Political Communication and Transformative Citizenship in Myanmar (Part I)

Political Communication and Transformative Citizenship in Myanmar (Part I) by Matthew J. Walton, 06/09/2017, Tea Circle (Oxford)

Citizenship is undoubtedly one of the more contentious issues in Myanmar today. But with so much focus on the boundaries of national inclusion, discussions usually ignore a key aspect of citizenship: its practice. The following two posts are excerpted from a chapter that will appear in an upcoming volume, Citizenship in Myanmar: ways of being in and from Burma, edited by Ashley South and Marie Lall (ISEAS Press and Chiang Mai University Press, 2018).

The practice of citizenship includes various perspectives on what citizenship entails (the different rights and responsibilities), the roles of state and civil society groups in fostering citizenship, and expectations of citizen participation (as well as expectations of the state in facilitating that participation). A discussion of the practice of citizenship should also include attention to the many “skills” of citizenship that go beyond basic rights and responsibilities. Especially important—but often unaddressed—are the particular citizenship skills that need to be cultivated by government officials.

Developing a broader understanding of a diverse range of citizenship skills and practices is particularly necessary in the context of Myanmar’s rapid political change. Since at least the 2008 constitutional referendum, the country’s citizens have been expected to participate in politics in a variety of ways that were not only previously unavailable to them, they were actively denied by military-led governments. The result is a situation in which the meaning and content of citizenship is either limited among citizens or expressed in ways that do not necessarily accord with centralized notions of citizenship and participation in Myanmar or with international norms.

In these two posts, I consider the practice of citizenship primarily in relation to the national political dialogue process, now officially reconfigured as the 21st Century Panglong Conference, arguably the forum that (in some form or another) will shape Myanmar’s political future. This is a useful starting point for critical analysis, especially because many of the crucial aspects of citizenship practice that I discuss are completely ignored in the current political dialogue process.

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