voted for you or not) and fully accepting responsibility for your actions and decisions as an MP. No matter the country, parliamentarians worldwide can always benefit from focusing on these kinds of lessons.
Hearing international perspectives on being an MP
NIMD’s Executive Thijs Berman was also invited to share experiences from his ten years as a member of the European Parliament. Mr. Berman was joined by Anne luwema, the Netherlands Ambassador to Myanmar. Speaking about the Dutch experience of multiparty politics, she said “academia, media, civil society, leaders from every part of society band together to strengthen democracy. Democracy asks us each to do our part; if we want a government by the people for the people, what is central is our participation in our systems.” After speaking with the MPs and hearing their stories, she closed her session by telling those in attendance: “This group knows how to make progress and a better future for Myanmar. A new generation of bridge builders.”
The Netherlands Embassy in Myanmar also sent its Head of Political Affairs, Tessa Scholman, to speak with the new MPs. She fielded their questions on how the Dutch Parliament mediates power between parties and encourages their cooperation. Although the Dutch parliamentary system is far from perfect, exchanging ideas on how it functions will help this new batch of MPs assess and evaluate their own offices with a more objective angle.The Forum closed with an address from the Finnish Ambassador to Myanmar, who shared insights from Finland’s own multiparty development and how their cooperation could provide lessons for Myanmar’s politicians.
NIMD and the Dutch Embassy will continue to support Myanmar’s multiparty development throughout 2021, and we are optimistic about the future for democracy in the country.