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.

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