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Youth v. Experience

posted Aug 29, 2010, 2:10 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Aug 31, 2010, 7:00 AM ]
By The Tibetan Political Review Editorial Board

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One of the larger debates related to the 2011 Kalon Tripa election is that of youth versus experience.  We believe that oversimplification of the issue risks detracting from the bigger picture of which candidate will be most effective in designing and carrying out necessary reforms in Dharamsala.

Some Tibetans say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommended we look to a younger person for our next Kalon Tripa.  For example, Kusho Bagdro recently stated that “His Holiness the Dalai Lama has also time and again advised the Tibetan people on the relevance of electing a much younger political leader
.”  We have tried unsuccessfully to find a quote from His Holiness saying this; we ask anyone who has been successful to share it.  

From our research, His Holiness has actually said something rather different on the question of youth.  His Holiness stated that younger Tibetans have a “special responsibility to carry forward the Tibetan people's struggle” and continue efforts made by the previous generation.  He has also spoken of the importance of educating our youth to “prepare ourselves well in case the Tibetan struggle goes on for a long time.”  We have not found a place where His Holiness specifically recommends that Tibetans vote in a young Kalon Tripa in 2011. 


Further, irrespective of whether His Holiness said this or not, His Holiness has also forcefully advocated the need for each Tibetan to make up his or her own mind about the best candidate.  In this video below, His Holiness speaks of the importance of democracy.  He counsels Tibetans to pay more attention to the issues ("donang mangs je").  He says Tibetans should look not just to what others are saying, but think for themselves about which candidates are better people in the community, and which candidates have wide-ranging thoughts (see video at 2:50-3:42).  This reminds us of the Buddha’s wise advice that people should test even His own teachings as they would test gold.

His Holiness on the Kalon Tripa


In our view, the emphasis on youth is misplaced.  “Young”  is a relative term, especially in politics.  A person does not necessarily have to be under 40 to be considered “young” in the political field.  The Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile states that any Kalon must be at least 35 years old, which is the minimum legal age for any Tibetan to run for Kalon Tripa. Other than that provision, there is nothing in the Charter about how old or how experienced a Kalon Tripa should be.


There are benefits to a candidate who is young, but not necessarily stemming from youth itself but rather from traits often accompanying it, such as new ideas. Young people often have new and innovative approaches to problems.  A younger person could bring energy and dynamism to the office of the Kalon Tripa, or might be motivated to experiment with new policies and tactics.  A younger person might try a bolder strategy in dealing with China and the issue of Tibet’s freedom and human rights.  

The current Prime Minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, recently told The Guardian that “the era of old monks is over” and that he “is looking forward to a young, dynamic and modern educated Tibetan to be the next Kalon Tripa.” This, to a great extent, reflects the thinking of a large number of Tibetans, who want a change in the leadership.  

On the other hand, there are also a large number who feel more comfortable with an experienced older person as the next prime minister.  There is something to be said for experience and the wisdom gained over time.  An experienced leader, for example, is likely to see the pitfalls and mistakes to which a younger, less experienced person might fall prey.  Age also brings about a certain amount of acquired wisdom and patience which are essential to any leadership. 

Since Tibetan society, by tradition, tends to look more favorably on our elders, there is a possibility that an older and more experienced person might command more respect and authority in the society.  
The expression is: "Shonpai shed ley genpoi jue zab ("an old man's methods are more useful than a young man's strength").

In the case of the next Kalon Tripa, wisdom, patience, and fresh ideas will all be necessary to deal with the bureaucracy, the settlements and a complex network of other institutions and people once in Dharamsala. Having some prior political experience has merit for any candidate.  And yet, as mentioned, for any bold change in the government, the next Tibetan leader should have new ideas. 

Thus, Tibetan voters will have to decide for themselves the balance between experience (not necessarily through age) and new ideas (not necessarily through youth) -- and ideally whether any candidate combines the best of both worlds.  The five-year term of the next Kalon Tripa will have a significant influence not only on the exile government but also on the entire Tibetan movement.  We encourage voters to think carefully and weigh all the criteria before voting for Kalon Tripa on March 20, 2011.

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