Teaching Resources: Elections in Myanmar: Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

This blog post is part of the Asia in the Classroom series of ideas and resources for teaching about Asia

The Brief:

The mood in Myanmar in early November 2015 was euphoric. As the results of that country’s November 8 election began rolling in, it quickly became clear that the National League for Democracy (NLD) party would win by a landslide, replacing the military-dominated government that has ruled the country – often repressively – for more than 50 years.

But one issue has cast a pall over the election results: many of Myanmar’s Muslims were denied the right to run for office, or even vote. The situation is especially dire for the more than one million Rohingya people, many of whom have been stripped of their citizenship. The Rohingya are also increasingly subjected to persecution by Buddhist nationalists, led by the the Ma Ba Tha (“protecting race and religion”) organization. What’s more, one of the NLD’s party leaders, when asked whether improving the lives of Myanmar’s Muslims would be a priority for the new government, responded, “We have other priorities.”

Most world leaders and international observers noted concerns about the plight of the Rohingya and other minority groups, but nonetheless congratulated the people of Myanmar for a “better than expected” election. In other words, they chose to emphasize the positive – significant progress in the country’s move towards democracy – over the negative – the disenfranchisement of many Mulsims based on ethnic and religious identity.

If you were a world leader, would you also choose to emphasize the positive over the negative?

Discussion Questions:

The Myanmar elections presents an opportunity to discuss democratic transitions and the hallmarks of a democracy. Here are some discussion questions to help students to analyze the political process and outcomes.

  1. For countries like Myanmar that are moving from dictatorship to democracy, is it more important to focus on progress over perfection when it comes to elections?
  2. Why are there different standards for democracy and elections in different countries? Do you think there should be different standards? Why or why not?

Suggestion for Classroom Activity: Classroom Debate

(In addition to the discussion questions above, here are some additional teaching ideas)

After discussing the Myanmar elections as a class, hold a debate by using some of the political themes presented in the discussion questions. Here are some suggested debate topics:

1) Be it resolved that countries moving from dictatorship to democracy should focus on progress over perfection.

2) Be it resolved that the 2015 elections in Myanmar were fair and democratic.

Choose a debate topic and present it to the class. Then, divide the class in two groups – with one half of the class for the statement and the other half against it. Give time (30-45 minutes) for each group to conduct more background research on the issue and prepare their arguments for their respective positions. Bring the class back together as a group to debate the issue.

For more information on how to run a debate, take a look at these resources:

Simplified Debate Format for the Classroom

Guide to using Debate in the Classroom (Newfoundland and Labrador Speech and Debate Union)

Related News Articles:


BBC News: Myanmar's 2015 General Elections Explained

BBC News: Myanmar Election: Inside a Polling Station (Video 1:21)

VOA News: Praise and Criticism for Myanmar Election (Article with video 2:10)


Reuters: For Myanmar’s Muslims, Little to Cheer about Historic Election

BBC News: What Rights for the Country's Rohingya Muslims? (Video 3:56)

New York Times: Muslims Sidelined in Myanmar Election (Video: 2:41)

Council on Foreign Relations: The Rohingya Migrant Crisis (Backgrounder, with map)

  • To view other teaching-related articles in this series, please click here.