President Thein Sein ‘Failing,’ Public Opinion Poll Finds

By San Yamin Aung 15 August 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein is “failing” in the eyes of the public, according to a poll of more than 6,500 people conducted by a local environmental and social advocacy group.

Though receiving higher marks than in late 2012, the three-stage survey found that the president scored 27 out of a maximum score of 100 at the end of last year, down from the 32 that he scored when respondents were polled in mid-2013. Thein Sein scored 21 when the preliminary poll was conducted in late 2012.

The group Advancing Life and Regenerating Motherland (Alarm), which works on environmental conservation and social affairs research in Burma, on Thursday released the survey, which also gauged public opinion on the performance of government generally and members of Parliament.

“If we defined it like in schools—that the student who gets a score of 50 out of 100 passes the exam—the president failed the exam as administered by the public,” Win Myo Thu, president of Alarm, said at a press conference in Rangoon. “We can say that in the middle of 2013, the score was up, but it didn’t stay there for long. Public satisfaction of the president has declined.”

The survey was made up of interviews with a total of 6,510 people from Rangoon and Mandalay in late 2012, mid-2013 and at the end of 2013. They were asked a series of questions about how they viewed the president’s performance, with responses assigned numeric values ranging from 0 to 100.

Protests against an electricity rate increase, land disputes and Burma’s ongoing civil war with ethnic minority groups were all deemed liabilities for Thein Sein by respondents. The arrest of activists protesting the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, the country’s still unreformed Constitution and a visit by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to Burma in late 2013 were also cited as unfavorable developments.

Bolstering public opinion of the president’s performance was his suspension of the Chinese-backed Myitsone hydro dam project, releases of political prisoners and the holding of bi-elections in April 2012 that were deemed free and fair, among other developments viewed positively.

The public satisfaction questionnaire covered Thein Sein’s performance in areas of governance that included Burma’s political reform program, and management of the nation’s economy, health care and education sectors.

“We did the poll three times with the purpose to reflect public opinion—whether they have a positive view or negative view, whether their support is increasing or decreasing,” Win Myo Thu said.

Survey administrators polled Rangoon and Mandalay because the two cities are home to the largest populations in Burma, he explained.

In an interview with media following the press conference, the Alarm president acknowledged, however, that the opinions expressed were likely to be largely those of the ethnic Burman majority, and might not reflect ethnic minority populations that largely reside in the country’s peripheral regions.

Win Myo Thu said a cross-section of eligible voters—among them young people, the unemployed, monks and celebrities—were dissatisfied with the president performance, while most elderly respondents, government employees and members of the military were satisfied.

“Celebrities and monks, who influence the public, are more dissatisfied than young and jobless people. This means that the president has to make amends with them if he intends to run in the next election [in 2015] and needs to create job opportunities and persuade youths,” he said.

The survey also found that public satisfaction with the government’s implementation of its reform program, and development projects in business, good governance and education had all fallen by the end of last year, compared with the mid-2013 poll. Performance in the health care sector was the exception, with satisfaction rising, but still receiving the lowest score among the areas assessed—a lowly 3 out of 100.

The poll also shed light on a general lack of public awareness regarding the workings of the national legislature.

“Those who know the representative in their constituency along with their party name are really rare. And at most 17 percent take note of the performance of their members of Parliament,” the survey said.

Khin Khin Linn, the secretary of the Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party, told Thursday’s press conference that the president’s score would likely be even lower if Alarm had included respondents from outside Burma’s urban centers.

“The president and government did not pass the exam, according to the survey. If more farmers in the villages were interviewed in the poll, who are facing a lot of land disputes, it would be worse than now,” she said.

The results of the Alarm survey present a far less rosy picture for the ruling government than a separate poll released earlier this year.

The Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) conducted a survey from December 2013 to early February of this year, polling 3,000 people from across all 14 of Burma’s states and division. In that survey, 88 percent of respondents indicated that they thought the country was heading in the right direction, compared with 6 percent who felt Burma was headed in the wrong direction.