Just my two cents worth


August 2010

Tibetan Americans: This Election Needs Your Attention

Here is another set of elections that Tibetan Americans need to pay attention to in the coming months. It is the 2010 United States midterm elections that will be held on November 2, 2010. There will be elections both at the federal level in both the House and the Senate as well as at the local level in some states, whether it is the state legislatures, the Governor’s or Mayor’s position.

All 435 members in the House of Representatives and 37 of the 100 members in the Senate will be elected in this election.

This year’s elections, particularly at the federal level, are important because we the voters will determine who gets the leadership power in the Congress; whether Republicans or Democrats will run the House and Senate.  This will impact the functioning of the Congress as the leading party will run the committees that can affect our everyday life from taxes to health care.

Tibetan Americans can care about the Kalon Tripa and the Tibetan Parliament elections.  But as an integral part of the American society we also need to educate ourselves on the elections here and to make ourselves relevant to the American society.  We are a part of the influential Asian American community and need to assert ourselves more. Currently, the American society only looks at the Tibetans as merely a “foreign” entity and we need to show that Tibetan American culture is part of the broader American culture now. Asian American organizations, including one called the 80/20 Initiative, are already making their case relating to the upcoming elections.

There are several ways in which we can do this.

Register to vote so that you can make your case in a concrete way. Be sure that you cast your vote on November 2 and if you think you will be away then you can look for opportunity to cast your absentee ballots.

You can even think of becoming a poll worker or involve yourself in other aspects of the election process. More information can be got from the website of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC serves “as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration.”  It also provides voter guides.

If you have aspiration for any elected posts in the United States you can visit the website of the Federal Election Commission. It has information on how you can involve yourself and be a part of the political system in this country.

Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, take action so that we do not contribute to the voter apathy that may have impact later on.

The Dalai Lama, China and India

The reported protest by the Chinese Government to the Indian Government about the recent meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in one sense an expected reaction from the Chinese side. After all, isn’t it that the Chinese tend to react negatively to any movement on Tibet by any governments in this world.

On the other hand, I see this Chinese reaction as a part of the overall strategy to isolate the Tibetan issue. The Chinese side knows that meetings between Indian leaders and His Holiness have been a regular feature in  the post 1959 period. Yet, by somehow protesting they want to send the message that no one but them can have anything to do with the Tibetan issue.

When asked about the Chinese protest during a press interaction with the visiting Japanese Foreign Minister, Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna had a nuanced response (which I am excerpting in full below).

India has a historical connection to Tibet and the Dalai Lama is not just an honored guest but is also someone who is seen as a spiritual leader to quite many citizens of India who follow Tibetan Buddhism. This aspect of His Holiness’ personality is something that the Chinese Government needs to understand.

Joint Press Interaction of EAM and FM of Japan

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Welcome to the press interaction. First, the External Affairs Minister of India Mr. S.M. Krishna will make an opening statement. Next, the Foreign Minister of Japan His Excellency Katsuya Okada would be making a statement.

Official Spokesperson: Excellency, thank you very much.

The two Ministers would be very happy to take two questions from each side. You may like to address your question to either of the Ministers but please indicate whether the question is for the External Affairs Minister or for the Foreign Minister. Also, please introduce yourself and your organization. You are requested to kindly restrict your questions to India-Japan relations. The first question goes to the Japanese side. 

Question (Indian Media): My question is addressed to Indian Foreign Minister. Sir, how do you plan to first of all address Japan’s concern on the testing of a nuclear device? If I may drift from this, China has also expressed concern over the meeting of Dalai Lama with the Prime Minister. Can you just clarify on both?

External Affairs Minister of India: The very fact that Japan has commenced negotiations with India in order to work out a bilateral agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the first round of negotiations were held in Tokyo, and we will continue a follow-up on that as quickly as possible. And as I mentioned in my opening statement, there is no timeline for the conclusion of any such agreement.

With reference to the visit of Dalai Lama, the Indian position has been stated and repeatedly. And it is unequivocal and it is categorical. I have mentioned this to my esteemed friend the Chinese Foreign Minister that Dalai Lama is an honoured guest in India, and he is a spiritual leader, and he has been held as such by millions of Indians, and we do not encourage anyone to get into political or other activities which will concern the relationship between two countries. It has also been made abundantly clear that Tibetan Autonomous Region is a part of the People’s Republic of China. I think that should bring down the curtain on any controversy on this question.

The Great Tibetan Dilemma: Perfect Democracy or Political Solution?

This year we begin the two-year election cycle for both the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet (The Kashag), as well as for the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.  Unlike past elections we are seeing a new trend where aspirants (the candidates will be known only after the October 3 primaries) to the positions are asserting themselves through the media in different ways.  Both the old and the new media are being taken advantage of in the process.

A limited discussion is also taking place, so far mainly about the Kalon Tripa election, that includes issues like the nature of the position, expectations from certain individuals and critical nature of the time. In the process there are challenges to the democratic process itself, with people highlighting the perceived weakness of the current system, the need for reform, including the introduction of postal and absentee ballots.  This was also visible in the issue of voter registration with the known case of at least one local election office’s decision being challenged through the media in terms of registration deadlines. Above all, certain vocal commentators have been even saying that there is no democracy in the Dharamsala system.

Therefore, as the Tibetans in the free world take the opportunity of this election cycle to upgrade their political consciousness, I would suggest that they also look at the broader issue that will have an impact in the long-term future. What should be the objective or the mission of the Tibetans in Diaspora and the Tibetan movement as a whole?  Should the establishment of a perfect democracy (if such a status is possible at all) be the primary objective? Or, should democracy (the best possible version of its kind) be the vehicle to the primary objective of finding a political solution to the Tibetan problem?

Some may say these two are not mutually exclusive and that one can aspire for both at the same time.  In an ideal situation that may be possible, but as I had highlighted in an earlier blog, our Administration cannot be compared to that of any nation-state. In terms of political evolution, we are in the “movement” stage which requires a different set of leadership style and management process than an established normal nation-state. A case in point is that of Taiwan, where despite being democratic, a martial law system prevailed for more than 40 years (it was declared in 1947 and was not lifted until 1987). This situation, while having much negative impact on the Taiwanese society from a democratic perspective,  may have been crucial in enabling Taiwan to preserve its identity during those critical years of the Communist takeover of China.

On the other hand, if we want to put a perfect democracy as the primary objective, then it is a different situation altogether. We should go all out to see if this is possible within our situation.  This would include empowering the Tibetan parliament further, strengthening citizen’s rights (including the establishment of one man, one vote system) and giving real autonomy to many institutions and organizations. The current discrepancy in the process established to elect parliamentarians between that in the Indian subcontinent and Europe and the Americas will have to be done away with.   These will, of course, have an impact on the effort to find a political solution on Tibet.

So, as Tibetans try to find out the role and duty of the new Kalon Tripa and the Parliament, discuss the pros and cons of individuals whose names are being talked about for the posts, we also need to take the time to think and resolve this Tibetan dilemma: Perfect Democracy or Political Solution, or both?

More on the Tibetan Elections!

We Tibetans have a saying, Ghelpo Cheyla Nenten, which is to say that if the issue is important it merits reiteration.  Some days back, I posted my views on the current attitude of the Tibetan populace relating to the elections this year, “If You Desire Change in Tibetan Politics, Look to the Parliament, not the Kalon Tripa.”

This has received some interesting comments, which helps continue the discussion.  As I feel these comments need highlighting I have compiled them here along with my response given to them.

As mentioned in one of my responses, at my level this is part of my effort to sensitize our community in my own way. For the non-Tibetan speaking readers, Uma Lam is Middle Way;  Katripa is the shortened form for Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet; Chitue is Tibetan Parliamentarians, etc.

Do you have a point of view?


From Norbu

2010/08/09 at 8:31 pm

Agreed with the overemphasis.

But there isn’t much of a task ahead though. We are just replacing a horse to run on the same direction-Uma lam.The current debate and discussion with katripa is a good start and should be considered for chitue.

Bhuchung Tsering in reply to Norbu.

I agree that the discussion is a good start. I, however, wish that the discussions are based on the reality on the ground and proceed from there. We should not end up building castles in the air.

From Tenzin Nyinjey

2010/08/11 at 2:25 pm

You haven’t analyzed why there’s no interest in Chitue elections. You should my friend! You haven’t analyzed why there’s no interest in Chitue elections. You should my friend!

Bhuchung Tsering in reply to Tenzin Nyinjey.

2010/08/11 at 2:54 pm

Nyinjey la. Thanks for the comment. I would think there would need a thorough survey on the reasons behind this lack of interest in the Chitue elections. My immediate reaction would be that the reason lies with our superficial understanding of the system and the nature of the beast, if you get what I mean.

From Tenzin Nyinjey

2010/08/12 at 3:44 pm

I agree the reasons are far more complex than what we think. But we need to bring them out, beginning from the superficial ones. After all to dig out the diamond beneath, one should start digging from the surface! Hope you got my point! Thanks!

Bhuchung Tsering in reply to Tenzin Nyinjey.

2010/08/12 at 5:57 pm

You are right. I think we Tibetans need to learn to not pass judgment based on the superficial dirt without realizing that there could be a diamond beneath that very upper level.

Anyway, you and I can, at our level, work to sensitize our community in our own ways. That is what I, at least, am attempting to do.


From Tenzin Rangdol

2010/08/13 at 10:52 am

Bhuchung la,

Without any slight hesitation I am 100% with your rational thought. It is high time for everyone not to forget how MPs matter in the present Tibetan democratic system in exile. As I go on researching the present Tibetans MPs, I kind of feel how badly Tibetan masses have casted their votes and formed a team of rotten MPs. Recently, I watched the videos of recent parliament session called off and I am very much upset by their indecent way of communication when they are supposedly representing the masses. How can we gain the trust back on these MPs when they were primarily lacking the dignified way of speaking as a MP and calling off the session without compromising on the differences. Attending the parliament sessions, attending the official functions as a guest of honor and publishing annual reports are not the mere responsibilities of MPs. Rather, I think they have more serious and wider responsibilities. They can play vital part in establishing an authentic Tibetan government in exile as true representation of six millions not only in the eyes of sympathetic supporters but also for the regime that is trying every possible way to illegitimate our Tibetan government in exile. In this crucial period of our Tibetan history, if the Tibetan masses blindly elect the rotten MPs then hopes for strengthening the Tibetan struggle will be further diluted for another 5yrs. So, while we are having ‘hungama’ on bringing fledgling and dynamic Kalon tripa, so too our Tibetan brothers and sisters have to gear up in bringing up team of passionate, farsighted and liberal MPs in the Tibetan parliament.

Bhuchung Tsering in reply to Tenzin Rangdol.

2010/08/13 at 11:26 am

Tenzin Rangdol la,

Your comments are appreciated. You reflect the general feeling among the populace about the way our parliamentarians have been working. While the quality of the individuals have much to do with the situation, the system as it is has also contributed to the problem. In the process of our parliamentary development, the form has been given as much prominence as the substance. Under such a situation when the individual lacks the ability to prioritize, the form dominates the substance, which is what is happening in our system.

If You Desire Change in Tibetan Politics, Look to the Parliament, not the Kalon Tripa

During the 1992 presidential campaign here in the United States a slogan that became the symbol of Bill Clinton’s success against then President George Bush senior was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This was basically to point to the reality that whatever President Bush’ positive marks in foreign affairs, ultimately it was the state of American economy that needed to be discussed and addressed.
Now, here is a thought.  The topic around the “water coolers” in the Tibetan community in exile currently is the Kalon Tripa election.
On the positive side this has brought increased awareness among the people about the Kalon Tripa. Irrespective of one’s knowledge, it has become a status symbol of sort to have an opinion on who should be the next Kalon Tripa.
On the negative side, there is an unrealistic expectation from this position with people virtually looking at this as the second coming of the Lord. On the issue of dialogue with the Chinese leadership, people who support differing political future for Tibet are placing their hope on the next Kalon Tripa to take up the cudgel on their behalf.
Given the current structure and system of the Tibetan Administration I would like to say that it is a misplaced hope if people are looking to the next Kalon Tripa to change the political position.   Just as the Democrats pointed to the economy being the real issue during the above mentioned 1992 presidential campaign,  the truth is that if the Tibetans want a change in the political path, it is the Tibetan Parliament that they have to look to, not the Kalon Tripa.  To improvize from the American slogan, in the Tibetan case, It’s the Parliament, stupid!
For evidence of the Parliament being the one that can do this, we could look at the development in 2004. In March 2004, the Tibetan Parliament, at the initiative of some parliamentarians, passed a private member’s resolution to review the Middle Way Approach if there was no positive Chinese response by March 2005. However, in September of the same year,  another group of parliamentarians introduced a resolution, that voided the March 2004 resolution. Although the March 2004 did not have the time to alter the course of the Tibetan struggle, it showed that the Parliament, if enough members concurred, could initiate such a process.
Also, if people had been paying attention to the statements by the present Kalon Tripa, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, then the Kashag has been clearly projecting the Parliament as the one that has been endorsing the present political approach.
With this being the case, it is a bit surprising that there is less “hungama,” to use an Indian term, over the parliamentary elections than about the Kalon Tripa. Even though both the elections are around the same time, the politically savvy younger Tibetans have not shown any obvious interest in the parliament. There is no separate website for possible members of the Tibetan parliament, as there is on the Kalon Tripa. There is no mock elections or debates being organized concerning the parliament as there has been about the Kalon Tripa.  On the issue of debate, while it may be impractical to organize such events in the Indian subcontinent where the constituencies are not geographical, they can certainly be held in North America or Europe from where there will be three parliamentarians. But nothing like that seems to be in the offing.
To me, both the elections need equal attention for different reasons. But if you desire a change in Tibetan politics, look to the Parliament, I say, not to the Kalon Tripa.  It ain’t going to happen this way.

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