An Appeal for Civility in Tibetan Elections
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Now that the Tibetan Election Commission has announced the candidates for the forthcoming elections to the post of Sikyong and for parliamentarians, campaigning, which had been going on ever before that, is taking a more aggressive turn.
This is good for the strengthening of Tibetan democracy. As voters we need to know the person we wish to elect. For candidates, it is their responsibility to see that the voters are clearly informed of what they stand for and what they aspire to deliver once in office. Thus, campaigning becomes the main vehicle to do this.
However, a better democracy is one where there is positive campaigning. Unfortunately, during this election cycle we are noticing a growing trend in negative campaigning by the candidates, both directly and indirectly through surrogates. More alarming is the use of surrogates (oftentimes anonymous) to launch vitriolic attacks through acerbic and malicious assertions against some candidates.
The growth of social media and the somewhat superficial coverage of developments by some section of the traditional media are providing fuel for this, leading to confusion and commotion rather than clarity.
This is a dangerous development that might lead to wounds and divisions in the small society that might not heal even after the elections are over. Lately, whenever I speak with another Tibetan there is frustration with the current tenor of campaign rhetoric and a concern about where this situation might be leading us.
The Tibetan society is moving to a new stage of assessing the candidates, from that of regionalism and factionalism to one of individual worth. Among those standing up for elections to the Tibetan Parliament, for example, there are many well-meaning ones (I personally know some of them) who have been in the service of the community in different capacity. The nature of the elections is such that not everyone will be elected. Therefore, it should not be that the shortsighted and ill informed utterances of a few lead to the discouragement of people from serving the community in the future. While the Sikyong position has some perks (notwithstanding the somewhat puny remuneration), the parliamentarians for the most part have to devote personal time, energy and resources to their new responsibility in addition to doing their routine jobs.
Therefore, the candidates and the voters have responsibilities to alter the situation and not let it go out of control. There is a need for political civility.
Separate Personalities from Issues
The candidates and voters should bear in mind that our focus should be on issues and not on personalities. We should have frank exchanges of views on the position of the candidates on issues, whether they are as fundamental as the resolution of the Tibetan issue or day-to-day matter like social development programs. But we should stop disseminating information that is personal attacks against particular candidates. It is the right of the voters to support any particular candidate but we do not have the right to malign others. We also should not encourage the candidates to ‘hit each other below the belts’ just because we think that will score a point.
Speak the Truth
Tough questions need to be posed, whether by voters or the media. But everything has to be based on facts and not on hearsay, rumors or half-truths. I myself have seen a few documents circulating out there that are based on ignorance and also have no bearing to the issue. I am told on WeChat or Facebook there are more such destructive assertions being made of specific individuals.
Don’t pull a fast one
I would particularly urge the candidates not to try pulling a fast one to be elected and in the process harm the broader community. In other words, they should not miss the wood for the trees.
Talking about “The Meaning of Civility”, two professors at the University of Colorado had this to say: “The most destructive confrontation process, escalation, arises when accidental or intentional provocations beget greater counter-provocations in an intensifying cycle that transforms a substantive debate characterized by honest problem solving into one in which mutual hatred becomes the primary motive. De-escalation and escalation avoidance strategies are needed to limit this problem.”
I think the candidates should strive to do this. They should not dent the bus of democracy just to be elected and in the process make it useless to the voters who are the passengers.
To put it in another way, the elections are not a one-night stand. There is the day after that we have to live with and it should not be the case that we have a splitting headache to deal with then.