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Burmese Youth Remain Hopeful Despite Political Marginalization

Burma’s November 2020 General Elections will mark the country’s second national vote since the country began moving toward democratic reform after 50 years of military rule. As the country prepares for the upcoming election, Burmese youth are playing an increasingly significant role in attracting support for political parties. As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the political landscape around the world, Burma’s elections will provide an important opportunity for citizens to engage in essential debates about the future of the country – a question in which Burmese youth have a compelling interest, to say the least.

Young people represent more than one third of the population in Burma, and data suggests that citizens support youth inclusion in political decision-making. According to a 2019 nationwide poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI), 93 percent of respondents said that it was either "somewhat" or "very" important that all members of the country's adult population are included in political decision-making, and 73 percent were either more likely or equally likely to vote for a candidate who is 35 years old or younger.

Despite these promising statistics, Burmese youth remain largely marginalized in politics and are seldom selected for candidacy by political parties. Although the age eligibility criteria for candidacy to the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw) is 25 years of age, and 30 for the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw), political parties still do not tend to put forward younger candidates. Though political parties have expressed willingness to increase their youth members, they have also remained cautious about nominating youth as candidates. There are signs, however, that the public is eager for a new generation of political leaders.

Results from IRI’s 2019 nationwide poll of Burma.

As part of our ongoing efforts to encourage youth participation in the political process, IRI is equipping the next generation of leaders in Burma with the necessary skills to participate in their country's decision-making processes. As a key part of this effort, IRI kicked off the Youth Leadership Training School (YLTS) in January 2020, which supports youth party members to participate in electoral campaigns and become agents for democratic change.

During IRI’s workshop, participants put aside their political differences to work alongside their peers and learned tactics for convincing undecided voters and recruiting volunteers; exchanging ideas about potential policy solutions to societal issues including drug use, internal conflicts, corruption, crime and unemployment.

YLTS Alumni Myat Noe Kyi Sin from Kyain township helps disinfect a nearby village.

In addition to their pre-election activities, YLTS alumni have been working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. Win Htay Kyaw in the Sagaing region is volunteering at a local quarantine center and checking the temperatures of visitors at his party's office. Aye Su, a state coordinator from Mon State, is helping distribute face masks to the public and spread awareness about symptoms in her community. In Kyain township, Myat Noe Kyi Sin is volunteering to help in disinfecting efforts in nearby villages.

YLTS Alumni Aye Su from Mawlamyine, Mon State distribute face masks to street vendors in Mawlamyine.

Despite the obstacles imposed by the ongoing pandemic, youth party members are determined to take an active role during the campaign period and beyond. IRI has been working with youth to enhance their capacity to conduct campaigning activities through social media in anticipation of the UEC's announcement to begin the electoral period. We look forward to continuing to work with youth across the country throughout the electoral period to ensure that all citizens are able to make their voices heard this November.