Tibetan Parliament in the Spotlight on the Future Role of the Dalai Lama

I wrote the following blog for the International Campaign for Tibet and am reproducing it here.

Tibetan Parliament in the Spotlight on the Future Role of the Dalai Lama

Bhuchung K. Tsering

March 14, 2011

In what is set to become an historic session, the Tibetan Parliament in Exile received a message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on March 14, 2011, in which he has formally informed them of his desire to devolve authority saying, “All the necessary amendments to the Charter and other related regulations should be made during this session so that I am completely relieved of formal authority.”

In his statement on March 10, the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising in 1959 against Communist China, His Holiness spoke of his intention to take this matter up with the Parliament saying, “I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”

Following the reading of His Holiness’ message on March 14, 2011, the Parliament adjourned to give time for members to study it. The Tibetan Parliament will be beginning a discussion on the message on March 15, 2011.

Therefore, all eyes of the Tibetan people, as well as Tibet observers throughout the world, are on the Parliament. How will it deal with an issue that has strong emotional overtones among the Tibetan people? His Holiness himself said in his message that “I want to acknowledge here that many of my fellow Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, have earnestly requested me to continue to give political leadership at this critical time.”

From one perspective, it is indeed natural for the Tibetan people, with whom the institution of the Dalai Lama shares a strong karmic relationship, to be concerned with any changes to the powers and functions of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Particularly, given the current political situation of the Tibetan people, there is a feeling that only His Holiness can lead the people during this critical time.

But His Holiness’s decision, according to both the March 10 statement and the message to the Parliament, seems definitive. He has even set a time frame for the Parliament asking it to undertake the necessary amendments during its current session that will end on March 25. Therefore, although this session is the budget session, I will not be surprised if a large portion of the time is consumed in the deliberations.

According to www.tibet.net, Parliament Speaker Penpa Tsering has outlined three possible scenarios that might develop in the coming days.

1) The Parliament could convey to His Holiness that “we don’t want any changes.”

2) The Parliament could heed His Holiness’ message and amend the Charter accordingly.

3) The Parliament could “try to find a middle-way wherein the elected representatives can take responsibility for executive affairs with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in charge of the political leadership.”

Tibetans from different parts of the world have already started supplicating to His Holiness and also writing to the Parliament to undertake a referendum before taking any decision on the amendments.

As a reassurance to the Tibetan people, His Holiness reiterated in his message to the Parliament that on account of the karmic relationship between the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan people, “as long as Tibetans place their trust and faith in me,” he will never abandon the Tibetan political and religious cause.

Interestingly, His Holiness’ message to the Parliament also says, “The title of the present institution of the Ganden Phodrang headed by the Dalai Lama should also be changed accordingly.” Ganden Phodrang is a reference to the traditional Tibetan Government led by the Dalai Lamas and the term itself is originally the name of the monastic institution of the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Parliament now needs to take a decision that can show that Tibetan democracy has matured enough to take bold steps that will have far reaching impact for the Tibetans as a people, irrespective of how the political issue is resolved.

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