Suu Kyi Addresses Houses of Parliament

By Marc Inkey 22 June 2012

LONDON — Aung San Suu Kyi addressed both houses of the British Parliament at a packed Westminster Hall on Thursday. She was the first non-head of state, the only woman except for Queen Elizabeth II, and the first citizen of Asia to be given the honor of addressing both houses in the vast, stately 900-year-old building

An orchestra played as the guests took their seats and the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who has a long-standing interest in Burma, briefly spoke. He introduced Aung San Suu Kyi by graphically speaking of the atrocities, injustice and fear in Burma against which she has fought, and he concluded by saying that now there may be “room for cautious optimism” in the country.

Suu Kyi took to the podium wearing a purple longyi and white shawl to address the 2,000 lawmakers and guests. She spoke first of her father, Gen. Aung San, and his struggle for Burmese independence. She said he thought “democracy was the only system of government worthy of an independent nation,” and said she wanted to follow in his footsteps.

The period of democracy that his reforms ushered in was, she said, “the most progressive and promising period until now in the short history of independent Burma.”

Now the people of Burma needed help to support the new reforms so that they could face a better future, she said. “Our own determination can get us so far, the support of Britain and peoples around the world can get us so much further.

“At the heart of this process must be the establishment of a strong parliamentary institutions in my home country.”

She continued by saying that “so many people had made so many sacrifices” for democracy in Burma and that “they are only now beginning to see the fruit of their struggles.”

The new Burmese parliament will “take time to find its feet,” but to sustain the democratic process strong institutions are essential and Burma should learn from other countries with older parliamentary democracies. If the people did not take this opportunity for democracy, she warned, “It may be several decades before a similar opportunity arises again.”

During the most recent elections she said it was incredibly rewarding to see how many people, especially the young passionately “grasped the importance of participating in the political process.”

She said she believed the elections had been mostly free and fair, and she paid tribute to Thein Sein for this. But now it was essential for the present constitution to be amended to “accommodate the basic rights and aspirations of the ethnic nationalities,” she said.

“In over 60 years of independence Burma has not yet known a time when they could say there was peace throughout the land.” To combat this, she said, “We need to develop a culture of political settlement through negotiation and to promote the rule of law.”

There could be no economic development if differences remained unresolved and basic aspirations remained unfulfilled, she added.

Suu Kyi concluded her historic speech by urging on Great Britain to play a major role in improving education in Burma, which she said is desperately weak and leads to high youth unemployment.

Again she called for “democracy-friendly investment” by British companies and praised Britain for its role in facilitating next month’s visit of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Secretariat.

She finished by saying, “This is the most important time for Burma. This is the moment of our greatest need, so I would ask that our friends in Britain and beyond participate in and support Burma’s efforts towards the establishment of a truly democratic and just state.”