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Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project

Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project

Supporting emerging democracies and transitioning states is one of the Community of Democracy’s main priorities. This objective has already been put into action in two key programs: the LEND Network and the Democracy Partnership. Several fundamental practices for supporting democratic transition are being realized in these programs:
  • Democracy is the only legitimate form of governance able to secure the needs and desires of citizens, protect their fundamental rights and freedoms, and maintain the rule of law;
  • The citizens of a given country are responsible for the process of transition and reform, and only they can determine the priorities and constitutional design of the democratic government in their respective country;
  • The role of external actors should be to empower and facilitate transitions by providing forums for discussion, making the advice and experience of experts available, and sharing other nations’ experiences in transitioning to democracy.
 
Fulfilling the mission to support emerging democracies within transitioning states, the Community of Democracies, in cooperation with the Australia-Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project, is launching the Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project.
 
Background
 
The Union of Myanmar is undergoing a transition to constitutional democracy.  Along with positive appraisals from the international community of the state’s efforts to progress, considerable efforts still need to be made to complete the process.
 
Upholding constitutionality remains one of the main tasks for the transitional process. As federal elections approach at the end of 2015, the international community agrees that amendments to the constitution prior to voting are crucial to retain the election’s public legitimacy, to increase public trust of political institutions, and to peacefully continue the process of establishing a constitutional democracy in Myanmar. In order to facilitate a holistic and inclusive constitutional framework, it is essential to embrace all stakeholders within society and provide them with the necessary legal tools and language to engage in the process of drafting and amending it. The Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project aims to achieve this goal.
 
The project
 
The project is built upon insights from a series of consultations and surveys recently conducted by the Australia Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Forum. From July through November 2015, the Myanmar Constitutional Democracy project will conduct four workshops, involving a total of 140 local participants and 27 regional and international experts. Local participants will include members of the judiciary, parliament, and executive branches of the government, academics, and civil society activists. Using a mixture of seminars and roundtable discussions, the meetings will aim to share the knowledge and experience of the experts, provide tools of democratic discourse to local participants, and increase the participants’ knowledge on the process of democratic transition by sharing the experiences of other countries. 
 
The main attribute of the workshops is the forum that they provide for bringing young local leaders from different segments of society together with experienced international experts who possess a global perspective. Workshops host a broad range of participants, including decision makers and opinion leaders who are likely to play key roles in the transitional process. They employ a set of interactive techniques to enable open and free discussion, which is facilitated by the international experts.
 
Constitutionalism is the core value of the project. Workshops will address several issues that are crucial to ensure a peaceful and inclusive transitional process, including democratic constitutional concepts, the role of democratic institutions, principles of multi-stakeholder dialogue, and gender issues. Within the workshops, dialogues will also focus on the issue of transitional justice. For this purpose, workshops will also gather lawyers, judges, and scholars specializing in transitional justice in the region to provide their insights on the topic.
 
Goals, objectives and outcomes
 
One of the major strengths of the project is the empowerment of local actors. Through the workshops, the project aims to increase the capacity of actors to participate positively in the process of constitutional reform. It will achieve this objective by expanding the constitutional vocabulary of different groups within society and providing a forum for debate and discussion between groups and actors who may not previously have had the opportunity to come together in these conversations.
 
Each workshop will create report detailing its outcomes. Participants will be able to use these documents in appeals to government, engagement with international organizations, and domestic mobilization efforts for democracy and justice promotion.
 
By contributing to the creation of a politically diverse and constitutionally literate environment, this project will increase prospects of peaceful transition and development in Myanmar. The outcomes of the project are thus long-term, and expected to continue to be visible long after the workshops finish.  
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