US-backed IRI survey comes under fire

ASEAN+ April 16, 2014 00:00

By Eleven Media

Experts question poll results, which say majority back Thein Sein over Suu Kyi and country is "moving in the right direction"

Experts in Myanmar have criticised the US-backed International Republican Institute (IRI) survey released on April 3.
According to the survey, many respondents have a positive view of the country’s reform process and the overall performance of Thein Sein’s government, and most believe Myanmar is heading in the right direction.
“The poll was conducted in accordance with international standards for market and social research methodologies and the IRI is confident in the data,” said Steve Cima, the IRI’s country director for Myanmar.
However, Eleven Media has questioned the results of the survey, while various experts said it may be incorrect not only in terms of common sense but also in the methodology used to collect data.
The survey, conducted between December 24, 2013 and February 1, 2014, randomly selected 3,000 adult men and women from 208 rural and 92 urban locations in all 14 provinces.
The Myanmar Survey Research group conducted the field research under the supervision of the IRI. The study was designed and analysed by Rob Varsalone of Global Strategic Partners and the poll was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Among the respondents, 89 per cent say the government is doing a good job, 91 per cent support the way President Thein Sein is handling his job, while only 69 per cent approve of the job done by Parliament.
In a question on who is their favourite among Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Thura Shwe Mann, 93 per cent say Thein Sein, while 90 per cent prefer Aung San Suu Kyi and 53 per cent Thura Shwe Mann.
However, this question was not included in the 34-page survey that was published on the IRI website. 
“Survey has huge holes”
While the government welcomed the survey, political analysts said it has huge holes and missed many things.
“We can take a look at this survey from two points of view – commonsense and methodology. Both have some missing points,” said Min Zin, PhD candidate of political science at Barclay University in the US.
The critics raised questions about how the respondents were selected and the IRI’s partner organisation used to conduct the survey. 
“It can’t be said the country is moving in the right direction. This is impossible at a time when amendments to the constitution have yet to materialise. And I don’t agree with President Thein Sein’s handling of his job as described in the survey,” MP Min Thu said.
“People see the current situation as a mockery rather than a reform process,” said Phyo Phyo Aung of the All Burma Federation of Student Union. 
“The fact that the people are satisfied with the government’s efforts in fighting corruption is a joke,” said Colonel Saw Lwin, Joint Secretary of the Kayan New Land Party.
“The survey saying that 74 per  cent of respondents favour the police force is very high. We are afraid of the words ‘May I help you’ when we go to the police station. They will not process documents unless we give them money. There should be reforms in those areas. We do not know on what kind of level and people the survey was based,” said Aye Thar Aung, first leader of the Rakhine National Party. 
“The survey states that 62 per cent of respondents favour the courts. This shows that those respondents have never experienced court cases,” said Lower House MP Thein Nyunt.
Political experts say the errors are the result of inexperienced local researchers and might also be a distortion by the IRI.
“As the IRI is backed by the US government, they might want to prove that the US government sees Myanmar as successful and this also might be a lobby tactic by the US government,” said Yan Myo Thein.
“The points of this survey have gone completely astray,” said Than Htut Aung, laureate of the Golden Pen of Freedom award and CEO of Eleven Media Group. “Thein Sein can’t have competed with Aung San Suu Kyi on public satisfaction even in the last two-year period when he was favoured by the public. Now the public are talking about Thein Sein being compared with Than Shwe. The president’s reforms are not encouraging either. That’s why the point that people are more satisfied with Thein Sein than Aung San Suu Kyi is nonsense. There could also be other blunders.” 
He said he is worried the international appraisal of Myanmar “might deviate” because of the IRI survey.

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