Over the past eight years, three shifts in Myanmar’s democratic transition have taken place: (1) from unitary to federal (2) from centralization to decentralization and (3) from centralized local governance to decentralized local governance in extant. After 2010, Myanmar became a guided democracy with a quasi-civilian government that combines military and elected persons at every level of administration accordance with the Constitution. The presidential decree made in 2012 can also be recognized as the initial step of local democracy, governance and services. In other words, it can be claimed that local elections and weak decentralization created few spaces for citizens in local level governance. As a consequence, some local governance bodies give some spaces to allow citizen participation in local democracy and services. 

However, local democracy in a federal democracy context remains to be clearly articulated because the government, ethnic armed organizations, and the military do not have a general consensus in the building of the state. Federalism and democracy are becoming a serious concern of the people of Myanmar in the ongoing transition process. The new thinking in local governance in federal system emphasizes the division of power between federal and state governments. A proposition to recognize the Federal government and full competence of State governments is expected to be forthcoming in the future.

The study of local government in federal systems (third layer government) will be essential to the study as a part of state building. This article primarily intends to understand the nature of true self-local government. In addition, it offers a comparison of local governments and examines how local self-governance has been practiced in federal states through case studies. For those who are willing to pursue the transformation to democracy and a federal system, this paper aims to contribute knowledge of the concept of local self-government in a federal system, what kind of functions and power local governments have, how they emerged the need to maintain intergovernmental relations between states, and how they lead to long lasting democracy across the world. In addition, considering local self-governance in a federal context will certainly be helpful to the future of the country.


Table of Contents

This paper is organized in four parts as follows:

1. Understanding Local Self-government
2. Local Governments in Federal Systems
3. Analyzing the Structure of the Current Administration System
4. The Local Government Model Envisioned by Myanmar’s Ethnic Minority Groups



The Salween Institute blends objective analysis and hands-on community empowerment programs to frame policy debate and help shape public policy in Burma/Myanmar based on social justice, environmental responsibilities and ethnic right to self-determination.