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?