Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson, National League for Democracy (NDL), on the possibility of democratic transition and reconciliation

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson, National League for Democracy (NDL)

While ASEAN itself has been around since 1967, in 1947, before he died, and in one of his very last speeches, my father talked about an association of Asian nations. That was long ago, but he had this vision that one day all the Asian nations would be able to get together and form a strong, united bloc. The values that we put at the forefront of our independence are still valid today. The greatest need now, as it was then, is for national reconciliation. We achieved independence in Burma through agreements among some of the main ethnic groups in the country, and we achieved independence together. I think we can say that if we did not have the cooperation and support of the ethnic groups, Burma today would not be in the shape that it is. During the long years we have struggled – that is to say, the NLD and other forces for democracy – we were very much helped by the political parties of the different ethnic groups. Few people are aware that the NLD was able to stand tall and strong because of support from allies among different ethnic groups. We were almost the only party left standing after the 1990 elections. However, our allies supported us through thick and thin. This is why I believe unity is a true possibility in Burma. It is not just a hope, it has been proven possible. And now we have to achieve it in the concrete terms of a political settlement. Ethnic conflict is one of the great challenges in Burma, though such conflict can be settled and, of course, has been resolved in the past. This memory of victory can help us achieve another victory in the form of genuine, ethnic unity. We want our party to be a truly democratic union. That was the vision of those who fought for independence in Burma. That is still our vision, yet it is a vision that has still not been realised. And we need to work toward achieving it. When we talk about Burma in transition, I would like national reconciliation to be at the top of the list. Most people are thinking of the Burmese transition in economic terms. I am afraid there are members of our government who think of transition purely in economic terms. That is to say, they are measuring the success of reform. I would like to put the word “reform” in quotation marks if it is being measured by how much aid or how much investment you get.

However, I think the success of our genuine reforms will depend on the level of inclusiveness we can create in our society, how much unity and how many agreements there are about where we are going together. Ultimately, it is the people of our country who will have to take this journey together.

It is considered a little old-fashioned these days to talk about duty, but I think it is very important. Also it is considered somewhat old-fashioned to talk about spiritual values, but I do believe in them because it is by these spiritual values that we have held up for nearly three decades. During our struggle for democracy, which we have not yet achieved, we were empowered by ordinary people who had nothing to give us beside their spirit and support. Whenever I travelled around the countryside, the people of Burma would encourage me simply by wishing me a long life. It is very common in Burma to wish a person a long life, but when you see people who have nothing and are very poor it is particularly encouraging. I specifically remember going down a road one day and seeing a small family – parents and two small children – by the roadside. They were living in what I could hardly call a hut; it was sort of a propped-up roof. That was all they had. They lined up outside that place and wished me a long life. I thought it was so generous. They were doing it with such happiness. They were not asking for anything for themselves. The generosity of our people helped us to keep going. They had nothing, but they had their spirit, they had their generosity because they thought of me and those working around me rather than themselves. They recognised that we are all one and the same. This is the genuine spirit of national reconciliation. We feel that we are all in the same boat, knowing we are all in the same boat.

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