Celebrating International Day of Democracy: IFES’ 2016 Charles T. Manatt Awards

Celebrating International Day of Democracy: IFES’ 2016 Charles T. Manatt Awards Featured Image
Publication Date: 
14 Sep 2016

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On September 13, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) held its seventh annual Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. This year’s awardees included Nay Lin Soe, a disability rights advocate and Founder and CEO of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (MILI), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Bay Fang, Radio Free Asia Managing Director, emceed the awards ceremony, which was co-chaired by IFES Board Director and Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Prosperity and Development Dan Runde and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick.

Opening the evening’s proceedings, Fang spoke of IFES’ work around the world to give a vote to every voice. “I would like to thank the IFES team for its passion and dedication, often working under challenging circumstances to bring legitimately to the right to vote and give people a say in how they are governed,” Fang said. Following Fang on stage, IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney recognized IFES Board Directors, members of the diplomatic community, current and former members of Congress and representatives from IFES’ partners in the Consortium for Elections and Political Processes Strengthening – the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute – and introduced the ceremony’s co-chairs, Runde and Amb. Sedgwick.

Runde and Amb. Sedgwick thanked the generous sponsors who made the ceremony possible. The proceeds of the Democracy Awards ceremony benefit the IFES Innovation Fund, an endowment that supports original projects that address pressing issues in democratic development today.

Introducing Congresswoman Jackson Lee, IFES Board Chairman Don Sweitzer praised the Congresswoman for her “life’s work dedicated to empowering women to have an equal say in political and electoral processes and fighting for the rights of underrepresented groups.” Upon receiving the award, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who partners with IFES on the “Women, Peace and Security” Capitol Hill breakfast series, told the audience “there will always be a place for the leadership of IFES” and gave a stirring speech about the importance of inclusive electoral and political processes.

IFES Board Director Bob Livingston introduced the next domestic honoree of the Democracy Award, Senator Barrasso, noting that he “has been an important advocate for global causes, working to ensure freedom and prosperity for his constituents in Wyoming and for the millions touched by the United States’ development policy.” On stage, the Senator passionately talked about the importance of giving people a say in how they are governed and thanked IFES for its efforts to ensure that right to vote around the world.

Myanmar’s 2015 election was a historic moment for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation. Ahead of the elections, Soe’s collaboration with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission, government, civil society and media was critical to ushering in a new and inclusive era for Myanmar and serves as an exemplary model of how to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities in nascent democracies. A video co-produced by Voice of America and IFES, which was played at the ceremony, explained how Soe and MILI faced immense challenges, yet achieved remarkable advances for the rights of persons with disabilities. Introducing Soe, Sweeney detailed the extensive collaboration between IFES and Soe over the years, and noted that Soe has been a regional leader in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities and participated in several international disability movements, including the IFES-supported Association of Southeast Asian Nations General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA).

Accepting the award, Soe talked about the challenges facing persons with disabilities in Myanmar and around the world, but also listed some of the major achievements secured for persons with disabilities in his country in recent years. “IFES’ support played quite an important role in this [disability rights] movement which has brought wonderful, historic changes and significant achievements for people with disabilities especially in this transition period of democratic reform in my country,” Soe said. “Honoring me with this award this year not only highlights the important role of inclusion of persons with disabilities in Myanmar’s democratic reform process,” Soe noted in his concluding remarks, “but also highlights the need to mainstream disability in the global development agenda.”

Held two days prior to International Day of Democracy, IFES’ annual celebration of democracy, the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards, recognizes the exceptional work of individuals who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to freedom and democracy. IFES presents the awards annually to three individuals – one Republican, one Democrat and one member of the international community – who embody the character and spirit of former U.S. Ambassador and IFES Board of Directors Chairman Charles T. Manatt and work tirelessly to help ensure that citizens around the world are able to have a voice in the way they are governed.

To read Nay Lin Soe’s remarks, please click here.

To watch the video about Soe’s accomplishments, please click here.

To view the photo gallery, please click here

To learn more about Nay Lin Soe and MILI, please click here.

Past Democracy Award Recipients


Professor Attahiru Jega, Nigeria
Hon. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
Hon. Ed Royce (R-Calif.)


Maria Corina Machado, Venezuela
Hon. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
Hon. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)


Dr. Leonardo Valdés Zurita, Mexico
Hon. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.)
Hon. Kay Granger (R-Tex.)


Maimuna Mwidau, Kenya
Hon. David Dreier (R-Calif.)
Hon. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)


Judge Johann Kriegler, South Africa
Hon. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Hon. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)


Ziad Baroud, Lebanon
Hon. M. Peter McPherson, USAID
Hon. David Obey (D-Wis.)
Recipients, 1996-2007
Hon. Lee H. Hamilton
H.E. José Miguel Insulza, Chile, OAS
Hon. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
H.E. Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine
Hon. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.)
Hon. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.)
Rev. Msgr. Agripino Núñez Collado, Dominican Republic
H.E. Ronald Reagan
Richard Soudriette, IFES