Tibetan netizens debate their prime ministerial candidates

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Dharamsala: The Tibetan cyberspace is abuzz with activity ahead of Sunday’s primary elections to shortlist candidates for the ‘prime minister’ and parliament of the Tibetan government-in-exile here.

Support TwoCircles

The primary elections to nominate candidates for the Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, and parliament of the government-in-exile based in this northern Indian hill town will be held Oct 3, while the general elections will be held on March 20 next year.

A website called kalontripa.org, a private initiative searching for the next prime minister, has posted 20 prospective candidates for the next election.

The list includes the names of Lobsang Sangey, senior fellow at Harvard Law School, diplomat Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, Speaker Pempa Tsering and Deputy Speaker Dolma Gyari, the lone woman candidate.

Interestingly, many Tibetans have posed questions to the prospective candidates, ranging from the key responsibilities of the next prime minister to how they plan to resolve the Chinese occupation and alleviate the challenges faced by their people in Tibet.

One of the questions put to Lobsang Sangey was: What do you see as the key responsibilities of the next Kalon Tripa?

He replied: “First we have to define whether the Kalon Tripa is a leader or an administrator. If Kalon Tripa is simply an administrator, then experience, both institutional and personal, is a must. However, His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) himself has stressed, as our democracy progresses, the Kalon Tripa should assume more political leadership…

“For the Kalon Tripa as a leader, the primary responsibility is to resolve the Chinese occupation and alleviate the challenges faced by our brave compatriots in Tibet. Secondly, it is to gain support from the international community and to raise the profile of the Tibetan government which is rather weak…

“Lastly, the Kalon Tripa must be cognizant of the aspirations and anxieties of Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, and must ensure the welfare of the exile community both in Asia and the West.”

The views of Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, who is based in the US, were also posted on a website. “The Kalon Tripa has very big responsibilities. The leadership is ‘two-way’, meaning that public support would be very important if he was to commit himself to the five-year term.”

The lone woman candidate Dolma Gyari has also announced that “if I will be given an opportunity, I will love to shoulder the responsibility of Kalon Tripa”.

However, Chief Election Commissioner Jamphel Choesang told IANS: “The online campaigning is just private initiatives and to educate the public about the significance of electing a right candidate.”

He said this time both the prime ministerial and the parliamentary elections would be held on the same day to ensure maximum participation of the electorate.

In the previous prime ministerial election in 2006, 72,000 were registered to vote and only 32,205 people (26.8 percent) exercised their franchise.

The Tibetan parliament-in-exile has 46 members. Three traditional provinces of Tibet – Amdo, Kham and Utsang – elect 10 members each, including two women members for each province. The four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon faith elect two members each. Three members are elected by Tibetans in the West, two from Europe and one from North America.

In addition, the Dalai Lama has the discretion to exercise or not to exercise the provision to nominate one to three members.

The Tibetan parliament members are elected through two rounds of voting – preliminary and final. Each candidate contesting for parliament has to secure minimum 33 percent votes to get into the final round.

Incumbent Samdhong Rinpoche became the first directly elected prime minister for a five-year term in September 2001 after the Dalai Lama called for a directly elected political leader of the exiles.

Rinpoche can’t re-contest as the Tibetan charter bars any individual from holding the office for more than two terms.

Kirti Dolkar Lhamo, president of the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Women’s Association, said after the first round of the elections, the association would convene a televised debate among the elected candidates to give an opportunity to each contestant to discuss issues of concern.

As the Dalai Lama has turned 75, the Tibetans attach greater importance to the upcoming general elections as they feel the major political leadership of the government-in-exile is going to rest on the shoulders of the prime minister.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])