Editorials are the opinion of the members of the Editorial Board. Editorials are by their nature opinionated, and are not intended to be "neutral." The Editors attempt to be fair in their analyses, but they are expressing their own opinions. The Editors invite responses from readers, especially if they disagree with an opinion expressed in an editorial.
Lobsang Sangay Walks the Middle Way in Washington
Autonomy, Ethnicity, and Self-Immolation. [READ MORE]
Nepal explicitly recognized Tibet as an independent country. [READ MORE]
Important questions about the revisions to the TIbetan Charter. [READ MORE]
The significance of the 2011 Kalon Tripa election results. [READ MORE]
The candidates' views on Tibetan autonomy within the PRC [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening the Tibetan government-in-exile, where the Kalon Tripa has an important role. [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening ties between Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. [READ MORE]
Fortunately, both major Kalon Tripa candidates have clearly stated their policies on this important issue. [READ MORE]
Unfortunately, Tibetan voters are in the dark on the sources of campaign funds. [READ MORE]
We are troubled by the personal attacks emerging in the 2011 Tibetan election. [READ MORE]
In this editorial, we examine key aspects of Tethong's policy on possibly the most important issue facing the electorate: the future course of the Tibetan struggle. [READ MORE]
While it is still too early to project with certainty the person who will win in March, it has become clear that he is the frontrunner. [READ MORE]
The Kalon Tripa race has its first Sarah Palin incident; Norbu asserted that Sangay stated he wants to be the "Obama of China." [READ MORE]
Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa
and the Problem With Proxy Websites
Widespread campaigning through the internet is generally a positive development, but the website for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa perfectly illustrates some drawbacks as well. [READ MORE]
It is our hope that clarity on these offices' responsibilities will help voters better evaluate the candidates. [READ MORE]
Lobsang Jinpa clearly set out some of his policy positions, which is a step that we hope other candidates will emulate. [READ MORE]
Youth v. Experience
Personality v. Policy
Of all the candidates, little is yet known about what they actually stand for. That is because, so far, their statements have been largely about the candidates themselves, rather than what policies they would implement if elected. [READ MORE]
The Zurich debate between Lobsang Sangay and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong shows stark differences. [READ MORE...]
The essence of Lobsang-la’s article is that the Tibetan voting process should be made easier. Some of his suggestions are good, but some seem politically naïve. [READ MORE...]
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The Regionalism Game
On 28 January 2016, Central Executive of Ngari Chithun Association announced Penpa Tsering, the current Speaker of the exile parliament, as its candidate for the final lap of 2016 election for Sikyong (Prime Minister). The news itself, of course, is nothing surprising as each association can put up its own candidates, both for members of parliament and the prime minister. However, it is a question how Ngari Association came to the decision and what went on behind the scenes, including involvement of local politicians and regionalism or maybe even electoral pacts. These were nearly absent in the 2011 election.
In the preliminary round Ngari’s prime ministerial candidates were Tashi Wangdu and Lobsang Sangay. Wangdu hasn’t qualified for the final round. But Sangay did. Under normal functioning, Ngari’s candidate should have been Sangay. However, after receiving a letter from office of Utsang Cholkha, which supports Tsering, and a personal request from the Speaker himself requesting Ngari Association to support him, the executive members of Ngari decided to put Tsering’s name as their candidate for Sikyong. Ngari Chithun Association selected as its final candidate someone who wasn’t even a preliminary candidate, which sounds bizarre.
Of the three provinces, Utsang has the largest population in exile. Interestingly, it is estimated that over 60% of Utsang’s population in exile is from Ngari. Hence this association becomes important as an electoral base. There are unconfirmed reports that in exchange for its support, should Penpa Tsering win, Ngari Association demanded two Kalons from Ngari.
The Tibetan Election Commission (EC) created a new rule that ‘officially recognized’ groups can spend as much money as they want for campaign activities of their candidate, and this amount will not be considered as part of Rs.8 lakh allowed for each Sikyong candidate’s campaign expenditures. Since Utsang Province, Ngari Association and the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT) endorse Penpa Tsering, Tsering has unrestricted funds for his campaign activities giving him great advantage over his sole rival Lobsang Sangay. Sangay, the incumbent prime minister, is endorsed only by NDPT.
Some may call this a shrewd political move by Tsering. It is, if one divorces it from principle and morality that Tsering often talks about during his campaign tours. He has capitalized on the EC’s lame and impractical rule that gives undue freedom to some ‘officially recognized’ associations. Much has already been written about it, including in our last editorial.
Office of U-tsang Province’s letter to Ngari Association requesting it to endorse Tsering seems unscrupulous. Ngari is a part of U-tsang Province, and Utsang endorses Tsering, therefore the argument goes so must Ngari. Many years ago Ngari demanded to be recognized as a separate province and did not want to remain under U-tsang. Today it has its own Head Office in Dharamsala and regional branches in exile Tibetan communities. Hence recent U-tsang Cholkha’s official letter to Ngari is a tacit formal recognition of Ngari Chithun Tsogpa on par with U-tsang. This opens old sores of regionalism that plagued exile politics decades earlier when Ngari wanted to be recognised as a separate province. Furthermore, the letter was sent not with approval or consensus from the people of U-tsang but under the direction of the current Head of U-tsang Cholkhas, who is a staunch supporter of Tsering.
Is Penpa Tsering’s willingness to exploit regionalism a sign of how he would act as Sikyong? If he governs the way he campaigns, this is not a good sign.
Talks Minus Vision
Both Sikyong candidates have travelled to most of the countries where there are sizable Tibetan exile communities. They continue to hop from one place to another in India making promises, talking about their achievements and trying to prove who is more dedicated to His Holiness. Each public talk is hours long and much of the time is spend on making clarifications on allegations and rumours that supporters of each candidate have flooded the social media with, most prominently in WeChat (which has its main servers in Shanghai, and is highly unsafe to use).
What about the candidates’ future vision for Tibet? Sadly not much. Each time this important question is raised, Sangay talks about his achievements and regurgitates some tired words such as innovation, unity and people’s aspiration. Tsering’s bilingual election manifesto basically makes the same promises that Sangay has made or claims to have fulfilled.
On the most important issue of solving the Sino-Tibetan conflict, Tsering says that we should strive to improve Sino-Tibetan friendship groups and “enhance the roles of officials” of CTA posted overseas to enable the Chinese people “to gain an appreciation of the problem of Tibet and the Tibetan people thereby gain their sympathy for Tibet and the Tibetan people.” This is wishful thinking. It is about as well-thought-out a plan as Donald Trump’s idea to “win” trade negotiations through sheer force of will (Trump’s own, of course).
Worrisome too is the fact that Tsering’s booklet claims that self-immolation in Tibet started in 2010 – “142 Tibetans who have over the period of 2010 till now carried out self-immolations in Tibet…” What can we realistically expect from such officials? This is made worse by fanatic supporters of the candidates engaging in pointless, baseless, senseless and inane mudslinging on social media.
On the issue of unity within the Tibetan exile community, the more demagogic campaign has been run by Penpa Tsering. He has not hesitated to pander to the basest nature of ultra-conservatives in our society, for example by his shameful attacks on a rival candidate as being “anti-Dalai Lama”. Once this card is played, there is little hope for civil discourse. Tsering knew that, and regardless he was willing to go there for the sake of votes. Again, we are reminded of Donald Trump’s divisive and damaging tactics.
Politicians often cannot be expected to speak the truth or to perform their service without prodding by people and the media. As responsible people and particularly as people struggling for freedom, we Tibetans must ask hard questions and demand honest answers. We simply cannot afford to allow candidates to come and speak at their will and at times even to slight those who ask questions.
So far the Sikyong candidates have enjoyed their campaign trips with grand welcomes and sing-a-long send offs. The speaking sessions are long (lasting up to four to five hours) followed by questions that invariably are skewed towards either candidate’s personal affairs or controversies that have very little to do with the greater future vision or Tibet’s struggle for freedom.
If only …
It appears that both the candidates focus not on principles – based on which they must conduct and function – but on easy to catch slogans and I-am-better-than-him claims that they broadcast at each public forum. The incumbent Sikyong says he has over four years of experience and hence he is better suited for the top office, whereas Penpa Tsering, in his manifesto, states “I will be firm and clear in my policy and stand. I will be fair in carrying out my duties without any kind of bias…” etc. etc.
Young Tibetans are setting themselves on fire for Tibet’s freedom struggle as we have seen in the last few days. On 29 February 16-year-old Dorjee Tsering set himself on fire in northern India and on the same day 18-year-old Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated in occupied Tibet. Both demanded independence for Tibet. Under such circumstances we expect the two candidates to talk about their concrete plans and strategic actions displaying their leadership qualities. However, disappointingly their super-hectic campaign schedules are filled with public talks that revolve around a mortgage payment, a drinking problem, a supposed murder, the Kalachakra cancellation, Sung-dang-lay-mo etc. This is getting nauseating.
If only our candidates had a little more vision, integrity, and strategy. If only the current EC had not gotten away with arbitrarily killing any chance for the people to elect fresh leadership. If only the candidates had more principled strategic plans for Tibet’s struggle for freedom. If only they crisscrossed India and beyond during their official tours as they are doing now for their election campaign. If only they would provide simple answers to simple questions without resorting to glorifying His Holiness, who absolutely does not need lionization by politicians pandering for votes. If only they refrained from mudslinging and throwing accusations at each other as if each were entirely clean. If only they stood a little taller and saw a little farther. If only …
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
As Tibetans in exile prepare to elect a Sikyong and Chitues on March 20, this election season has been historic. But not in the way that was hoped. Never since before direct election of the prime minister has a Tibetan election fallen so short of the ideals of fairness and legitimacy. Never before has there been such uproar over arbitrary election rules. Never before have long-time Tibet supporters written to the CTA protesting “undemocratic practices.” And never before has a prominent U.S. Congressman warned that the CTA is acting “anti-democratically.”
We do not write this lightly. Anyone familiar with our past editorials knows that, for five years, TPR has sought to provide analysis that is opinionated but not hyperbolical. Yet there are times when the facts lead to an unpleasant conclusion. We believe – with sadness but with certitude – that this is such a time. The reasons for our conclusion are as follows.
Arbitrary Rules, Imposed After-the-Fact
An election, like a football (or soccer) match, requires certain conditions for the outcome to be legitimate. The rules of the game must be clear before the match starts, and cannot apply to one team differently than another. The referee must be impartial and treat all players equally. The goalposts cannot be moved after playing starts. A neutral party must keep score. Only then does winning actually mean anything.
From this perspective, the current Sikyong election process has been deeply and disturbingly flawed (the Chitue election by contrast seems to have been run perhaps more fairly, but not a great deal better – e.g. the bizarre creation of “voluntary” candidacies that allowed bypassing the primary election).<1> The process has consistently favored the incumbents, and has ensured that all challengers were frozen out.
The most egregious example is that the Tibetan Election Commission (EC) announced a new rule a day after the primary vote: there would only be two candidates on the final ballot, unless the third candidate reached a certain vote threshold in the primary vote. The primary vote was October 18, 2015, and the rule was announced on October 19.<2> By that time, media outlets like Tibet Sun had already been reporting running vote tallies from many of the settlements in India, and it was basically clear how the preliminary voting would turn out.
The effect of the arbitrary new rule, announced after the vote result was clear, was that the final ballot was limited to the two incumbents: Lobsang Sangay and Penpa Tsering. All the challengers were frozen out, including the third-place winner, the pro-rangzen candidate Lukar Jam.
This must be compared to the 2011 election, when the Election Commission (with different members back then) allowed all six primary candidates to stand for the final ballot.<3> Three of the candidates voluntarily withdrew, and by mid-January 2011 the Election Commission had announced the three candidates on the final ballot.<4> The number-three candidate in 2011, Tashi Wangdi, went ahead to the final ballot after getting fewer votes (by both number and percentage) than Lukar Jam gathered in the current primary vote.
As we said, in a football match or an election, the rules cannot apply to one team differently than another. The referee must be impartial and treat all players equally. This did not happen in this election.
We previously wrote about the EC’s outrageous creation of a two-tiered system of free speech rights.<5> We will not repeat our critique here.
We only note that when the Tibetan National Congress (TNC) asked the EC for recognition so it could support candidates the same way that officially-recognized groups supported the incumbents, the EC passed the buck to the Kashag (Cabinet).<6> TNC dutifully asked the Kashag for recognition on September 2 (ironically, Tibetan Democracy Day).<7> Since then, the Kashag has been ignoring this reasonable request, thereby ensuring that non-incumbents remain hobbled in the election race.
A delegation of foreign election monitors issued a report that echoes these concerns. The delegation was very diplomatic, but it called for “leveling the playing field of campaign finance and allowing all independent and outside the recognized groups to campaign for a candidate in order to avoid accusations of partisanship and to strength the fairness of the campaign finance rules.”<8> From the beginning of the campaign season, this unequal rule has benefitted the incumbent candidates and harmed the non-incumbents. This almost surely impacted the outcome of the primary vote.
A Non-Impartial (or Sleeping?) Referee
A fair football match or election requires an impartial referee. In this election, the EC flippantly dismissed the claim by Tashi Wangdu, a non-incumbent candidate, that an incumbent candidate was violating the EC’s rule against use of official resources for campaign purposes.<9>
The EC has similarly been asleep in not policing other violations, especially the incumbents’ use of official travel to campaign, and their unpermitted use of images of His Holiness and the Tibetan flag on their campaign literature.<10> Under the EC’s rules, both Lobsang Sangay and Penpa Tsering should have had 5% of their vote tallies nullified for these violations.<11> This has not happened.
The incumbents’ apparent misuse of official travel for campaign purposes was even raised in the Tibetan Parliament, but the official response by the Kashag was as dismissive as that of the EC.<12>
It may be difficult to divine the EC’s intentions in not enforcing its own rules against apparent violations by the incumbents. But whether it is purposefully biased or simply asleep, the effect is the same. What’s the point of having rules that aren’t enforced?
In fact, the only time the EC has risen from its slumber was shortly after an alarming letter from U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (more on that below). The Rohrabacher letter was issued on February 3, 2016. On February 6, the EC sent a letter to local election officials, reminding them to make sure any office-holder does not engage in any campaign activity. The EC’s letter added that the EC had received complaints that the Representative at the Office of Tibet in Washington DC was engaging in improper campaign activity (presumably on behalf of Lobsang Sangay) on official trips. Was this timing a strange coincidence?
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Then as if the EC was determined to show how ridiculous this election has become, it issued a second letter on February 17 backpedaling from the first letter. This letter was addressed to the Representative, and stated that the EC’s first letter was not a public notice to state that he had violated election rules, but was merely addressed to local election officials. The EC told the Representative not to feel sad (lo pham) over the previous letter, and that the EC has not indicted him. The backstory to this absurd situation is unclear, but it suggests either an EC who cannot get its act together, or political pressure being brought to bear on a supposedly “independent” entity of the CTA.
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Of course under Rule 8 of the EC’s new regulations, if the EC had not backpedaled from the charges in its first letter, it could have been disastrous for Lobsang Sangay’s election campaign. A finding that the Representative improperly campaigned on behalf of Mr. Sangay (for example) would require that, in all the cities where this took place, all the “votes received for the candidate in that place shall all be declared null and void.”<13> So considering this outcome, one could imagine the backroom pressure the EC might have been under to “reconsider”.
There are also reasons to wonder about the scorekeeper in this election; maybe not its integrity, but at least its diligence. For example, on October 22, 2015, the regional Election Commission in Dharamsala issued an official tally of the primary vote, signed by 12 commissioners. However, Lukar Jam later noted that he had voted for pro-rangzen activist Jamyang Norbu, and Norbu’s name was not on the list.
The commission quickly issued another list showing four additional individuals – including Jamyang Norbu – had received one vote each. A note stated that the commission had “forgotten” to print the second page of the official tally (not addressing why these four names weren’t included on the original page, which had plenty of space at the bottom). The second list was signed by 10 (not 12) commissioners.
“Forgetting” to print the full list – when signing and certifying official results – should raise alarm bells as to whether the scorekeepers are being adequately diligent. Even well-funded democracies sometimes have troubles with counting votes (look at the Florida election mess during Bush v. Gore), so some troubles are understandable. But in the context of the numerous other problems in this election, this development does not give greater confidence in the system.
In another particularly absurd development, one of the local Election Commissioners in Dharamsala (Mr. Sonam Dorjee) also happens to be a candidate for Chitue. Photographs even show him (with no apparent irony) handling the ballots of other voters. While Mr. Dorjee is likely an honorable man, the problem is obvious and has nothing to do with the specific individual in question.
Dorjee’s was not the only case. In Ladakh, the local Election Commissioner is also a Chithue candidate. It so happened that he scored the highest vote count with over a thousand votes margin between him and the second position holder. This reportedly happened by asking the people to write only one name – instead of up to ten names – on the ballot paper, and that name, as seen from the result, was his.
No candidate in an election should ever be one of the voting overseers. The fact that this happened even in the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile therefore speaks volumes about the EC’s functioning.
In an unprecedented development, a group of 27 long-time Tibet supporters sent an open letter to Sikyong Sangay, his Kashag, and the EC expressing deep concern over some of the EC’s rules and the way the Kashag was acting.<14> Signatories include the founder of SFT, a longtime president of ICT, and the Spanish lawyer who was responsible for Hu Jintao being indicted for genocide in Tibet. These are people with a long and proven dedication to the Tibetan cause.
This letter should be read in its entirety. The letter warns that, given such “undemocratic” tactics, Tibet Support Group (TSG) support should not be taken for granted by Dharamsala. In the three-decade history of TSGs, there has never been a letter like this before. Accusations of rights violations have, until now, always been directed at Beijing not Dharamsala.
The Kashag didn’t respond to this letter. The EC’s response – that the Tibetan democracy cannot be compared to other democratic systems<15> – was a moment of shame. The implication was that Tibetans in exile aren’t capable of running a “real” democracy, which is clearly false considering that past elections went just fine. It was also disturbingly close to the relativism that Tibetans rightly denounce when coming from the Chinese government.
Similarly, it is important to read the letter on the same topic sent by Congressman Rohrabacher to the U.S. Secretary of State and Director of USAID.<16> As the co-founder of the Congressional Tibet Caucus, Congressman Rohrabacher has a long history with the Tibet movement. So when he warns that U.S. funding for the CTA may be at risk, Tibetans should take note.
Tibetans would undoubtedly prefer to resolve these issues internally, and avoid involvement from outsiders (no matter how supportive). However, the situation seems to have gotten to a point that outside involvement is perhaps not surprising. And it is unseemly for Tibetans to decry “interference in internal affairs” as if we were using Beijing’s favorite way to avoid valid criticism based on universal values.
Why Did this Happen?
We believe that an independent investigation should be carried out as to why this debacle has happened (but we are not holding our breath). Tibetans have been directly electing the prime minister since 2001 and Chitues well before that, but this is the first time that these problems have been so bad. Why?
One area to look into is the process by which the three Election Commissioners were appointed. Is there a better selection process? Should there be certain objective criteria for being qualified to join an entity charged with being the guardian of Tibetan democracy?
Also needing exploration is whether the Election Commission’s rulemaking process needs to be brought under some control. In normal democracies, rulemaking by a regulatory body must be pursuant to clear statutory authority, with the legislature establishing policies, goals, and limited tools to get there. The regulator is tasked with implementing this delegated authority, not with creating rules out of thin air. Moreover, a legitimate rulemaking process has public input, open deliberation, advance notice, and an opportunity for judicial review if the regulator exceeds its authority. None of this exists in the current situation.
A third possibility is that the rangzen/umelam divide has reached a truly poisonous stage. That is probably the topic for another discussion, but we urge readers to consider what needs to be done to heal this unnecessary divide. It certainly does not help that the only pro-rangzen candidate was excluded through after-the-fact rule changes, thereby denying the electorate any choice on this issue.
A fourth area to look into (which is not mutually exclusive with the previous ones) is whether there is anything that the current Kashag or Parliamentary leadership did to contribute to this unprecedented situation. This is the first election held under the current administration’s watch. Sikyong Sangay has certainly promoted some divisive rhetoric on the rangzen/umelam issue.<17> So has Speaker Tsering, who has made bigoted and intolerant comments regarding rangzen supporters. Not only that, his public comment that he will refuse to sit in debate with fellow candidate Lukar Jam (who was still in the running then) pandered to the basest nature of ultra-conservatives in our society, and will be seen in the future as a moment of shame for Tibetan democracy.
The current Election Commission, far from being the independent protector of Tibetan democracy, has reduced itself to a laughingstock. The electoral process has become so tainted as to call into question the fundamental issue of legitimacy. And the incumbent leadership has been notable in their willingness to quietly benefit from (and perhaps quietly influence) this unfair system. This is shameful.
Some may take issue with our direct criticism, but we do not make it lightly. We believe that the facts are there for all to see, and only one question remains: whether the Tibetan people will speak up to demand better of their democracy. It is harmful in the long run to pretend a problem doesn't exist. The Tibetan people in exile deserve better. And we collectively owe it to His Holiness’s vision of democracy, and to the people inside occupied Tibet.
Whichever candidate is elected Sikyong on March 20, he will be inaugurated under the cloud of a tainted election and therefore tainted legitimacy. It is a tragedy that it has come to this. We can only hope that, over the next five years, Tibetan exile democracy revives itself so that the 2021 Sikyong election is conducted in such a way that can make the Tibetan people proud. There is a lot of work to be done, but surely the Tibetan people are up to the task.
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* The title of this piece is inspired by an article by Neil Steedman, entitled Will Tibetans in Exile Accept 'Democracy with Tibetan Refugee Characteristics'? -- a play on the Chinese government's "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics".
12 http://www.tibetonline.tv/15th-tpie-10th-session-sept-2015/ day 7 part 3, from 50:40 onwards.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Thanks to absurd actions by the Tibetan Election Commission and the last minute change of rules after the preliminary ballots were in, thereby disqualifying an able candidate, the race for Sikyong has quite frankly devolved into farce. While that is a topic for another day, the race for Chitue still looks fair and competitive. Below, we share a few thoughts about the candidates for the two North American Chitue seats. We are particularly positive about the candidacies of Pema Chagzoetsang and Tsewang Rigzin.
Pema Chagzoetsang, the only woman standing as a candidate, has distinguished herself by her lengthy service record. She has served as a leader in the Utah Tibetan community, as well as 10 years on the board of Tibet Fund. Chagzoetsang seems to have brought a voice of constructive scrutiny to Tibet Fund's operations -- a trait of which the Tibetan Parliament could use more.
Whereas Chagzoetsang supports the Middle Way position, Tsewang Rigzin takes a principled position for Rangzen. (It would certainly go a long way toward restoring unity in the Tibetan community by sending one pro-Middle Way and one pro-Rangzen member to represent North America in the Tibetan Parliament). During his time leading the Tibetan Youth Congress, Rigzin served with distinction and balance, even in the face of some unfair attacks from more radical voices opposing TYC's long-standing position on Rangzen.
Rigzin showed that he is willing to sacrifice for the Tibetan cause, having moved his family (including children) from a comfortable life in the US to India for several years to serve as TYC president. During recent debates, Rigzin spoke clearly and compellingly about what he believes and what he hopes to accomplish as Chitue.
Of course the other pro-Rangzen candidate is Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, who served as TYC president before Rigzin. While Godrukpa is charismatic and self-confident, there are also downsides to his candidacy. When he ran unsuccessfully for Kalon Tripa in 2011, his campaign website made some over-the-top claims like his claimed "ability to perceive the inner aspirations of all Tibetans.”<1> The site also made some factually false statements; it claimed that a hunger strike organized by Godrukpa led to the appointment of a “Special UN Rapporteur for Tibet” and that Godrukpa had testified in front of “the International Commission of Jurist[s]", both of which were untrue.
We are also concerned about Godrukpa's leadership -- or lack thereof -- during the TYC-led march to Delhi in 2007. We wrote about this issue in 2010, but in summary, thousands of Tibetans responded to TYC's call to converge on Delhi for a vaguely thought-out mass mobilization.<2> Many dedicated Tibetans were frustrated and disheartened by the lack of any plan once they arrived in Delhi. The Mass Movement ended after a one day rally was dispersed by Indian police. The Movement's stated goals were not achieved. Godrukpa then disappeared from public view. We believe Godrukpa needs to show that his leadership skills have grown since then if he hopes to be elected Chitue.
The only incumbent seeking re-election is Seattle’s Tashi Namgyal, since Toronto’s Norbu Tsering is not seeking a second term. Namgyal was not originally elected in 2011, but he became Chitue thanks to a seat vacated by Dickyi Chhoyang upon her appointment to the Kashag. He comes into this race with the advantage of incumbency, and he stands a fair likelihood of re-election based simply on name-recognition.
As incumbent, Namgyal’s record over the past five years deserves inquiry. His election materials discuss his official participation (as one of the two North American Chitues) in the Gratitude Tenshug to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but they do not specify the precise contributions he made in terms of work. In Parliament, he does not appear to have much of a record to speak of, except in his role in forcing the Office of Tibet in Washington DC to swap out a portrait of His Holiness instead of a portrait of Sikyong Sangay that had been installed in a prominent spot. That could seem like quite a trivial achievement. Namgyal's way of proceeding with this issue, bringing the matter up in a Parliament Session rather than simply having a word with the Office staff, seemed to some very calculated to please the masses.
Namgyal is a supporter of the Middle Way.
Troublingly, Namgyal has not explained his role in the March 10, 2015 debacle in New York. Namgyal was a chief guest of the organizers who decided to forcibly bar any pro-Rangzen voices from the event, and Namgyal even sat passively on the stage during some of the more shameful actions. He previously promised that "I will readily resign from the parliament rather than be a part of any action that will discredit the Tibetan people."<3> While he likely does not have to go that far, at least he might consider an explanation as to his role in this unfortunate event or why he did nothing to try to stop it.
By far the youngest challenger is Tenzin Rangdol. Like the majority of the candidates, Rangdol supports the Middle Way policy. Rangdol is one of two candidates who not only ran during the primary election, but who also submitted the $500 fee to guarantee his spot on the final ballot as a "voluntary" candidate (a procedure that is very troubling, but that's the responsibility of the Election Commission for setting up this shortcut).
Rangdol is a serious young man who is clearly very eager to be elected. What's less clear is his record so far of leadership in service to the Tibetan cause. While a sparse record is not necessarily a bar, he will need to demonstrate to voters that he has the necessary vision, commitment, responsibility, and integrity to serve as the North American Chitue.
Rangdol will also likely need to show that he has the ability to serve as an independent voice: during a video of a recent Chitue debate, it was notable the number of times that Rangdol mentioned "Dhonchoe Ku-ngo", referring to Representative Kaydor Aukatsang, who was sitting in the first row of the audience in front of Rangdol.<4> He also was the only candidate who failed to respond with any specifics about a question on the candidates' plans to promote the teaching of Tibetan language and culture to the North American Tibetan youth.
The last Chitue candidate is Kalsang GGT (Gangjong Gesar Tsang), from Vermont. Kalsang, like Rangdol, decided to ensure his place on the final ballot by paying the $500 fee. He is a businessman (he owns a hotel in Vermont), and appears enthusiastic about serving as Chitue.
In conclusion, the Tibetan people in North America are choosing between six candidates (an incumbent and five challengers) for two spots. For the reasons stated above, we are particularly positive about the candidacies of Pema Chagzoetsang and Tsewang Rigzin, but the voters are fortunate to have such a distinguished set of candidates from which to choose. As always, we welcome any candidate to send in their own materials for publication, and invite any voter to submit articles with their own perspectives.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
On 14 March 2011, His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a historic statement devolving all his political authorities to the elected leadership. His Holiness said, “The essence of democratic system is, in short, the assumptions of political responsibility by elected leaders for the popular good,” and that “the general lack of experience and political maturity in our democratic institutions has prevented us from doing this earlier.”
We can infer from this that the Tibetan people and their democratic institutions have now attained political maturity and experience to handle democratic rights and responsibilities. It has been nearly five years since His Holiness devolved his powers and a democratically-elected leadership took over the political duties with support of the exile populace.
Given the surge in candidates vying to become members of the exile parliament and the amount of discussions taking place, both online and in social gatherings, the exile democracy has shown great progress. There are nearly one hundred self-declared candidates from U-tsang province competing for ten seats in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, and as many as ten candidates for one seat for Australia and Asia, excluding India, Nepal and Bhutan. Since the first members were elected for the then Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies in 1960, we have come a long way.
However, there are dangerous signs from a certain quarters of the exile communities that not only cast dark shadows on the democratization process, but also impinge upon freedom of speech and assembly.
The Ganden Monastery Notice
A case in point is an official notice issued on 23 September by the office of Gaden Monastery Buddhist Cultural Society, popularly known as Ganden Monastery in Mungod, South India. This notice denied the Ganden monks the ability to hear from a potential Sikyong candidate, and singled out one candidate by denying him the ability to speak there.
The notice states:
“Gaden Monstery is pleased to announce cancellation of the scheduled public address by Lu Khar Jam. With taking religious and cultural sentiments public in consideration a special meeting of senior staffs and top leaders of the Monastery yesterday (22nd September, 2015) unanimously resolved to cancel the program. With this important decision Gaden Monastery is sending out a clear and message to the Tibetans worldwide.”
Ganden’s decision followed Gyumed Tantric Monastery’s decision to bar anyone ‘who disparages His Holiness’ from speaking at their campus, a veiled reference to Lukar Jam (who, as far as we know, has never disparaged His Holiness but simply holds a differing opinion on the issue of Tibetan independence).
As an initial matter, it is undoubtedly the right of a monastery’s leadership to decide matters of monastic management. No one should dispute this. The issue is not whether Ganden or Gyumed has a right to bar any candidate from addressing the monks, but what results will come to fruition as a result of that action.
What are the results of Ganden’s notice? What “clear message” does it send?
Is the “clear message” a misguided attempt to rally around His Holiness? We are merely laypeople, but we do not believe that His Holiness would want intolerance to be the message coming out of an esteemed monastery whose heritage goes back to Je Tsongkhapa. As Samdhong Rinpoche clearly stated, it is “wrong to construe that those who don’t support the Middle-Way Policy are against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” He explained “the need and importance of divergent views and lively debates in a healthy democracy” and added that “whether it is independence or the Middle Way, the real aim of both of these ideologies is the welfare of the Tibetan people.”
Some Tibetans may interpret the “clear message” as a call for exile Tibetans to bar, boycott and disengage themselves from anyone who holds differing political views. This would be very damaging to Tibetan unity. Frankly, this would be the sort of myopic orthodoxy that damages the fabric of an open and liberal society, and blocks public discussions that help democracy grow into full bloom.
There have been times in Tibetan history when the orthodoxy of certain parts of the monastic leadership has not benefited the nation. For example before the Chinese invasion, some monastic leaders opposed His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama’s attempt to create a standing army, and opposed efforts to introduce modern education and bolster Tibet’s independence through stronger links to foreign countries. This is a trend that should be relegated to the history books.
Schools as Politics-Free Zones
Similarly, the Tibetan Children’s Villages, Bangalore-based Dalai Lama Institute, Dharamsala-based Sarah College for Higher Studies (which operates under the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics) and Delhi-based Tibetan Youth Hostel have all decided, to henceforth not allow Sikyong or MP candidates to speak at their respective campuses. This is may also have unfortunate effects for Tibetan democracy.
We acknowledge that the decision applies to all candidates equally. And perhaps the intention was to avoid political issues by restricting educational institutions from hosting any political events. Although we have no intimate knowledge on why these reputable institutions have taken this decision, the possible impact is huge.
These institutions accommodate thousands of Tibetan youths pursuing studies. Denying them the right to hear, question, interact and find out, at first-hand, about likely members of the exile parliament and a would-be Sikyong is tantamount to placing large boulders along the path of democracy. Conversely, providing an equal-opportunity venue for speeches, Q&A sessions, and debates from all candidates would have given the students valuable lessons in what it means to be engaged citizens.
In the current struggle facing the Tibetan nation, every Tibetan has a duty to participate, including a duty to educate themselves about the serious political issues facing the nation. By declaring these educational institutions as “politics free zones,” how will this shape the next generation? Will this decision encourage them to be more engaged, or will it tell them that it is safer to be apolitical?
Similarly, a possibly-unintended effect of this decision will be to give an advantage to incumbents. Any time the space for debate is narrowed, and any time challengers lose an ability to get their message out, the power of incumbency grows. Incumbents already enjoy many advantages, including the ability to use official platforms. At a time when the Tibetan Election Commission seems asleep at the switch by not policing its rules against using official resources to campaign, this is a special problem. This decision benefits the political status-quo, and it should not be pretended otherwise.
Is There a Better Way?
The educational institutions’ actions send out a message to other Tibetan associations, monasteries, community centres and schools to shun political debates and exchange of ideas. Tibetan democracy cannot move forward as envisioned by His Holiness without open discussions and public forums to do so.
Furthermore, barring individuals from speaking simply because of a difference in views and standpoints impacts the unity and collective strength of our struggle for freedom. Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Well before Lukar Jam had announced his candidacy, we predicted that “if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being ‘against’ His Holiness.” We are fairly confident that – setting aside Lukar Jam – any other pro-independence candidate would have similarly been unfairly tarred as “anti-Dalai Lama.” Hopefully the Tibetan people will rise above such manipulation, and live up to His Holiness’s vision of a well-functioning democracy.
Our belief that such manipulation is wrong matches the CTA’s official policy. In a 2010 White Paper, the CTA declared, “the Middle-Way policy has been put forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a mere suggestion… Hence, if any of those organisations and individuals who support the Middle-Way policy try to propagate this policy by saying that it is the expressed wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and so all should accept it, then they are simply spreading disinformation. We consider this as absolutely inappropriate and undesirable.” While the current CTA leadership has so far been very passive when it comes to promoting this official policy, there is still an opportunity for the administration to show some leadership on strengthening unity here.
We earnestly hope that religious institutions such as Ganden Monastery and Gyumed Tantric University will reconsider their decision and allow open exchange and debates, which is also an integral and central part of Buddhist studies. It is clear from social media that ordinary monks earnestly engage in social and political issues by taking active part in discussions and sharing information about Sikyong and MP candidates.
Any decision that does not reflect the aspiration of the majority, while respecting the ability of the minority to speak, becomes a gag order. The Tibetan struggle has enough challenges coming from China; our nascent democracy does not deserve such self-inflicted damage.
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 http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/editorials/2016tibetanelectionseason. The absurdity of this position is apparent when one considers that His Holiness’s late brother, Taktser Rinpoche, was a staunch supporter of independence, and yet no one would call him “anti-Dalai Lama.”
 http://tibet.net/2010/01/middle-way-policy-and-all-recent-related-documents-2010/ (see page 16).
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Whenever the Tibetan leadership talks about the exile democracy, they almost invariably describe it as ‘yang dak pai mang tsoi lam lug’ or ‘the impeccably perfect democratic system.’ Yet, there is not enough evidence to indicate how it is ‘perfect’ or in what ways the Tibetan democracy is superior to democratic systems being practiced in nations such as India and the U.S.
Some, including former prime minister Samdhong Rinpoche, have mentioned the ‘uniqueness’ of ‘choesi zung drel’ or the combination of religion and politics as the Tibetan system’s defining character. However, achieving “separation of church and state” is usually considered a mark of a mature democracy. And we fail to see the positive aspects of the Tibetan system’s combination of church and state, especially when it comes to elements such as the grant of two votes in the Parliament for monks. Furthermore, as evidenced from earlier elections, a main drawback of the exile democracy has been the dearth of candidates, especially to the top executive position.
During elections for Kalon Tripa in 2001 and 2006, there were only two candidates and one of them decided to be in the race so that the election would not be voided (rules then made the election null and void if there are less than two candidates; the rule has since been changed). The election in 2011 was a little better with three candidates for the final stage.
The 2016 election is markedly different. The Tibetan democracy has indeed come a long way. There are five Prime Minister (Sikyong) candidates and perhaps hundreds vying to be members of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPIE). For example, there are as many ten candidates for one seat in parliament for Australasia (i.e. Australia plus Asia, excluding India, Nepal and Bhutan).
Here are the five Sikyong candidates, in alphabetical order.
Lukar Jam Atsock
Lukar Jam was born to a nomadic family in eastern Tibet. In 1989, he escaped into exile to join the Special Frontier Force (SFF) in India. However, when Lukar saw a Sikh recruitment officer at the recruitment test rather than a Tibetan officer, he did not join. Instead, he went back to his homeland carrying copies of the H.H. Dalai Lama's My Land and My People and a videotape of a speech His Holiness made when He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Back in Tibet, he formed an underground group called Dokham Shonnu Shithup Tsokpa or the Warriors’ Association of Youth from Eastern Tibet. He was eventually arrested along with about 20 of his associates and was sentenced to 18-years in prison by the Chinese authorities without a trial. After five years of imprisonment and torture, he was released on medical parole and he escaped into exile. He worked for the CTA’s Department of Security, and later served as vice-president (and currently president) of the Gu-Chu-Sum, the ex-political prisoners’ organization.
Lukar Jam is a quintessential straight-talking activist-writer who does not mince his words. He is the only candidate who stands for Tibet’s independence (Rangzen) from Chinese occupation and has provided, in his public speeches, fairly detailed plans in the event he wins the Sikyong election. Similarly, he is the candidate with the biography that is perhaps best positioned to link Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile.
His stance explicitly for Rangzen makes him the underdog in this race. In an interview with The Caravan Magazine Lukar said, “What I bring to the table is the fight for Tibet’s complete independence, and that cannot be compromised. In fact, whether I win or lose is not important.”
Likewise, in his video interview with Canada Tibet Committee, Atsock stated, “I don’t consider the current Chinese system as legal. Moreover, as an exile I will not have the power to enter into negotiation with Chinese to decide on fundamental issues for those Tibetans inside Tibet, who have political rights and that has to be decided by a popular referendum. Since the present Chinese system is a lawless one-party rule not accepted even by the Chinese people, I cannot enter into any legally-binding negotiation with it regarding Tibet and China issues.” (He would, however, be willing to negotiate about humanitarian issues like the wish of His Holiness to visit Tibet and China for pilgrimage; or the desire of the Tibetans in exile to meet their relatives in Tibet.)
“If I get elected the first thing that I would do is to change the name [of the exile administration in Tibetan] back to Tsenjol-Bodshung [Tibetan Government-in-Exile]…” he stated. However, the name change was adopted in the TPIE with due legislative process, and the Sikyong has no power to unilaterally change the name. What he can do is to suggest a bill to the TPIE to change the name.
Similarly, in order to change the Middle Way Approach (Umey Lam) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), it would require a majority vote in the TPIE. The Office of Sikyong cannot unilaterally change the Middle Way Approach (although the Sikyong can re-define it, as Lobsang Sangay did in 2013 – see below).
However, a Sikyong with a position different than the Middle Way could choose to take steps to advance policies within the purview of the executive branch. This could be similar to when Chen Shui-bian, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, served as the president of Taiwan. During Chen’s tenure, he promoted greater steps toward Taiwanese independence, while also being careful to not directly violate Taiwan’s official “one-China policy.”
Lobsang Sangay, the incumbent Sikyong, grew up in a small refugee settlement located in northeast India. After his higher studies in Delhi University, he went to Harvard Law School where he subsequently obtained his S.J.D. His dissertation was entitled Democracy in Distress: Is Exile Polity a Remedy? A Case Study of Tibet's Government in Exile.
In 2011, Sangay, who was then a Fellow at the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, became the first democratically-elected Sikyong or the political leader of the CTA and the political successor to the Dalai Lama after His Holiness’ devolution of political powers. Sangay’s administration has since been operating based on his three stated principles of Unity, Innovation and Self-reliance.
On 12 August, Sangay issued a long-awaited announcement stating his desire to run for the second term and his supporters widely distributed ten achievements of his administration. Sangay has, however, made no fresh proposals of what he intends to do if re-elected.
Sangay comes into this race with all the advantages of incumbency, including his ability to use CTA resources to travel and reach out to voters (combined with the Election Commission’s apparent inability to enforce its rules restricting this). This gives Sangay a formidable – and perhaps unassailable – lead over his opponents. On the other hand, incumbency comes with the potential drawback of overexposure and familiarity. For example Maureen Dowd of the New York Times described the loss of excitement for President Obama, likening him to “a razzle-dazzle trailer that turned out to be a disappointing movie with mediocre box office.”
In the last five years there have been achievements deserving mention such as the historic Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act 2014 passed by Government of India, which will have wide ranging positive impacts on refugees in the subcontinent. Likewise the Government of India lengthened the validity period of Tibetan residency cards. In both of these developments, Sangay’s administration played a role, building on the efforts under his predecessor Samdhong Rinpoche. His administration also initiated the Tibet Corps, a program for Tibetans to volunteer their talents in public service with the Central Tibetan Administration. Sangay’s focus on education has seen increased scholarship benefiting hundreds of Tibetan students. At the same time, under his administration certain branches of the Central School for Tibetans and Tibetan Children’s Village had their licenses cancelled by the Indian Government, and thereby barred from receiving foreign funds.
There has been wide recognition for his high profile particularly from inside Tibet as seen from numerous songs and poems composed in his name, and images said to have been produced in Tibet. In one example, the Sikyong’s Facebook page celebrated a thangka (religious painting) said to have been produced in Tibet, with the Sikyong’s portrait with that of His Holiness, the Sakya Trizin, and the Gyalwang Karmapa. This thangka also had Sangay’s election motto printed on it, in English.
In his re-election announcement Sangay states, “I have not left any stone unturned in my effort to fulfill my obligations.” This may not be entirely true. His administration’s handling of the fiasco following 10th March 2015 in New York (where Umey Lam supporters attempted to expel Rangzen supporters from the March 10 rally) left much to be desired from an administration that claimed Unity as one of its guiding principles. The decision by the Office of Tibet (North America), which basically ratified the actions of Umey Lam supporters, set a terrible precedent for the future and could have a deep impact on unity and collective strength for Tibet’s struggle for freedom.
Likewise the Sangay administration’s role in the in the Radio Free Asia debacle caused serious criticism from a senior Republican member of the U.S. Congress. And Sangay’s lack of financial transparency and attempt to deny links to a problematic Washington lobbyist has caused unnecessary damage to the Tibetan government-in-exile’s image.
Perhaps most significantly, there has been no progress in talks with China to resolve the Tibet issue apart from a few statements of support for the Middle Way Approach from foreign dignitaries and some Chinese intellectuals. This despite Sangay’s definition of the Middle Way to mean giving up the goal of democracy, and accepting Communist Party rule and unlimited Chinese militarization of the entire plateau. Having conceded so much, it is unclear what cards Sangay has left to play to get China to the negotiation table during another five-year term.
Topgyal was born to a nomadic family in Ladakh, North India. He was a shepherd until he was sixteen and later joined India’s Special Frontier Force. Currently, he is a businessman based in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya in northeast India.
During his announcement for Sikyong, Topgyal said that he is running for Sikyong to represent U-Tsang Province, which has the largest population in exile, so that "it is not inauspicious" [tendrel ma chuk pa]'”. Of course, basing a candidacy explicitly on representing U-Tsang could be said to be “indulging in provincialism,” which is forbidden by the new rules set out by the Election Commission. This is another example of how the Election Commission’s vague rules and inconsistent enforcement are a problem in this election.
When asked what special qualities he has that compare to the current Sikyong, Topgyal remarked, “The difference between Sikyong and I are that Sikyong is from Harvard and I remained backward [i.e. back in India]. Rest is the same.”
Like three of the other candidates, Topgyal is an advocate of the Middle Way Approach. According to Topygal, “The followers of Middle Way policy should have high financial security and educational qualification. If there is a rich strong man and a humble educated man, the rich can lead the educated anywhere, today towards the Middle Way and tomorrow towards independence. A person can become an eligible candidate of this approach only when he does not have to depend on others for money or knowledge.”
His economic plans for exile Tibetans are to find ways [especially for nurses and professionals] to travel to countries such as Canada for work, and to avoid paying income taxes in India. Topgyal claims to have the knowledge and wherewithal to achieve these goals.
However, since his announcement for Sikyong candidacy on 20 August, Topgyal has not made any public appearance or laid out his campaign strategies. This makes us wonder if he is serious about his run for the highest post in the CTA. Or is it that Topgyal is working on other endeavors, e.g. to “make even more efforts to have more fresh faces in the parliament with hope that there will be changes in politics,” as he said during his announcement.
Penpa Tsering was born in Bylakuppee, South India. After his graduation from Madras Christian College, he tried his hands at a few things, including running a restaurant. In 2001, he became the Executive Director of the Delhi-based Tibetan Parliamentary and Research Centre (TPPRC). During his seven-year stint at TPPRC, the centre published a number of Samdhong Rinpoche’s works and also organized workshops for Tibetan students. (TPPRC has since shut down due to lack of funding.)
Tsering has the most political experience of all the candidates, having been a member of the exile parliament from Amdo province for nearly two decades, including the last six years as Speaker of Parliament.
In his announcement press conference Tsering said, “I consider the unity among the Three Provinces the most important thing,” and that he has “already thought about who to appoint as Kalon for each department.”
When asked about the other Sikyong candidates, Tsering said, “I know Tashi Wangdu has announced and this other guy, whose name I don’t want to utter from my mouth, is someone who has disparaged (tshen mey zhue pa) His Holiness (referring to Lukar Jam). If someone like [him] stands then a thousand other Tibetans can stand for Sikyong as well.”
Tsering is a staunch proponent of the Middle Way Approach. He stated that he has “track 1, track 2 and track 3” strategies to follow through this policy. Later in an interview with Tibet Express he said, “I don’t think there is anyone who understands the issue [of Tibet] better than His Holiness and I think I am someone who understands His Holiness's thoughts [gyalwa rinpoche’i gongpa] fairly well. Based on the real situation, if we cannot go back to Tibet within 30-40 years, then let alone independence, even the Middle Way Approach will become useless.”
In the same interview Tsering also said, “If I become Sikyong then I think Tibet Support Groups should be made into non-Tibetan associations [bod pa ma yin paid drig zug]. If they pass a resolution to support the Middle Way and if we keep our identity as organization, and if the support is for a position decided by the Kashag and the parliament, who are elected by the people, then there won’t be discord/disagreement [gal.da chag kyi mey].
We see a number of contradictions in Tsering’s statements. On the one hand, in the principle of dialogue and mutual benefits he is willing to talk with Chinese Government, who have not only occupied Tibet but vilified and criticized His Holiness in the strongest possible invectives; while on the other hand, he refuses even to say the name of a Sikyong candidate and vows never to take part in any public discussion with Lukar Jam, a fellow Tibetan from Amdo.
Furthermore, Tsering’s plan to turn Tibet support groups (TSGs) into, what he calls, ‘non-Tibetan association’ is troubling because it may trample upon people’s basic freedom of speech and assemblyassociation. TSGs are NGOs and have the right to take any position on the issue of Rangzen and MWA or be entirely neutral on the issue. For the moment any Tibetan can join any Tibet support group anywhere that reflects his/her individual political views. If Tsering were to win the Sikyong election, would he ban Tibetans from joining any TSG to keep the groups ‘non-Tibetan’?
Tashi Wangdu was born to a refugee family in Byllakupe, one of the largest Tibetan refugee settlements in south India. He finished his higher studies from Mysore University and from NYU.
He is an adherent of the Middle Way Approach of the CTA. His campaign revolves around the acronym SEEN i.e. the Sustainability of the CTA; Education to sustain the struggle in resolving the issue of Tibet; [improving] Economic condition of the Tibetan community; and Negotiation to Resolve the issue of Tibet through dialogue.
His election manifesto states that he supports His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s policy on resolution of Tibet issue through negotiation, intends to bring awareness of the Middle Way Approach to the Chinese leaders, and reestablish negotiation with Chinese government. However, Wangdu does not say how he proposes to do so. He has, as far we are aware, not made any in-depth explanation on this crucially important issue. Instead, he has extensively spoken about sustainability of settlements and the creation of jobs for exile Tibetans. He does this perhaps on the strength of his current position as the head of Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India Ltd. Wangdu has a strong record working for the CTA in the settlements and seems to enjoy popular support in the settlements, which are an important voting bloc.
He claims that he visited Tibet in 2003. Our own review of his talks leads us to believe that he still needs to elaborate on knowledge of, and his plans to address, the critical situation in Tibet.
The foregoing are our opinions of on the five Sikyong candidates. We offer them in the hopes of furthering the Tibetan democratic process, and we recognize that any opinions are inherently subjective. We welcome all viewpoints – especially those different than ours – and encourage all our readers to send their articles or letters for publication.
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 The three candidates were Lobsang Sangay, Tenzin N. Tethong, and Tashi Wangdi.
 Samdhong Rimpoche was democratically-elected as Kalon Tripa or chief executive of the CTA, but at the time His Holiness was still the ultimate political authority of the exile government.
 http://www.rangzen.net/2014/04/07/lobsang-sangay-chinese-national/ ; http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/mmoynihanreplytoofficeoftibetontibetchinaatthesamewashingtonlobbyist
 http://www.savetibet.org/chinese-intellectuals-message-on-the-25th-anniversary-of-nobel-peace-prize-to-the-dalai-lama/. China reiterated its rejection of the Middle Way Approach in a white paper published in April 2015: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2015-04/15/c_134152612.htm.
བཙན་བྱོལ་བོད་མིའི་འོས་བསྡུའི་ལས་རིམ་གྱི་ལེགས་ཉེས།/Tibetan Translation: The Good and Bad of the Tibetan Election Process So Far
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Originally published in English at http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/editorials/tibetanelectionprocess
Tibetan translation published in Tibet Express at: http://bangchen.net/བཙན་བྱོལ་བོད་མིའི་འོས་/
Tibetan translation also available as a PDF download at the bottom of this page
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
On June 24, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tibet, including a provision calling for increased “global public awareness and monitoring of the upcoming [exile Tibetan] electoral process”. This was the first time – to our knowledge – that any government body not only called for celebrating the young Tibetan democracy, but also for “monitoring”. This suggests the outside world is watching the upcoming exile Tibetan elections like never before. The question is: what will they see?
So far, both Lukar Jam and Tashi Wangdu appear to be running clean, transparent Sikyong campaigns. The former political prisoner and the former businessperson have both come out with positive candidacies, with at least some degree of detail on their policies. Lukar Jam seeks Tibetan independence while Tashi Wangdu supports autonomy; we look forward to both candidates debating their positions, and we trust that they will continue to do so in a positive manner.
The latest arrival to the Sikyong race, Tashi Topgyal, is so new that there is little to comment on so far.
It is the two incumbents, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and Speaker Penpa Tsering, whose campaigns have flirted with negativity and risk running afoul of the new rules the Election Commission (EC) has laid out. (We have serious concerns about the constitutionality of some of the EC’s rules, but this editorial takes the rules as given).
The Speaker’s and Sikyong’s Use of His Holiness's Image
Both Sikyong Sangay and Speaker Tsering appear to be violating the EC rule against campaigning with images of His Holiness, the Tibetan flag, or the CTA emblem. For example, the Sikyong’s and Speaker’s official Facebook pages and their campaign pages all show numerous photos and campaign fliers of the respective candidate with His Holiness. (We do not comment on either individual’s personal page. We also don’t refer to just informal photos that happen to have a Tibetan flag in the background.)
According to the new EC rules,
None of the Sikyong and MP candidate is allowed to use any portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and emblem of CTA on their campaigning literature. Using Tibetan national flag and Tibet map is also prohibited. If there is any evidence that any candidate violates the guideline, 5% of the votes received by the respective candidate shall be declared null and void.
The Speaker’s and Sikyong’s official Facebook pages seem to qualify as “campaigning literature”, and certainly their election fliers do. When an incumbent is running for re-election, much of what he or she does is at least partly campaigning. It is difficult to separate campaigning communication from “official” communication. The dividing line may be unclear, but there can undoubtedly be campaigning even if an incumbent doesn’t actually say “vote for me”, especially when “official” actions involve promoting their image and policies.
Similarly, Sikyong Sangay has an “unofficial” Facebook campaign page. There is a disclaimer on the page that it is “followed by his support” (whatever that means). During the prior election, Lobsang Sangay also used an “unofficial” campaign website, which allowed him to disclaim responsibility for its more contentious content. So absent a statement that Sikyong Sangay has no control whatsoever with the “unofficial” page, it would be reasonable to view the page as affiliated with his campaign.
Based on the EC’s new rule, it would appear that the campaigns of Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay may not have followed the rule against using His Holiness’s image, the Tibetan flag, or CTA emblem. According to the rule, any candidate who violates this prohibition will forfeit 5% of their final vote tally.
Whether the EC follows its rule in this respect remains to be seen.
The Sikyong’s and Speaker’s Questionable Use of CTA Resources
The EC’s rules state that candidates “cannot seek services of any CTA officials nor can they use the finance and other materials of the CTA.” This rule is aimed at ensuring that incumbents do not misuse official resources and platforms for campaign purposes.
This rule appears to have been violated in at least one instance already. Candidate Tashi Wangdu critiqued the performance of the Health Department under the Sangay administration. When running against an incumbent, it is to be expected that a candidate may criticize the incumbent’s current policies. The proper response is for the incumbent (as part of his or her campaign) to defend their policies.
Instead, the official CTA website (Tibet.net) was used to post a statement attributed to the Health Department, dismissing Wangdu’s charges as a “false allegation”. This seemed to violate the EC’s rule. The question is whether this action was improperly directed at the Kashag level, or whether civil servants in the Health Department independently issued it and then civil servants in the Department of Information and International Relations (which runs Tibet.net) independently published it. If it is the former, then rather than using official resources and an official platform to respond to his electoral rival about a campaign issue, the Sikyong should have responded directly as a candidate.
Unfortunately, rather than enforce its rule, the EC declared, “There is no way we would be able to investigate each and every case of this nature with the limited manpower we have. We are also not aware of the objective of the Health Department to issue this clarification.” What is the point of making rules that are not enforced? Hopefully this does not suggest selective enforcement by the EC.
Similarly, the Sikyong and/or Speaker have recently made numerous official trips (for example to Tibetan communities in New York, Toronto, Washington DC, Germany, Delhi, Bangalore, and Ladakh). According to the EC’s rule,
even while they [incumbents] are on official visits, they are not allowed to make any campaigning speeches; if any candidate is found doing such a thing in any place, the punishment shall be that votes received for the candidate in that place shall all be declared null and void.
The EC should decide how it will differentiate between official speeches and campaign speeches (remembering that promoting an incumbent and his/her policies is campaigning, even if the incumbent doesn’t say “vote for me”). The EC must then apply this by looking at whether any activities of the Sikyong and the Speaker on CTA-funded travel were campaign activities. If so, then under the EC’s rules, the candidate’s votes received in that location are null and void.
Or will the EC decide that it does not have the manpower to investigate this issue too?
Speaker Tsering’s Refusal to Debate
Speaker Tsering recently gave a campaign speech to Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe (hopefully his travel expenses were paid by his campaign, not the CTA). At this event, he reportedly declared that he would not debate any Sikyong candidate who criticizes His Holiness. This appears to be a thinly-veiled reference to pro-independence candidate Lukar Jam.
According to a monk who attended that speech, the Sera monks “looked at the speaker in disbelief,” and the Speaker’s attempt to invoke His Holiness’s name apparently backfired. It seems that the Sera monks understood that there is “space for followers of Tibetan independence in the hearts of people who worship the Dalai Lama.”
The Speaker’s statement is problematic, even setting aside the inappropriateness of his attempt to drag His Holiness into the campaign, and setting aside that advocating independence is not “criticizing” His Holiness. The Speaker has the right to avoid debating with whomever he wishes, even if he thereby denies the public the chance to hear the candidates debate. But if the Speaker refuses to speak with a fellow Tibetan simply because they “criticize” His Holiness, will he also refuse to speak with the Chinese government that not only criticizes but also actually insults His Holiness?
Some may view the Speaker’s statement as a misguided effort to appeal to the Sera monks’ religiosity. Others may suspect that Speaker Tsering is seeking an excuse to avoid having to debate Lukar Jam. Indeed, while the Speaker is an effective orator, his response to past criticism in Parliament has been to flee the floor and resign (and then un-resign), rather than face a contentious debate. Regardless of the reason, the Speaker has not cast his campaign in a favorable light.
Our view is that debates should still be held, with or without the participation of the Speaker.
The EC’s New Two-Tier System of Free Speech Rights
Under the EC’s new rules, organizations have different free speech rights depending on whether they are officially “recognized”. A “recognized” organization can support any candidate it wishes, and its expenditures do not count toward a candidate’s Rs. 800,000 (US$12,500) expenditure cap. By contrast, “unrecognized” organizations may not campaign for a candidate without the candidate’s written permission, and any expenses count toward the candidate’s expenditures.
Apparently, “recognition” comes from the Kashag. In an illustrative hypothetical, imagine two groups in the United States want to endorse candidates so they approach President Obama’s Cabinet to seek “recognition.” If the conservative group does not gain recognition, it then needs to get Jeb Bush’s written permission to support him (so any misstep by the group could be imputed to Bush), and any money it spends counts toward Bush’s (hypothetical) strict spending limit. Bush would need to be very cautious relinquishing such control. By contrast, if the liberal group is recognized, Hillary Clinton can enjoy their support without being tied to them, and can theoretically have them spend millions of dollars completely separate from her (hypothetical) spending cap.
It is a mystery why the EC made this rule conditioning free speech rights on “recognition.” All groups should be treated equally, and all should have free speech. Moreover, the CTA has no official process or criteria to “recognize” any organization. The currently-recognized groups were the ones to which CTA sent invitations during the First Special Meeting in 2008, during Samdhong Rinpoche’s tenure. The only group that CTA has officially recognized by issuing an official paper is Ngari Association, which happened during the time of late Juchen Thupten Namgyal.
That means that NDPT, which is “recognized” and supports Lobsang Sangay and Penpa Tsering, has no limits on campaigning and it could spend unlimited amounts. The Tibetan National Congress (TNC), which is not recognized and supports Lukar Jam, can only campaign for him with his written permission, which ties him more closely to TNC, and also obligates him to include TNC expenditures toward his cap.
TNC wrote to the EC about this unfair two-tier system. Unfortunately, the EC essentially washed its hands of the disparate impact of the rule that it created. The EC stated that it had no jurisdiction over recognition -- without addressing why the EC tied speech rights to “recognition” in the first place. The EC suggested (with no apparent irony) that TNC petition the Kashag for recognition.
The EC may have overlooked that TNC is supporting a candidate challenging Sikyong Sangay, which hopefully will not impact the Kashag’s speedy recognition. Nor did the EC acknowledge that groups like TNC are in this position because the EC itself conditioned certain free speech rights on recognition from the Kashag (a condition never before imposed on Tibetan civil society).
The last TPR editorial predicted that the Tibetan election would face several challenges. For campaign expenses, it asked “what is the permissible dividing line between official travel and a campaign visit? What about official media outlets being used to promote an incumbent and his election manifestos?” It discussed “the use of unaccountable surrogates.” It predicted that “if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being ‘against’ His Holiness.” Regarding the EC, the editorial noted it “is not clear how the EC plans to enforce” its rules or deal with violations.
None of these predictions were particularly novel, but unfortunately they have come true thanks to actions by Sikyong Sangay and Speaker Tsering, and inaction from the EC. Fortunately, Lukar Jam and Tashi Wangdu are showing a cleaner side of the Tibetan election. There is still time for Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay to reform their campaigns to meet that standard, and for the EC to step up to fairly enforce the rules that it promulgated.
2. Translation by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/ecrules--codeofconductfor2016exiletibetanelections. The EC recently clarified this rule that a candidate must be “found” (presumably by the EC) to have violated this rule before action will be taken. See http://tibet.net/2015/09/election-commission-explains-penalties-for-violation-of-electoral-regulations/.
3. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sikyong-2016-DrLobsang-Sangay/273534819327898?ref=br_rs. The recent EC clarification also states that no one, other than officially recognized Tibetan NGOs, can endorse or campaign for a candidate without the candidate’s written approval, and campaign literature must specify the names of the people who printed and circulated this literature. Presumably this would also apply to social media and online campaign websites.
6. http://tibet.net/2015/07/sikyong-leaves-for-united-states-and-germany/; http://tibet.net/2015/07/speaker-penpa-tsering-leaves-for-the-united-states/; https://www.facebook.com/SIKYONG.LOBSANG.SANGAY/photos/a.233333430132050.60425.222984894500237/653543604777695/?type=1&permPage=1; https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=142765079390269&id=100009703328899; https://www.facebook.com/lobsang.sangay/posts/10205893687436023?pnref=story; http://tibet.net/2015/08/sikyong-to-deliver-talk-at-du-and-ladakh-international-centre/; https://www.facebook.com/SIKYONG.LOBSANG.SANGAY/posts/701223873343001
10. The new EC clarifications also state incumbents are not permitted to engage (in official capacity) in debates/discussions organized by NGOs. This is a very strange rule since most debates in the last election were organized by NGOs and it’s unclear whether the CTA will organize any debates for this election. Moreover, how does one distinguish between “official capacity” and “non-official capacity” debates? This rule seems almost designed as an excuse for the Sikyong and Speaker to avoid debates entirely, which would be very unfortunate for the Tibetan electorate.
11. http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/openlettertoelectioncommissionfromtibetannationalcongress; http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/articles/anopenlettertosikyonglobsangsangaytorecognizethetibetannationalcongress
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The 2015-2016 Tibetan election season for Sikyong (prime minister) and Chitue (members of parliament) has officially begun. With the appointment of two additional commissioners, the CTA's independent Election Commission (EC) is up and running. It has announced the dates and some of the rules. Candidates are beginning to emerge.
The candidates so far
Primary voting will be on 18 October 2015, and the final vote will take place on 20 March 2016.<1> Already, the first Sikyong candidate has stepped forward: Tashi Wangdu, the head of the Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India and a former civil servant of the exile administration.
At a press conference held in Dharamsala on 10 June, Mr. Wangdu announced his candidature for Sikyong. Wangdu’s election motto is SEEN, an acronym for Sustainable, Education, Economy and Negotiation. The last point announces that he stands for the Middle Way Approach, a policy that is being pursued by the exile government.
Supporters of Speaker Penpa Tsering are starting to promote Mr. Tsering’s candidacy on social media (it is unclear whether he intends to run). Many observers assume that the incumbent, Lobsang Sangay, will seek a second term, particularly as his wife and daughter recently moved from Boston to Dharamsala.
Similarly, the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), the only political party in the exile community other than the still-untested Tibetan National Congress, has announced its nominations for Sikyong and Chitue. NDPT’s two prime ministerial candidates are Sikyong Sangay and Speaker Tsering. In its press statement, the NDPT said that the selection was done in conjunction with its regional chapters across India.
Whatever NDPT’s selection process may have been, the nominations are ironic given that NDPT officially stands for Tibetan independence and these two nominees strongly reject this position. It is also disappointing that NDPT did not put forth some fresh faces. By nominating two obvious candidates from the “establishment” who reject NDPT’s official position, NDPT may not have helped its relevancy or value-added contribution to Tibetan democracy.
There are likely to be exciting races for Chitue, including a newly-created seat for Australia/Asia-Pacific. Likewise, there is the possibility of candidates stepping forward who seek to have the pro-independence viewpoint represented in Dharamsala.
Since the preliminary is still a few months away, hopefully more candidates will emerge giving exile Tibetans multiple choices (including some gender diversity) through which to enjoy their democratic rights.
The EC’s new campaign rules and why they matter
At a press conference on June 10th, the EC laid out some much needed new campaign rules. We applaud Mr. Sonam Choephel Shosur, the Chief Election Commissioner, and his team for their leadership in creating and clarifying these rules.
Aside from a cap on campaign expenditures (discussed below), there are other important new rules the EC has decreed. It is now mandatory for any supporters to have written approval from their candidates, without which they cannot initiate any election campaign. (It is not clear how the EC plans to enforce this rule, or deal with any violations, or balance it with the rights of free speech and association).
Furthermore, the EC has declared that posters, pamphlets, banners and other campaign tools cannot include the Tibetan national flag, His Holiness’ photo, a map of Tibet, or the emblem of the exile administration. The EC also said that all printed materials related to the upcoming election must bear both the supporter’s name as well as that of the printer. The candidate and the candidate’s supporters and team handling press and publicity must inform the local EC office of the press and publicity that they will be doing.
Setting aside concerns about enforcement and free speech, we applaud the EC in promulgating rules that strengthen accountability and transparency in Tibetan democracy. As a further step towards this accountability and transparency, we hope that each candidate will formally designate a campaign manager. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the campaign must rest with the candidate himself or herself.
Campaign expense rules, favoring India-based candidates and the incumbents
The new rules about campaign expenditures are a major development, with potentially far-reaching implications that are not entirely positive. A Sikyong candidate can spend no more than Rs. 800,000 (about US$12,500), and a Chitue candidate can spend no more than Rs. 300,000 (US$4,700). These amounts include any expense incurred by individuals or organizations supporting the potential candidates. The candidates and their supporters must submit their total campaign accounts to their respective regional election commissions before the announcement of the election results.
At first glance, many will likely applaud this rule. Financial transparency should have been requirements from the first election, but at least the EC is making a strong effort to address this now. Like other democracies' experiences with campaign finance control, however, there are some important details that will need to be addressed.
Rs. 800,000 may seem like a large sum at first glance, but actually the new expenditure caps are low compared to spending during the last election. During the 2010-2011 election, TPR documented the campaign finance information of the three Sikyong (at that time called Kalon Tripa) candidates.
TPR documented that Tenzin Tethong campaigned fairly actively, and voluntarily disclosed his funding sources in raising $29,978.<2> Tashi Wangdi, by contrast, was fairly limited in the scope of his campaigning, and he voluntarily disclosed his sources in raising $11,208.<3> Lobsang Sangay was vague about his sources (referring to “friends”) and would not disclose his total fundraising.<4> Given Mr. Sangay’s active campaigning and the absence of any other information, it might be reasonable to assume funding at least on par with Tethong if not higher.
If we equate funding with campaigning, then the new limits mean that a 2016 Sikyong candidate cannot campaign even half as actively as Tethong or Sangay did in 2011. He or she will only be able to campaign similarly to Tashi Wangdi in 2011 (that is: not much).
A candidate in 2016 will be especially constrained in their ability to travel extensively as Sangay and Tethong did, given that travel seemed to take up a major part of their expenditures. This constraint would be a special burden on a candidate from the West, who (like Sangay and Tethong in 2011) will have to fly multiple times to India, where the majority of voters reside. Conversely, this rule will give an advantage to an India-based candidate, who will not have to pay for such trips.
As well as the new rule favoring an India-based candidate, such a cap also reinforces the advantage of incumbency. Sikyong Sangay has traveled extensively to basically every Tibetan community and settlement in exile, on official business. During these trips, he has not been reticent about promoting his administration. He is likely to travel more over the next year, and also use other official platforms like Tibet.net to communicate his message. The less frequent official travel by Speaker Tsering raises similar issues. This is the byproduct of being an incumbent, and a non-incumbent naturally does not enjoy this advantage.
The Tibetan democracy (like any democracy) must simply recognize that the incumbent holds a significant advantage, and consider whether the playing field can or should be leveled. For example, now that election season has started, what is the permissible dividing line between official travel and a campaign visit? What about official media outlets being used to promote an incumbent and his election manifestos? Should any of that expense be borne by the candidate instead of the CTA? Should any of that expense count toward the Rs. 800,000? The EC’s new guideline does not have any provision on these questions.
We expect that the Rs. 300,000 cap on Chitue candidates will be less of an issue, given the smaller geographic area of a Chitue's constituency. Unlike a Sikyong candidate, a Chitue candidate can focus on (for example) India, Europe, or North America, instead of needing to campaign everywhere. But this cap will still constrain a Chitue candidate's ability to campaign and travel.
Verification and loopholes?
The EC will need to work on how it can accurately verify the candidates' expenditures, and do so in a transparent way that treats every candidate the same. An official reliance on candidates’ voluntary reporting is ripe for exploitation, and should not be tolerated in any functioning democracy. Therefore, how will the EC ensure that the candidates’ voluntary reporting is accurate and complete? As a guardian of Tibetan exile democracy, the EC must “trust but verify” – including through the power to independently audit a campaign’s expenditures and receipts.
There is also a major loophole that needs to be addressed. The EC’s rules state that the funding caps apply to expenses incurred by organizations supporting the candidates, but what will the EC do if a candidate genuinely does not have control over the activities of some supporters? Is it reasonable in a democracy to assume that a candidate has an iron grip on all of his or her supporters? And on the flip side, how will the EC deal with an unscrupulous candidate who uses shadowy proxies, and then disclaims any connection?
Additionally, the EC has now put itself in a position where it must decide arcane accounting rules. For example, if a donor with access to the right equipment gives a candidate thousands of campaign DVDs as an “in kind” donation, how will that expense be counted? The cost to the candidate (free), the cost to produce (low), or the market value (higher)? Regarding travel expenses, what if a North America-based candidate has (or claims to have) a trip to India planned for family or religious reasons or has other business there -- can they add on campaign stops? If so then what part of the total trip is counted as a campaign expense?
In the United States system, campaign finance restrictions have caused many donors to divert their funding from candidates' campaigns to supposedly-independent and unaccountable entities called "super PACs" which are free of such control. This has been likened to the ability of water to always find its way through cracks and around dams. Similarly in the Tibetan context, it likely that the EC’s rule will cause some campaign activity to try evading this expenditure cap. The EC will then have to decide how it will react. Is it fair to penalize a candidate if he or she genuinely has no control over some supporters? And is it fair to the other candidates to allow an an unscrupulous candidate to skirt the rules by actively using shadowy supporters?
Hopefully the EC will determine a fair and transparent way to deal with these issues. This should be announced in advance, to avoid any risk of contentious decisions or disqualifications after the fact.
Predictions for the election: will the campaigns be clean or will we need some mops?
The 2011 election campaign was a historic and exciting development in Tibetan democracy. We also learned some important lessons. One was the need for campaign finance reform. TPR called for transparency during the 2011 election, because we believed that each candidate should disclose the sources of his or her funding, but without necessarily a cap on expenditures.<5> The EC has taken a different approach: a cap combined with, at least, disclosure to the EC of expenditures. It is not yet clear whether the EC will also look at the candidates' funding sources, which is crucially important, or whether the EC will make any of this information public for the voters to evaluate.
Another development during the 2011 campaign that we fear will re-emerge is the use of unaccountable surrogates. These individuals were able to make sometimes-incendiary statements or charges (occasionally anonymously), and the candidate was able to disclaim any responsibility.<6> We expect that, with the new expenditure caps, the use of such "unofficial" surrogates will only grow.
To be clear, we are not referring to ordinary citizens expressing their views for or against a particular candidate (which should be encouraged), but to the more organized efforts carried out perhaps in unofficial collaboration with the candidate. The EC’s rule on publicity materials will clean much of this up. But an unscrupulous candidate may still try to disclaim knowledge of third parties attacking other candidates.
We expect that such personal attacks will continue to be an issue in the upcoming election. This is especially because "unity" in the Tibetan community has suffered in the past few years. For example, if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being "against" His Holiness, or claims that there is no room for differing views on this issue in the Tibetan government-in-exile. It is up to all candidates to stand together to not only decline to join in such attacks, but to actively and forcefully refute them. That is the best way to restore "unity".
Similarly, we expect to see more examples of the use of surrogates to attack candidates' history or finances. For example, during the March 2015 Parliament session, a Chitue seemingly out-of-the-blue brought up charges against Speaker Penpa Tsering. The Chitue repeated a claim made by the late Kalon Juchen Thupten, who condemned Tsering's alleged personal actions relating to the late Kathak Trulku and Tsering's alleged role in gaining control of a Kollegal carpet factory. In response, Tsering walked out of Parliament and resigned as speaker (he subsequently withdrew his resignation).<7> If Speaker Tsering runs for Sikyong, we expect that these issues may continue to follow him unless he addresses them openly.
Possibly not coincidentally, the allegations against Speaker Tsering followed a similar incident that occurred in the March 2014 Parliament session. Then, Sikyong Sangay was forced to address several questions raised about allegations first printed in the Asian Age.<8> One issue was whether Sangay signed (and avoided admitting) "Overseas Chinese National" papers for a trip to China in 2005. Another issue (apparently referring to Sangay's public mortgage documents)<9> was how he was able to pay off a quarter-million dollar mortgage just four years after buying his house in Massachusetts, and just a week before he became Kalon Tripa. In response, Sangay sidestepped the questions, including by conflating the purchase of a house with paying off the mortgage. As with Speaker Tsering, these charges (especially the mortgage issue, which emerged only after the last election) are likely to follow Sikyong Sangay assuming he runs again.
We hope that both Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay address the relevant facts head-on. That way the voters can decide if there is anything to be concerned about, or whether the issues can be put to rest once and for all, and cease being used for distracting political attacks.
We also hope that all candidates call on their supporters and surrogates to focus on the policy issues that this upcoming election should really be about.<10> Most importantly, we hope that the candidates can vigorously debate three pressing issues: (1) the future course of the Tibetan freedom movement, including how one even defines "freedom", (2) how to restore true unity to the Tibetan community with respect for diversity of opinions and freedom of speech, and (3) the future of the Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal. The 2016 election is a historic opportunity for the Tibetan people to strengthen our democracy. We look forward to a productive and constructive election season.
<8> http://youtu.be/gT7TYMZcU8Q (at 1:02)
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
On April 15, 2015, the Chinese Government issued its latest White Paper on Tibet.<i> China has issued at least 13 White Papers to justify its occupation of and policies in Tibet. These White Papers are not only government propaganda but an expression of official Chinese policy on the Tibetan issue. This most recent White Paper is primarily devoted to explaining China's reasons for rejecting the Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) Middle Way Policy (Tib. Ume Lam) for Tibetan autonomy. The full Middle Way Policy is expressed in the 2008 Memorandum<ii> and the 2010 Note.<iii> Additional comments and clarifications were made by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay in 2013.<iv>
Tibetan history and pre-1959 society
The recent White Paper on Tibet is divided into five sections. Section one is about the Chinese Government's claim of Tibet being part of China for centuries and how supposedly backward and feudal was old (pre-1959) Tibet. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goes to great lengths to explain how old Tibet was a dark and terrible place for the "serfs" (their term for the Tibetan poor and commoner classes) and how the Tibetan aristocracy and clergy (including His Holiness the Dalai Lama) allegedly abused the Tibetan people. This is all done to justify why the PLA had to invade Tibet in 1949-50 in order to "liberate" it.
Logically, however, if China had sovereignty over Tibet during its "feudal" period, then should not China be held accountable for the purported abuses heaped upon Tibetan "serfs" by the ruling classes? Why did China allow such abuses to occur for centuries if they had the ability to stop it since they ruled Tibet? In other words, if Tibet were always part of China, then whatever problems existed in old Tibet are also the fault of China. So China is essentially arguing that it had to "liberate" (invade) Tibet due to problems that are, by China's logic, China's own fault. In any event, such arguments about "social backwardness" are typically used by colonial regimes to justify their invasion and occupation of other lands. These arguments could just as easily have been made by a British or Japanese colonial administration on Chinese lands.
Several scholars have written about Tibet's history in this respect, so there is no need to go into great length here.<v> In sum, we note that China's position on Tibetan history neglects to mention that the Yuan Dynasty was a Mongol empire, and the Qing were Manchus who had conquered China (and other lands). Neither the Mongol Yuan nor the Manchu Qing ever administered Tibet as part of China, or considered Tibet to be part of China. When the Republic of China was founded (1912), it had no actual or legal control over Tibet and Tibet remained independent in all aspects until at least 1951.
Tibetan culture, development and environment
Section two of China's latest White Paper is devoted to explaining how the CCP has allegedly promoted Tibetan culture and religion, improved the economy, educated the masses, protected the environment, and raised the living standards of ordinary Tibetans.<vi> There is little or no mention about human rights which suggests a complete rejection of the numerous charges and evidence of human rights abuses by Tibetans, human rights NGOs, and foreign governments. To the CCP, it's as if there are no human rights issues in Tibet.
With respect to the economy, Andrew Fischer has written extensively about how China's development in Tibet has not benefited the Tibetan people, and in fact leads to Tibetan marginalization in their own land.<vii> And Michael Buckley has written about how Chinese development, particularly dam building, is severely damaging not only Tibet's environment but adversely affecting neighboring nations.<viii>
Our only addition is to note that the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) per capita GDP in 2013 was approximately US$ 4,209 (and this is inflated by China's urban spending),<ix> while Bhutan's per capita GDP in 2013 was about US$7,196.<x> Given that Bhutan is culturally similar to Tibet, and in 1951 was in a similar economic position as Tibet, one could extrapolate and assume that Tibetans would have been better off economically if China had never invaded their homeland.
Rejection of the Middle Way Proposal
The next two sections of the White Paper concern China's response to the Middle Way proposal. China unequivocally rejects the Middle Way as an attempt to set up a semi-independent regime as an interim step to full independence. China equates the Middle Way's request for a "high degree of autonomy" with asking for independence. Curiously, in last year's White Paper on Hong Kong, China characterized Hong Kong has having a "high degree of autonomy" and seem satisfied that such autonomy did not mean independence for Hong Kong.<xi>
Why can Hong Kong enjoy a high degree of autonomy but not Tibet? We addressed this question in a prior editorial, which explained that China views autonomy as a temporary tactic to ease "lost" territory back into the "motherland". China does not consider autonomy as a permanent situation, which makes this issue a key stumbling block for Tibetan autonomy demands.<xii>
China also accuses the Dalai Lama and the CTA of seeking to restore the old "feudal" system and to set up an alternative political system that removes Tibet from central government authority. The CCP officials who wrote this White Paper must not have heard or read the Sikyong's 2013 comments that the CTA is not seeking democracy for Tibet, and will accept Communist Party rule (albeit with more ethnic Tibetan Party members in control of local affairs). Clearly, the new interpretation of the Middle Way not only doesn't challenge Communist rule; it accepts it.
China also accuses the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles with inciting or orchestrating violence in Tibet against China (i.e. the 2008 protests) and with instigating the self-immolations in Tibetan areas. Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) is singled out in the White Paper and attacked for supporting resistance inside Tibet.<xiii> Notably, China's White Paper is devoid of any credible evidence to support these accusations.
The last section concerns the CCP's attitude toward the Dalai Lama. On the one hand, the CCP has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of being a "serf lord" and "slave owner" and His government of abusing the common people. On the other hand, the CCP admits the 17-Point Agreement promised to preserve the Dalai Lama's traditional authority, acknowledges the Dalai Lama's influence to this day in Tibet (at least with respect to Tibetan dissidents), and nominally appears to be willing to discuss the conditions of the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet. These arguments are inherently inconsistent. How could someone accused of being a despotic ruler have such influence and loyalty among ordinary Tibetans inside Tibet to this very day, and also be welcome to return (so long as certain conditions are met)?
The take-away from China's latest White Paper is that the Chinese Government will never accept any degree of autonomy for Tibetan areas or loosening of its political and economic stranglehold over the Tibetan Plateau. According to China, all of the talks between Chinese and Tibetan representatives for the past decade were not about Tibet's political status, but only about the conditions for the Dalai Lama's return. The White Paper makes clear that China never intended in good faith to discuss the terms of the Middle Way. China has made it abundantly clear that the Middle Way and Tibetan autonomy are non-starters. The CCP appears unwilling to compromise on any issues concerning Tibet.
The CTA's response to the White Paper was to lambast China for whitewashing the tragic reality of Tibet.<xiv> However, there has been no response or discussion so far from the CTA on whether it still makes sense to pursue the Middle Way policy, or how the Tibetan side can convince China to accept it given China's unambiguous rejection.
The situation inside Tibet has only deteriorated since 2008 when the Memorandum of Genuine Autonomy was published. The CTA has conceded Communist party rule for Tibet, no democracy, and has accepted the stationing of PLA troops in Tibet. As we wrote in a prior editorial, the current policy is more of a "Partial Middle Way" for limited autonomy.<xv> But even this limited form of autonomy for Tibet has been rejected by China.
It remains to be seen what, if any, further response there will be from the CTA to the recent White Paper rejecting the Middle Way. China seems unfazed by the CTA's international campaign to promote the current interpretation of the Middle Way, which reduces the Tibetan side to passively waiting for China to accept something it says it never will. China also seems unwilling to loosen restrictions on speech and religion in Tibetan areas and is hell-bent on removing Tibet's natural resources to China's industrial and overcrowded eastern regions.
We urge the CTA and the Tibetan exile community to discuss alternative ideas and policies. After more than two decades with little or no positive results, it is indeed long past the time to re-consider whether the current policy still makes sense, or whether it should be revised in light of actual conditions in Tibet and China.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The importance of ‘unity’ or doktsa.chikdril is one of the most repeated messages from inside Tibet. Brave singers have extolled unity in numerous songs and courageous writers have written about it in poems, essays and books despite harassment, torture and imprisonment by the Chinese authorities. In exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and elected Tibetans leaders have continuously urged Tibetans on both sides of the Himalayas to remain united to sustain the struggle in the long run and achieve its goal. In fact, Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay declared ‘unity’ one of the three guiding principles of his administration.
However, in a sad and disappointing development, divisiveness has overshadowed the March 10 commemorations of Tibetan National Uprising Day in Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile capital, and New York, the largest Tibetan community in North America. The questions are why, why now, and how to repair this rift.
Events in Dharamsala
In Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) and Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet pulled out of the annual March 10 protest organizing group. The protest march takes place annually from the H. H. the Dalai Lama’s temple to Lower Dharamsala.
Each year on March 10, after the official function and speeches, the protest march is traditionally led by the five major NGOs – the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), Students for a Free Tibet-India (SFT), National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), Gu-Chu-Sum, and TWA.
This year, during a meeting of the five NGOs to discuss the annual protest march logistics, TWA demanded to have a set of pre-decided slogans vetted by all the organizations, unlike before. Three NGOs (TYC, SFT, and NDPT) suggested that people should have the freedom to choose what slogans to chant and what to write on their placards. They further suggested that if slogans were to be pre-approved for the occasion, then the three important slogans should be: Independence for Tibet; China out of Tibet; and Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tibetans chanted these three slogans on 10 March 1959 during the National Uprising. TWA apparently disagreed with this and walked out. Gu-Chu-Sum also failed to agree to the suggestion and left.
For background on the political stand of each association: TYC, SFT and NDPT stand for a free and independent Tibet as their aspiration to end China’s occupation of Tibet, whereas both TWA and Gu-Chu-Sum have chosen to support the official position of the Middle Way Approach to solve the vexed issue of Tibet.
Every year until now, diverse slogans coexisted in freedom. What sparked TWA and Gu-Chu-Sum’s extreme position this year? What changed?
Events in New York
In New York City, a similar issue of divisiveness and intolerance of free expression arose, also for the first time.
The March 10 protest in New York is traditionally organized by six groups: the Tibetan Community of NY/NJ (TCNYNJ), Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), US-Tibet Committee (USTC), Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC), Regional Tibetan Women’s Association (RTW), and Chushi Gangdruk. This year, TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk demanded control of the messaging and speakers of the March 10 event in NYC. These four groups would not permit any slogans like Free Tibet or Independence for Tibet. TCNYNJ even announced on its official Facebook page that other signs, signs brought by the people, were prohibited at the march. This note was soon taken down; the organizers seemed to have realized how draconian and ridiculous this would look.
Since 1959 when the Tibetan people first spontaneously rose up against the occupying Chinese forces, the March 10 protests have been a protest organized by the people and for the people. Our Tibetan term for the protest, Mimang Gerlang (literally: private uprising by the people), emphasizes its spontaneous, individual and grass-roots nature. March 10 doesn’t belong to any particular group or organization; it belongs to the people.
Ultimately, supporters of the Middle Way and supporters of Rangzen want the same thing: freedom for Tibetans inside Tibet and resolution of the Tibet issue. SFT and USTC did not object to anyone promoting or supporting the Middle Way, but they wanted space to voice their own views too. However, the other four groups opposed anyone calling for a free or independent Tibet (slogans that were perfectly acceptable in years past). Because these four groups would not allow SFT or USTC to have their own speakers or slogans, and would not allow them to use the slogans that Tibetans have raised since 1959, SFT and USTC withdrew from this year’s March 10 organizing committee.
TPR editors have been informed that at the rally at the United Nations, the organizers (TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk) would not permit anyone or any group who supported independence (such as SFT, USTC, and Tibetan National Congress) to participate or even join the March 10 protest. These groups participated anyway, as was their right as free citizens and loyal supporters of Tibet.
There is an appalling video circulating that appears to show a march organizer asking the New York Police Department (NYPD) to exclude these pro-independence groups from the event. It is a tribute to the NYPD that the police officer instead cited everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech. It is deeply shameful if a Tibetan member of the March 10 organizing committee needed this lecture from an American police officer.
It is truly a sad day if a Tibetan tries to get the police to exclude a fellow Tibetan from the March 10 commemoration, simply because that Tibetan supports independence. The Chinese government must be gloating.
Unity, Diversity, and Free Expression
The March 10 National Uprising Anniversary and its commemoration is the heritage and duty of every Tibetan. Almost every Tibetan in exile has memories of participating in this annual protest; perhaps perched on a parent’s shoulders, perhaps leading the chants with a bullhorn.
No political association, individual, or governmental body has an exclusive claim on this historic day. March 10 belongs to the entire Tibetan people.
The March 10th Anniversary is not a day to bring differences to the front and hamper our overall strength and unity in our community. It is a day to honour all those who sacrificed their lives for the cause, to remember them and reaffirm their place in our history and to renew our dedication to Tibet’s struggle for freedom. This is not a day to prove a point.
The actions of TWA and Gu Chu Sum in Dharamsala and TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk in New York, by refusing to compromise with anyone who disagreed with them and excluding anyone who had a different view, send the wrong message to Tibetans in exile, Tibetans in Tibet, and to Tibet supporters. Tibetans are united on many issues such as human rights, environment protection, freedom of speech and religion, cultural preservation, etc. We must not allow political differences about Middle Way or Rangzen to divide us; ultimately this hurts the Tibetan cause.
Healing the Divide
It is time for the CTA to step up and take leadership in actively promoting unity. Soon after he was elected, Lobsang Sangay said in an interview: “Unity is the most important. Without unity it is almost impossible for any exile movement to have the strength to take the movement forward to success.”
It is not enough for the CTA to make passive statements, however, especially when the past couple years have seen increasing divisiveness in the Tibetan exile community. This divisiveness has coincided with the current CTA leadership aggressively promoting its new interpretation of the Middle Way, with tactics that (purposefully or not) have had a chilling effect on free speech, have marginalized pro-independence supporters as almost “anti-Dalai Lama”, and have sought to make acceptance of one particular policy the litmus test of political orthodoxy (e.g. see here, here and here).
When we ask what has changed, when until now Tibetans of differing viewpoints could still commemorate March 10 united as Gangchenpas, we cannot help but wonder: what role has been played by the chilling effect created by the current CTA leadership’s campaign?
But let us set aside the CTA leadership’s contribution to, and perhaps even responsibility for, the current dis-unity. The fact is, the CTA leadership now has an obligation to actually lead. Passivity should not be acceptable, and exacerbating the problem should be unthinkable. That means accepting responsibility, and taking concrete action to fix problems.
For example, we suggest that the CTA leadership consider these seven steps:
1. Officially declare that loyalty to Tibet, regardless of whether one is a Middle Way supporter or a Rangzen supporter, is the only loyalty test that matters, and officially disavow the divisive tactics used in New York;If the CTA were to show courage and leadership in actively taking steps to promote true unity, then that would be a major achievement to benefit all Tibetans.
There can and should be differences in political aspiration and approaches in our struggle for freedom. To have different positions and standpoint is the very essence of democracy. Indeed, diversity of opinion and freedom of expression are cornerstones of a democratic system. However, varying political outlooks should in no way divide us on such important historic occasion as March 10. We must stand in unity.
At a time when China is facing grave internal crises – ranging from aging population, environmental catastrophe, endemic corruption and economic slowdown – and at a time when some of the foremost China-watchers write about possible ‘Chinese crackup’, we should have our feet firmly on the pedal to increase the strength of our non-violent struggle and stand in unity with our sisters and brothers inside occupied Tibet.