The U.S.-backed International Republican Institute (IRI) conducted Myanmar’s first national public poll and released the results on April 3.
According to the recently published IRI survey, many respondents have a positive view on the country’s reform process and the overall performance of Thein Sein’s government. Most believe that Myanmar is heading in the right direction.
However, Eleven Media has questioned the results of this survey and exposes numerous flaws and errors. Experts on Myanmar affairs have also criticised that the IRI’s survey may be incorrect not only in terms of common sense but also in the methodology used to collect data.Background to the Survey
IRI’s public opinion survey was conducted between December 24, 2013 and February 1, 2014. It is an analysis of public views on economic, social, and political issues.
The randomly selected sample consists of 3,000 adult men and women from 208 rural and 92 urban locations in all 14 provinces of Myanmar, according to the IRI.
The Myanmar Survey Research group conducted the field research under the supervision of IRI. The study was designed and analysed by Rob Varsalone of Global Strategic Partners. The poll was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
At the midrange the survey has a confidence interval of plus or minus two percent with a confidence level of 95 percent, according to IRI.
The IRI, which claims to be a non-governmental organisation, was established in 1983 with funds from the U.S. government. The IRI falls under the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was established by American Congress in 1983. It is one of the four institutes that carry out the aims of the NED. It has been chaired by Republican Senator John McCain since 1993.
In the IRI’s public opinion survey, questionnaires on political, economic, and social issues in Myanmar were asked and the results have been released. The survey is categorised into four sections. The first section shows the results of views on current development. The second section deals with issues in depth while the third and fourth sections cover political parties and media usage respectively.
“The poll was conducted in accordance with international standards for market and social research methodologies and IRI is confident in the data,” said Steve Cima, IRI’s country director for Myanmar.Development Status
In the first category covering current development, 76 percent of all respondents agreed with the statement: “democracy may have its problems but is better than any other form of government.”Eighty-nine percent of respondents say if parliamentary elections were held today they would definitely vote. Fifty-three percent of respondents say the results of the last parliamentary elections held in 2010 were credible. Seventy-seven percent of respondents say the results of the 2015 parliamentary elections will be credible.
Eighty-eight percent of the respondents say things in Myanmar are heading in the right direction and only six percent of the respondents say they are heading in the wrong direction.
The analysis of the 88 percent of the respondents who believe that Myanmar is heading in the right direction shows that 35 percent of them support the statement because roads are being paved and bridges are being built. Twenty-seven percent of them say the reason is due to the improvement of economic conditions and ten percent of them attribute the improvement of rule of law. Six percent of them say: ‘people can speak their mind about politics’ and three percent of them say: ‘support for education has increased’. The other three percent of them say the agricultural sector has improved.
Among those who believe that Myanmar is heading in the wrong direction, 32 percent of respondents say poor economic conditions and 21 percent say ethnic or sectarian violence are the reasons for their doubts.
Moreover, 85 percent of respondents believe the current economic situation in Myanmar is good or very good and 81 percent expect their personal economic situation will stay the same or improve in the next year.
Respondents listed unemployment (19 percent), ethnic or sectarian violence (16 percent) and high prices (nine percent) as the three biggest problems still facing Myanmar as a whole. Seven percent of them say poverty is the biggest problem. Only one percent of respondents believe that amending the constitution is the biggest problem.
Positive View on the GovernmentAmong the respondents, 89 percent of them say the government is doing a good job. 91 percent of them support the way President Thein Sein is handling his job while only 69 percent of them approve the job done by the Parliament.
Among the government’s performance, 87 percent of the respondents favour the infrastructural development while 74 percent favour the peace process. Fifty-one percent favour employment.Military ranks first in the poll on public satisfaction, with government and non-governmental organisations holding 84 percent of support and media ranking with 82 percent.
Seventy-four percent of the respondents say they are satisfied with the police while ruling coalition also receives 74 percent of support. Opposition receives 70 percent of support while the Parliament receives 68 percent of support. However, only 62 percent of the respondents are satisfied with the courts and only 59 percent of them are satisfied with the political parties.
Thein Sein: The Peoples FavouriteIn the IRI’s survey, a question on whom is their favourite among President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Thura Shwe Mann. Ninety-three percent of the respondents say President Thein Sein is their favourite. Ninety percent prefer Aung San Suu Kyi while 53 percent prefer Thura Shwe Mann.However, this question was not included in the 34-paged survey that has been published on IRI’s website. This question and result was included in an article written by Dr Ba Maung on the IRI’s survey, which has been published by the Messenger Journal on April 6. According to his article, he has used the same IRI’s survey for reference, but his copy contains 36 pages.
Thus, the IRI’s survey has two versions — one with 34 pages and another with 36 pages — and it seems that people close to the government have obtained the 36-paged version. When the Daily Eleven contacted IRI to inquire about the two versions, they replied that there is only one version with 34 pages.Majority want Centralised Government
One of the flaws of the IRI’s survey is that 57 percent of the respondents say they prefer a centralised government when they were asked whether they support autonomy of states and regions or a centralised government.
According to the results of the survey, 55 percent of respondents living in the hill zones support centralised government and 39 percent of them support autonomy. The majority of ethnic groups live in the hill zone and say they prefer the centralisation of power.
Fifty-three percent of the respondents living in the coastal zones also support centralised government and 40 percent of them support autonomy. Sixty-five percent of the respondents living in the plains zone support the centralised government and 25 percent of them want autonomy.In terms of the government’s efforts to combat corruption, the IRI’s survey found 50 percent of respondents say corruption within the government is somewhat high while only 25 percent of respondents believe corruption within the government is very high. The survey states that 30 percent are very satisfied with the government’s efforts to fight corruption; 42 percent somewhat satisfied; and two percent are very unsatisfied.
Criticism of the Survey President Thein Sein’s government and the ruling party welcomed the IRI survey. In contrast, political analysts criticised that the survey has huge holes and missed many things.“We can take a look at this survey from two points of views — the common sense and methodology. Both points of views have some missing points,” said Min Zin, Ph.D candidate of political science at Barclay University in the U.S.
The critics mainly pointed out the fact on how respondents were selected and IRI’s partner organisation used to conduct the survey. And they also criticised that the country was heading in the right direction. The respondents believe the current economic situation in Myanmar is good or very good at a time when the respondents listed unemployment as the country’s biggest problem. The survey also states that people favour President Thein Sein more than opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The respondents also prefer the job done by the police force over that done by the parliament. Another missing point is that those living in hill zones want a centralised system more than the autonomy.
“It cannot be said that the country is in the right direction. It is impossible at a time when the amendment to the constitution has yet to materialise. I don’t agree on President Thein Sein’s handling of his job described in the survey,” MP Min Thu said.
“People see the current situation as a mockery rather than a reform process,” said Phyo Phyo Aung of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). “The fact that the people are satisfied with the government’s efforts to fight the corruption is a joke,” said Col Saw Lwin, Joint Secretary of Kayan New Land Party.
“The point that 74 percent of respondents favour the police force is very high.  We are afraid of the word “May I help you” at a time when we go to the police station. They will not process documents unless we give them money. There should be reforms in those areas. We do not know whether or not their survey is based on what kinds of level and people,” said Aye Thar Aung, first leader of the Rakhine National Party.  “The survey states that 62 percent of respondents favour the courts. This shows that those respondents have never experienced the court cases. And they would not say like so if they have sought the helps from the police forces before,” said Lower House MP Thein Nyunt.
What’s Behind the IRI Survey?The release of the survey has created much controversy. Political experts criticise that those errors should be the result of the inexperienced local researchers who fielded the survey under the IRI’s supervision and might also be the distortion of the IRI.
“As the IRI backed by the U.S government, they might want to prove that the U.S government sees Myanmar as successful and also might a lobby tactic by the U.S government. Anyway, if this survey is not in conformity with Myanmar citizen this is the waste of U.S citizen’s money since they funded this survey,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein.
“International organisations do not understand Myanmar well and have no expertise, their staffs too. By this example, it is clear that they only made the perfunctory effort. They made this survey without understanding the internal affairs of Myanmar in detail,” said Myo Yan Noun Thein from the Beda Institute.
“The points of this survey are completely astray. U Thein Sein can’t have competed with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on public satisfaction even in the last two-year period when he was favoured by the public. Now the public are talking about U Thein Sein in comparison with U Than Shwe. The president’s reforms are not encouraging either. That’s why the point that people are more satisfied with U Thein Sein than Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is nonsense. There could be also other blunders,” said Dr. Than Htut Aung, laureate of the Golden Pen of Freedom award and CEO of Eleven Media Group.
He continued added that he is worried that the international appraisal of Myanmar might deviate because of this IRI survey.
“I worry that international appraisal of Myanmar may deviate from the reality due to this survey. I also worry about the wrong judgment of the U.S Embassy in Myanmar and the U.S government concerning the current administration. This survey gave a chance for the ruling government to cheat in the upcoming 2015 election. The U.S government would face the fury of Myanmar citizens if they compromise with dictators for their geopolitical benefits, sacrificing Myanmar’s democratic potential. The U.S government and the U.S Embassy must take responsibility for this survey,” he continued.