An historic address

“Aung San Suu Kyi – the only woman to have addressed both houses of Parliament apart from the Queen #Burma #WestminsterHall #bbcnews” I had tweeted at 3.44pm on June 21st.

“@merleneemerson The only woman to do so internationally, the only person from Asia and the only non head of state. She’s a record breaker!!” came a reply within seconds from one @gregjudge.

We weren’t the only ones excited by the recent visit by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Opposition in Burma to London. Celebrated in Norway where she finally accepted her Nobel Peace prize 21 years after the event, entertained by Bono in Ireland and honoured with a Doctorate by Oxford University, we were watching live her historic speech at Westminster.

Aung San Suu KyiWhat was remarkable to me was how at home Aung San Suu Kyi seemed then holding court, speaking in perfect BBC English and paying tribute to Britain for leading the rest of the world in the way of democracy. (The irony of course being that half of the audience had not in fact been democratically elected to the House of Lords).

She then went to great lengths to describe how important it was for everyone to be engaged in the political process, something which many Britons might take for granted. “Politics should be seen neither as something that exists above us nor as something that happens beneath us but something that is integral to our everyday existence” she said.

What drew the most laughs from the audience was when she described how her late husband Michael Aris had turned away a canvasser from their Oxford home saying that it was his wife who determined how they voted. I must confess this is somewhat similar in my own household, where I have managed not only to persuade my husband to vote Liberal Democrat but also our 2 older sons (with postal votes no less whilst away at University).

On a more sombre note, Suu Kyi then turned her address to more pressing matters in her home country, calling for help at a time of her country’s greatest need. British businesses were encouraged to make “democracy friendly investments” in Burma and by that she explained were investments that respected workers rights, were transparent and accountable, and which were also environmentally sustainable.

Over 16 years ago I had made my first visit to Yangon, capital of Myanmar with a delegation of lawyers from Singapore. I remember being told on the trip that there were over 40 golf courses in the country, a legacy of British rule between 1824 and 1948. Following Japanese occupation, the 2nd world war and the struggle for independence, it seemed a shame that Burma chose not to join the Commonwealth. The worst tragedy was of course the assassination of Suu Kyi’s late father, General Aung San and the onset of 49 years of military rule.

But following Aung San Suu Kyi’s example, it is probably better not to dwell on the past but to focus instead on the future. She made a point in her speech to thank and acknowledge the leadership and foresight of President Thein Sein. Certainly were it not for him and the gradual opening up of the regime, she would likely not be free now to travel the world.

May I therefore end by also paying tribute to Britain for exporting the Westminster model to all former colonies, and to enlightened leaders around the world. But unlike Aung San Suu Kyi, who wished for Burmese Parliament to emulate the so-called liveliness and informality of Westminster-style heckling …. er … no comment.

* Merlene Emerson is an Executive member of LibDems Overseas.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in News.

One Comment

  • I watched her address to Westminster in full and was genuinely moved. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s words remind us of the importance of democracy with the freedoms and protections it should afford all citizens.

    A true face of human tenacity and decency!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 11th Aug - 10:30am
    Alex Macfie and Former Dem ....."......the mistakes were in how it was conducted". No, it was what they did.... the damage they inflicted on the...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 11th Aug - 10:29am
    Peter Martin, When I was studying economics with the addition of C – Consumer spending an equation was used understand how Keynesian economics worked. I...
  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 11th Aug - 9:49am
    David Thorpe: The reason the Lib Dems are so associated with the Coalition's failures is that the leadership of the time (and supporters of the...
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 11th Aug - 9:48am
    Apparently the officer concerned keyed in the wrong registration. Human error, possibly; but, even if the car had been registered in Yorkshire, as the ‘wrong...
  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 11th Aug - 9:43am
    Former Dem: It needn't have been such a massive sacrifice, had our leadership conducted the Coalition as a business arrangement instead of a love-in. We...
  • User Avatarrichard underhill. 11th Aug - 9:09am
    Paul Barker 11th Aug '20 - 7:29am John Alderdice has given us THE ONE THING that we must do. We MUST do that. Every member...