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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

NDI, IRI Honor Aung San Suu Kyi

Madeleine Albright, NDI chairman, and Sen. John McCain, IRI chairman, present Aung San Suu Kyi with the democracy and freedom award. Photo by Chan Chao.

“Democracy is not perfect, but it is the best system so far,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist, member of parliament and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate at a Sept. 19 dinner co-hosted by NDI and the International Republican Institute (IRI). “The best thing about democracy is that it allows for non-violent change in power, without hurt to the country.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, a tireless champion for peaceful political reform, spent almost 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest. She took a seat in parliament last May following historic Burmese by-elections in April that marked the first time in more than 20 years that her party, the National League for Democracy, was allowed to compete for public office.

During a 20 minute address to a bipartisan audience of lawmakers, government officials and Burma supporters, she spoke about the NLD’s campaign for parliament and the current state of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the Burmese government. Although she was cautiously optimistic about democratic reforms in Burma, her hopes rested with the Burmese people themselves. “It has not been our practice for the last 50 years to ask questions of those in power,” she said, but people are learning to hold their government accountable and exercise their democratic rights and duties.

“The future holds out a lot of hope for Burma, but for that hope to be realized we have to work very hard and invite our friends to help us,” she said.

In 1996, NDI gave Aung San Suu Kyi the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award, but, under house arrest and unable to travel, she received it in absentia. IRI had similarly given her its Freedom Award in absentia, and both institutes took the opportunity to present her with an award in person during her first trip to the U.S. in four decades.

“The yearning for freedom is relentless, and so is Aung San Suu Kyi,” said former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, NDI chairman. “The path to extraordinary change is open in Burma, if the leaders have the good sense to listen to The Lady.”

Watch Aung San Suu Kyi's speech (or read the transcript):



Published Sept. 20, 2012