We pause today to reflect on and celebrate democracy and the free and open debate it entails.
We celebrate democracy not because it is easy or perfect, for it is obviously neither of those things.
We celebrate democracy because it is rooted in the will of the people, and, as such, does a better job than any other form of government in respecting the rights of individuals, solving problems peacefully, and building enduring prosperity.
Only democracy allows a country to benefit from the full energy and talent of its citizens, and from the progress and innovation that the unconstrained flow of ideas can create.
That is why ordinary people everywhere are working to make this fundamental principle a reality.
This past year, we saw peaceful democratic transitions in Sri Lanka and Nigeria. We saw an outpouring of popular support for constitutional term limits in Africa, and the courage of activists around the world who are demanding governments that are accountable, inclusive, transparent, and honest.
There are few ideas more powerful – more infused with universal aspiration – than democracy. But democracy has never been an automatic fact – a birthright on autopilot. It is an opportunity that must be renewed and revitalized by each generation.
That is why the United States will continue to stand up and speak out when authoritarian governments crack down on civil society, imprison peaceful reformers, silence legitimate dissent, or enact legislation that violates the freedoms of worship, speech, and press. The UN’s theme this year – Space for Civil Society – is a powerful reminder that a strong and independent civil society is an essential starting point for a strong and independent country.
As we strive within our own country for a more perfect union, we will continue to stand with activists on the front lines and ordinary people around the world to meet shared challenges, to uphold our shared values, and to safeguard freedom and justice for all.