While the 2020 elections are coming closer, voters are starting to explore their options. Therefore, political parties should present a coherent stance on a variety of policy issues and focus on winning votes on these positions. Voters will know who to vote for based on the parties’ policy and position on issues that are important for them.
In emerging democracies like Myanmar, policy positions of political parties are often not recognized by the public. In many countries, election campaigns are influenced by patronage networks, and focused on the personality of elected political leaders. Therefore, political parties need to develop clear policy platforms so that voters will be able to recognize the differences between parties, their values, ideas, and policies.
The EU-funded STEP Democracy programme implements ‘Policy Positioning Workshops for political parties. These workshops prepare political parties to develop and promote their policy positions and support parties in creating these platforms. Subsequently, policy positions can educate voters about parties’ policy views, help parties develop identifiable policy manifestos, and support greater inter-party consensus.
The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and Demo Finland, under the EU-funded STEP Democracy’s programme, organized two such workshops for political parties in Shan State and Tanitharyi Region. During the workshops, the voter assistance application ‘Vote Match’ was introduced. Vote Match enables parties to define and develop policies and manifestos for the upcoming 2020 elections.
Political party representatives from Shan State and Tanitharyi Region discussed current challenges and needs of their local constituencies. They discussed solutions for these issues based on their party policies. In the two workshops, some issues were similar and cross-cutting for all states, and some varied depending on each state and region. For example, in the workshop for Shan state, mining and land issues, drugs and poppy farming and poppy substitute farming were discussed. The Tanitharyi Region group discussed fishery and water resources, tourism, and electricity issues. They also learned about the state and region government’s duties and responsibilities, functions mandate, and budget.
“For political parties to develop a strong policy, they need to collect the information from the public. This is necessary so that, the party policy will meet people's needs. In addition, parties should motivate people to focus on their local issues and take an interest in them.,” said a participant from Tanitharyi.
Defining policy positions of political parties on various issues is vital for the policy development of the country. Through elaboration with, and outreach to CSOs and constituents, political parties can frame relevant issues and define solutions based on their values and visions. This way, political parties can give realistic promises to the public during the election campaign. Policy positioning is thus a very important step towards making parties more responsible, accountable to the public, and programmatic.