By MRATT KYAW THU & SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — A new national public opinion survey has recorded a decline in the number of people confident about the direction of the country since the Thein Sein administration, in a result that nonetheless showed emphatic support for the National League for Democracy a year after the party took office.
Conducted in March and April of this year, the poll is the second of its kind conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, following an inaugural survey in February 2014.
Released on Tuesday, 75 percent of respondents said Myanmar was heading in the right direction, down from 88 percent in 2014. The number of people who said the country was headed in the wrong direction rose 10 points to 16 percent over the same period.
Of those who said the country was headed in the right direction, 58 percent attributed their response to the development of new infrastructure or an improvement in the economy. Only 6 percent pointed to greater democratic freedoms such as being able to discuss politics openly.
Despite optimism over the state of the economy among many respondents, uncertainty appears to be on the rise in some parts of Myanmar, with 31 percent characterising the current economic situation in Myanmar as “somewhat bad” or “very bad”, up from 12 percent three years ago.
Results from the 2014 survey came at a time soon after the beginning of the Thein Sein government’s economic reform program, which facilitated a massive influx of foreign investment and new job opportunities in Myanmar.
Foreign investment has declined since the NLD took office, while inflation has steadily risen on the back of increases to budget and trade deficits.
However, most respondents said their economic situation had stayed the same (37 percent) or improved (39 percent) since the previous year, while nearly two thirds said their households had a good or very good standard of living.
Elsewhere, four out of every five respondents said they supported making it easier to amend the constitution, in what would be an effective end of the military’s veto over amendments to the 2008 charter.
On questions relating to democracy, 60 percent said they believed economic prosperity was more important than a democratic system of government, while the same amount said at least some people remained afraid to express their political views.
Two-thirds of those polled said they believed that power should be centralised in Nay Pyi Taw rather than devolved further to state and regional parliaments, in what may prove a stumbling block for calls to reform the constitution along federal lines.
Federalism is a key plank of ethnic armed groups and seen as vital in the effort to end many of the country’s myriad civil conflicts.
A total of 3,000 people participated in the poll, in a representative sample of Myanmar’s ethnic, religious, income, age and gender demographics.
Before Tuesday’s public launch of the survey’s results, the IRI discussed its findings with the 88 Generation civil society group and various political parties.