Myanmar's military: pariah to some, favorable to many

Experts pour scorn on results of US-funded survey, which finds 84 percent in Myanmar approve of the armed forces despite alleged widespread human rights abuses.

Myanmar's military: pariah to some, favorable to many

World Bulletin / News Desk

Myanmar’s notorious military has appalled foreign observers for decades with its alleged unhindered campaign of human rights abuses, but according to a new U.S. taxpayer-funded poll it's actually extremely popular among its own people.

A poll of 3,000 people of voting age in the country found that 84 percent of respondents had either a "favorable" or "very favorable" view of the military -- a body that over the years has been accused of crimes such as persecuting Muslim groups, plundering the country’s resources, committing rape, torture and execution, and stealing swaths of land from peasant farmers.

The results suggest the military is even more popular than the internationally championed opposition National League for Democracy party -- led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose face adorns T-shirts, umbrellas and calendars across the country -- which scored 70 percent.

What's more, there is nothing to suggest manipulation of the figures that present a bold challenge to commonly circulated assumptions about Myanmar.

They have however drawn condemnation from experts and commentators.

Bertie Lintner, a renowned Myanmar (also called Burma) analyst, described the poll -- seemingly the first national survey of public opinion in Myanmar’s recent history -- as "phony."

"It is foolish to conduct a survey like this one in a society like Burma's," he told the Anadolu Agency this week.

"Respondents would not be convinced that they will remain anonymous. People are afraid, and they think they may be punished if they give 'wrong' answers."

Opposition politicians, as well the CEO of Myanmar’s biggest media organization, Eleven Media Group, also condemned the survey, saying it goes against common sense. They warned it could distort international opinions of the emerging nation.

The survey was conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a group funded by USAID and donations from multinational companies including The Coca-Cola Company.

The IRI, which describes itself as nonprofit, nonpartisan and "committed to advancing freedom and democracy worldwide" is chaired by former U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

After languishing under the boot of different dictatorships for over five decades, Myanmar recently began a drastic reform process that has seen political prisoners freed, press censorship relaxed and the promise of free and fair general elections next year.

But grave doubts remain about the country’s ability to become a flourishing democracy, as well as the military’s willingness to let that happen.

One symptom of the country’s opaque leadership is a severe lack of reliable statistics. Myanmar Survey Research, the company that gathered the data for IRI’s survey, faces a multitude of obstacles when conducting opinion polls.

People in Myanmar are unaccustomed to answering questions from pollsters with clipboards, and many remain understandably suspicious of sharing their political opinions with outsiders. Another problem is access; some ethnic minority areas blighted by civil war remain out of reach.

But the problems with canvassing political opinion go deeper than that: Myanmar’s media was only released from the shackles of pre-publication censorship in 2012, before which state-controlled newspapers and broadcasters bombarded the population with pro-regime propaganda -- a practice that still persists today, albeit in a watered-down form.

Besides, attitudes toward the military are complex. Aung San Suu Kyi has always maintained her fondness for the military, despite having faced its guns and suffered under years of house arrest.

Her father, General Aung San, is both an adored independence hero and the founder of Myanmar’s military. It is possible that many share Suu Kyi’s ambivalence towards the armed forces, believing that if purged of widespread corruption and a vicious lust for political control, it would again become a noble institution.

But Lintner, a veteran journalist who was written several books on Myanmar, and was officially banned from the country in 1985, believes fear is the key factor behind the military’s stellar performance in the poll.

"Whenever people in Burma have had a chance to show collectively what they think, in the May 1990 election and in the April 2012 by-election [for example], they voted overwhelmingly against the military's party," he said.

"That's more telling than this phony 'opinion poll.'"

Outside of the controversial championing of Myanmar’s military, the survey also offers insights into such subjects as Internet use in the country -- the kind of statistics that are in very short supply as Myanmar attempts to build a free market.

Another key finding, and one IRI was keen to push in its press release, is much easier to believe: the large majority support democracy and would vote in general elections if they were held today.

Myanmar Survey Research and IRI did not immediately respond to requests for comment when contacted by the Anadolu Agency on Friday. But Steve Cima, IRI’s country director for Myanmar, told Eleven Media the survey "was conducted in accordance with international standards for market and social research methodologies and IRI is confident in the data."

Last Mod: 02 Mayıs 2014, 17:35
Add Comment