The concept of citizenship is directly linked to the changing nature of the nation-state (Joppke 2007; Kivisto and Faist 2007; Mitra 2011). While there is a debate if citizenship can exist under a military dictatorship, the shift from Myanmar’s military junta to a parliamentary system heavily dominated by the military poses new questions about the concept of citizenship in that country.
The research aims to be a first step in exploring the concept of citizenship in Myanmar, i.e., an individual’s relationship with the state and his/her understanding of rights, responsibilities, and in particular, political participation in light of the re-creation of a multi-party system and the 2010 elections. The article proposes to discuss young Myanmar’s’ self-articulation of their relationship with the state, focusing in particular on the perceptions held by those in their early to late twenties, all of whom were first-time voters.
The research uses a mixed-methods approach. In the year preceding the elections, a questionnaire with qualitative and quantitative sections was distributed at a private higher education institution in Yangon (in English), where 54 questionnaires out of 55 were returned, and in villages in the Delta (in Burmese), where 49 out of 55 were returned. A second set of data was collected in Yangon in February 2011 after the elections and the first sitting of the parliaments but before the handover of power from the SPDC to the new government on the March 30, 2011. The data consisted of focus groups with young people of Bamar and ethnic minority origin. Three in-depth interviews with civil society leaders were also conducted to illustrate some of the salient issues.
The article concludes that the concept of citizenship in Myanmar is very thin and often pertains to passports and identity cards. The elections have allowed for some form of political participation, which was readily embraced by the younger generation. There seems to be a range of views held by the youth who took part in the focus groups. While there was at the time apprehension about how much change there would be, many agreed that the structural change and the embryonic political processes are a necessary and positive step in the right direction. While the discussion started an initial debate about rights and duties, the act of voting and taking part in wider political processes were not linked to the concept of citizenship, indicating how much more work needs to be done to increase the political literacy of the youth in Myanmar as the country moves forward.