Tibetan Democracy in Action: Phase One

Tibetan Democracy in Action: Phase One

Bhuchung K. Tsering


October 1, 2010

On October 3, 2010 two days from now, Tibetans in the free world will be undertaking a major political action through a preliminary election (”primary”) to identify candidates for the post of the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet, as well as for the 44 parliamentary seats.

This election year is different from the past for quite a few reasons.

Introduction of non-traditional campaigning: Since the introduction of the democratic process of voting in the Tibetan Diaspora in the 1960s the small Tibetan community has evolved a unique campaigning style of its own. In the initial few years individuals were elected through word of mouth campaigning to an extent based on regional or related allegiances. During this period the individuals themselves did not campaign for votes and mostly held the position that they did not see themselves as capable but were willing to serve the community in whatever way they could. Subsequently, there have been some “voluntary candidates” for the Tibetan Parliament. But at the same time we had a case where a candidate opted to stand for elections in the Kalon Tripa elections, not because he wanted to win but because he did not want the system to collapse. He was the only other “candidate” for the election then and if he had withdrawn his name the process would have to be re-started as the rules did not allow for a lone candidate to be declared the winner without having to undergo voting.

In recent elections the attitude of both the candidates and voters changed to a more robust campaigning by organizations, both social welfare types as well as political, in support of some of the candidates. The candidates themselves began canvassing for votes in a not-too-obvious manner.

However, in this election we are seeing a visible application of modern-day electioneering. In addition to the organizations coming to the forefront in declaring the names of individuals they would like to see as candidates and winners, individuals have shown their desire for positions in obvious manners. Doing away with the conventional Tibetan attitude of underemphasizing one’s capability, many individuals have projected themselves as worthy of the different positions. Some have even issued statements to outline their plan and to explain their vision.

Full Use of Information Technology: Another very obvious change from the past is the full use of the information technology in the election process. In the past an occasional advertisement in Tibetan language newspapers and leaflets were the main medium of campaigning in a general way (I am told that currently many of the walls in public places in areas where Tibetans reside in India have been plastered with political posters). Now, for the first time the Tibetan voting public has seen several proxy websites dedicated to different individuals wishing to be the next Kalon Tripa. Similarly, the Tibetan media have given prominent space to the election process and there is a robust online discussion. Some individuals have also got together to provide some form of objective introduction and analyses of the different individuals.

Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has joined in the election awareness in a different way. During a public meeting in Bylakuppe in South India, he told the people that he favored no one among the names of people who were being named as possible Kalon Tripa candidates. His Holiness said he will respect the people’s wishes and will repose trust in any candidate that is selected. His Holiness said he was mentioning this because he heard that some people were implying that they were being preferred by him.

In gist, political awareness is at its highest for this election. I have even received enquiries from my relatives about certain individuals. Even though they did not mention that this was in connection with the forthcoming elections I have no doubt that this is so.

Yet, the challenge will be in actual action. On October 3 we will know whether how much this hype has actually been translated into people going to vote. We will also know whether the digital divide has any impact on the way people have voted. A majority of Tibetans in the Indian subcontinent may not have access to the internet and the very many online sources of information about the elections.

During the October 3 elections voters can choose any “Tibetan subject” for the positions. The votes will be tallied and will result in a set of names that the Tibetan Election Commission will announce as formal candidates for the post of the Kalon Tripa and the Tibetan Parliament. Then during the main elections in March next year the Tibetan voting public will have to choose from among these names. Therefore, I am looking forward to how this Tibetan exercise in the democratic process will move in the coming months. Who says only the American people are concerned about elections this year?


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