The National League for Democracy’s decisive victory in Myanmar’s 2015 elections inspired hopes of a full transition from military rule and an opening of civil space. Neither has materialized, and the groups working to advance social, political, and economic change in Myanmar continue to face significant challenges. Focusing on three cases of organized nonviolent action in Kachin, Mandalay, and Yangon, this report explores the divide that has opened between civil society and the NLD government and the rifts emerging within civil society itself.

Demonstrators protest a toughening Myanmar public assembly law in Yangon on March 5, 2018. (Thein Zaw/AP)
Demonstrators protest a toughening Myanmar public assembly law in Yangon on March 5, 2018. (Thein Zaw/AP)

Summary

  • As the forces binding the political opposition and civil society can fray after nonviolent transitions from authoritarianism, the relationship of Myanmar’s civil society—including social movement actors—with the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) has become contentious, with reduced levels of trust, in the midst of shrinking civic space and other mobilization challenges for strategic nonviolent action.
  • Despite state and nonstate repression, Myanmar’s nonviolent movements and campaigns continue to mobilize, often with youth in the vanguard. They are pressing for an end to armed conflict, championing freedom of expression, and challenging the military’s influence.
  • International support to social movement organizations appears to be minimal and usually consists of subgrants handled through international and national intermediaries. This approach has hampered donor engagement with local actors and unintentionally contributed to intra–civil society divides.
  • Donors should localize priorities and support sustained solidarity in the face of shrinking civic space, and enable nonvio¬lent action capacities and youth leadership development through flexible financial and nonfinancial assistance.

About the Report

This report explores the challenges facing civil society actors in Myanmar as they push for good governance, democracy, and peace. Based on in-country interviews and focus group discussions in 2019 with social movement and civic actors, national and subnational civil society organizations, and international actors, the report was supported by USIP’s Program on Nonviolent Action and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

About the Authors

La Ring is a democracy and human rights researcher and educator and a former Asian Peacebuilders Scholar at the U.N.-mandated University for Peace. Khin Sandar Nyunt is a human rights activist, researcher, and former Civil Society Leadership Award scholar at Maastricht University. Nist Pianchupat is an international development researcher and former Asian Peacebuilders Scholar at the U.N.-mandated University for Peace. Shaazka Beyerle is a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

Related Publications

Myanmar Regional Crime Webs Enjoy Post-Coup Resurgence: The Kokang Story

Myanmar Regional Crime Webs Enjoy Post-Coup Resurgence: The Kokang Story

Friday, August 27, 2021

By: Jason Tower; Priscilla A. Clapp

Following the coup by the Myanmar army on February 1, 2021, fighting exploded immediately in the China-Myanmar border area along a strategic trade route between the two countries. But the outbreak wasn’t about the coup — instead it was a battle between two Chinese-speaking militias over control of the Kokang Special Administrative Zone, a lucrative center for illegal business. The story behind this episode provides a small window on the rise of regional criminal networks under the army’s patronage and how they are enjoying a new lease on life under the junta.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Economics & Environment

How Myanmar’s Coup Opens Opportunity for National Reconciliation

How Myanmar’s Coup Opens Opportunity for National Reconciliation

Friday, August 20, 2021

By: Zarchi Oo; Hkawn Htoi; Carl Stauffer, Ph.D.

Since Myanmar’s military illegally deposed the country’s elected government on February 1, it has killed more than 1,000 people and is actively undermining efforts to manage the COVID pandemic by arresting volunteer doctors, blocking imports of medical supplies and hoarding and stealing oxygen. The military’s inhumanity and daily atrocities have created a common enemy for a divided society and a rare opportunity for the Myanmar people to initiate a much-needed nation-building process. The opposition is a loose group of organizations largely held together by a shared hatred for the military. If it is to decisively shift the trajectory of this conflict and end the military’s 70-year stranglehold on power, it will need to unify through a transformative reconciliation process.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation

In Myanmar, the State the Generals Seized Is Coming Apart

In Myanmar, the State the Generals Seized Is Coming Apart

Thursday, August 19, 2021

By: Jason Tower

Over the past six months under the junta’s “care,” the chaos and turmoil sparked by the coup has moved the country past the brink of failed state status. Growing armed resistance is emerging in the shrinking area where the military’s unbridled brutality has preserved its veneer of control. In liberated zones and particularly in regions controlled by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), new forms of governance and even sovereignty are taking shape in the vacuum left by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s war on political reform. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications