Political Parties and Popular Representation in Myanmar’s Democratisation Process

Kristian Stokke, Khine Win, Soe Myint Aung


The article examines the role of political parties in Myanmar’s democratisation process. We argue that the substance of democratisation depends on popular representation through political parties but question their capacity to provide such representation. Examining capacity through the concept of party institutionalisation, we find that most parties have not been able to build effective organisational structures. However, we also find a degree of party institutionalisation in the form of rootedness in society. Political cleavages between those favouring authoritarian rule over democratic rule and Burman nationhood over ethnic notions of nationhood have produced divisions between state-centred parties associated with Myanmar’s authoritarian legacy and society-centred pro-democracy and ethnic parties. Although being less dichotomous than in the past, we argue that these cleavages continue to provide a basis for party identity and rootedness in society. We conclude that further development of political parties and popular representation will be shaped by the relations between parties, the state, and society – where individual parties are shaped according to their tendencies towards state-centred cartel parties or society-centred mass parties.

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