LONDON -- In a historic address to both houses of Parliament, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that her country finally had a chance to “reestablish true democracy” and that she would welcome help from nations such as Britain.
“It is an opportunity for which we have waited many decades,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. “If we do not use this opportunity, if we do not get things right this time around, it may be several decades more before a similar opportunity arises again.”
Suu Kyi’s half-hour speech, before a rapt audience of lawmakers and other dignitaries, made her the first Asian, the first non-head of state and first woman besides the British monarch ever to address a joint assembly of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Previous speakers given the honor include Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama.
The occasion also was notable because she was addressing representatives of a nation that once subjugated hers, before Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, won freedom from British colonial rule in 1948.
Suu Kyi, 67, invoked the memory of her father, a staunch nationalist who was instrumental in bringing about Burma’s independence but who was assassinated shortly before it happened. Fresh from a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing St., Suu Kyi recalled a well-known photo of her father with then-Prime Minister Clement Attlee at that famous address. Her father, Aung San, was sensibly wrapped up in a military greatcoat to ward off the characteristic British damp.
“Six decades later, I strive to be as practical as my father was,” she told the audience. “And so I am here, in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives [and] greater opportunities to the people of Burma.”
Suu Kyi praised the political liberalization that has at last begun in Myanmar but reminded her listeners of the major problems the country faces, such as ethnic conflict and weak civic institutions.
She said she savored the experience earlier this year of freely campaigning at home for a seat in parliament and on behalf of her party.
“What you take for granted we have had to struggle for, long and hard,” Suu Kyi said. “So many people in Burma gave up so much, gave up everything, in Burma’s ongoing struggle for democracy, and we are only now just beginning to see the fruits of our struggle.”
Britain could help by sharing its political experience and through economic investment that promoted transparency as well as pursued profit in what is still a poor country with high unemployment, she said.
“This is the moment of our greatest need,” the longtime democracy activist said, encouraging Britain to link arms with her country. “We are brought into proximity through our shared values, and no geographical distance, no human-made barriers, can stand in our way.”
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses both houses of Britain's Parliament at Westminster Hall in London on Thursday. Credit: Tal Cohen / European Pressphoto Agency.