‘Fraudulent Elections: Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.‘ (1)
- Samdhong’s Interview
- Post Election
- Background to Sikyong 2016 Elections
- Dicki Chhoyang’s Resignation
- Allegations made against the two Sikyong 2016 Candidates
- Post Preliminary Election Concerns
Feedback on the Pre-Election Processes, the faults in the Election process
- Relevant Historical Background : The swindles of the past
- Divide and Rule Strategy of Candidates
A recent interview with Samdhong Rinpoche, published in Tibet Sun on 23 August, throws more light on events at the end of the Sikyong 2016 election process. ( 76 ) Samdhong, former Kalon Tripa (Sikyong) of the Tibetan Government in Exile (now known as the Central Tibetan Administration) caused a considerable stir in the exile Tibetan community when he abstained from voting in the election. When the interviewer asked why he abstained Rinpoche gave three reasons:
- That the campaign was based on the style of ‘Western’ and not ‘Tibetan’ democracy: “The system of the “campaign” is not in Tibetan culture. It is entirely Western, modern culture, saying that “I am the best, I must be elected!” Tibetan culture is “I cannot do, I am not very capable, the other is better,”
- That the election campaign was based on ‘modern’ culture: “Tibetan culture is based on cooperation — not only Tibetan culture, the ancient cultures, are based on cooperation — and modern cultures are based on competition. Competition means one wins and the other loses.”
- That the candidates used the Dalai Lama’s name during their campaigns, “And the most I was hurt by, was His Holiness’ name had been repeatedly used in the campaigns. That was unthinkable for me.”
In the article Samdhong expresses some laudable sentiments on how democratic elections should be run: ‘Then it is not a competition, but it is a choice, free choice. The people are not being indoctrinated, not being pressured, not using their emotion about their lineages or their relation, such as religion, or cholka [region], or religious tradition, not thinking about any of these things. Just about whosoever is the candidate.’
Unfortunately the fine sentiments expressed by Samdhong are in direct contrast to the descriptions of how referendums and elections were run under his control, while Kalon Tripa; including frequent use of the Dalai Lama’s name to influence the outcome. More details of this are given below and in Jamyang Norbu’s excellent article, ‘The Great Middle Way Referendum Swindle.’
Norbu’s article gives details of the various manipulative strategies used by the CTA, at that time under the direction of Samdhong Rinpoche, to enforce their Middle Way Approach. The MWA was against the wishes of many Tibetans seeking complete independence for Tibet. In referendum meetings ‘the MPs had dropped not very subtle hints that failure to vote for MWA would be tantamount to disloyalty to the Dalai Lama. The public became confused but also very angry.’ People felt unable to give up the wish to fight for Tibetan Independence but equally unable to be seen to be disloyal to the Dalai Lama. Norbu goes on to say; ‘Back in Dharamshala this whole debacle was misrepresented and reinvented by the exile Parliament under Samdong Rinpoche, in a breathtakingly deceitful manner.’ He describes how the minutes of meetings were tampered with; ‘I was rather taken aback by this Stalinist style rewriting of political history.’ He also clearly has little regard for Samdhong’s style of democracy: ‘The Middle Way was not adopted democratically. Far from it. Instead the lies and swindles of officials and MPs led by Samdong Rinpoche, to foist a phony referendum on the exile public have undoubtedly undermined Tibetan democracy.’ (25)
When Samdhong goes on to describe how he thinks the Sikyong 2016 election should have been conducted it is easy to see that what he is advocating is a return to more central control: ‘So my wish is, just have a two-tier election. First candidate election as we do in the past, then thereafter the Election Commission chooses two, three, four — whatever they wish. And then let the people vote. The candidates if they withdraw, that is ok. If they do not withdraw, they can be asked by the Election Commission, if you are chosen, what would be your major policies. That should be asked by the Election Commission. In the past they do it, then the Election Commission can tell the people, this candidate has this stand on this policy. So therefore people should know, if I choose A, their foreign policy or economic policy or education policy would be like this, and if B, would be something different. This much knowledge people should have. Otherwise people should not be imposed upon by so many ideas, good or bad ideas.’ Specifically he says: ‘And the candidate must not contact the people. Nor people should have support or oppose before the election. They can support, they can oppose [by making their] vote. And otherwise the campaign system is arousing a lot of negative emotions in the mind of people, and that is cause of division of our unity.’ In effect Samdhong is talking about removing the rights of candidates to interact with the exile Tibetans directly and discuss their policies. This system would also remove any opportunity for debate, because this might arouse ‘negative emotions.’ A system tightly controlled by the one party administration, through the Election Commission, which showed clear bias during the campaign (see below) would not in any way be seen to be democratic in a modern Western democracy. Samdhong tries to suggest that the exile community is not able to adhere to the democratic processes of countries like India and America because this would divide the community. As he has often done in the past Samdhong deliberately plays on the fears of the Tibetan people to justify returning to this clearly undemocratic election process: ‘if our mind is divided, and we have some kind of unpleasant feelings with each other, that is very dangerous and very damaging to the cause of the Tibetan issue.’
Throughout the rest of the interview Samdhong makes it clear he is in favour of Tibetans continuing to rely on religion as the most important influence over politics. Tibet and the exile community were run under a system of theocratic despotism, (See Part One and Part Two of Gilded Cage Articles) it seems Samdhong is keen to hold on to this theocratic control of the exile community rather than moving towards a form of modern, western, secular democracy. The question is will the USA and India continue to turn a blind eye to this form of dictatorship in the exile community, or will they insist that the democratic systems of India are adhered to?
Samdhong is proposing to continue several systems that strengthen the control of religion, and therefore the Dalai Lama’s influence, over the political choices in the exile community, through the following strategies:
- Manipulating processes through the use of the Dalai Lama’s position as spiritual guide
Having said that he was ‘very hurt’ by people using the Dalai Lama’s name in the election process Samdhong goes on to use that strategy himself to manipulate Tibetan’s into abandoning Western style democratic processes: ‘And during the election, the campaign process, His Holiness was quite sad about the way it was going on. And due to that unhappiness, His Holiness’ determination to live a long life also sometimes shattered, and was first noticed by these two deities, the oracles.’ Throughout the Gilded Cage articles there are examples of how the health and long life of the Dalai Lama is used to force through the political wishes of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration. The Dalai Lama claims to be retired from politics but clearly his position as the Tibetans’ Spiritual Guide is still be using to influence, if not control, the politics of the Exile Community, through the use of his happiness, health and religious Oracles acting in his name. It may be Samdhong who is taking part in the interview but it is highly unlikely that he would express these views if they were not in-keeping with the Dalai Lama’s own views. As Samdhong himself says later in the article; ‘But you do this and you do that, and you do whatever His Holiness say.’
Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche making requests during the long life offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Toronto
Samdhong talks about his meeting with the Dalai Lama, after the Sikyong 2016 elections; when the Dalai Lama was refusing to communicate with the Sikyong and Parliament. Samdhong makes it clear that he believed the Sikyong, Parliament and Kashag should apologise for their actions and change their policies to appease the Dalai Lama: ‘His Holiness must be approached, to request, not to be annoyed with the people, and whatever they have done wrong they should be told, and they will correct their mistakes. And therefore we had an audience with His Holiness, and if he is not happy he must be giving pardon to whosoever have done the wrong. And we also approached the Chitue [exile parliament] and Kashag together: You must approach His Holiness and say sorry, and you must try to clarify whatever misunderstanding or whatever is [causing] His Holiness unhappiness, that should be removed.’ It is clear from this paragraph that the Dalai Lama’s wishes continue to control the political processes in the exile community, this is not democratic process, this is theocracy.
- Continued use of Oracles to influence if not dictate political decision
When the interviewer quite understandably asks, ‘How relevant is it to consult oracles, considering that the leaders have been elected by the people?’ Samdhong evades the obvious issue of using what many would consider to be ancient superstition in a modern, democratic process by saying ‘There is no connection between these two concepts.’ He agrees that the use of oracles is irrational: ‘The oracles are when you are not able to decide something, reach some decision, by your own rational mind’ but goes on to say; ‘In my life experience, consulting the oracles has never gone wrong.’ He is even advocating using the oracles to determine leadership contests; ‘Even elected people, to consult an oracle as to who should be the leader, that will be chosen. But the leader, when he or she is in doubt, they can consult them.’
- The continued heavy representation of religious sects in the parliament
The interviewer goes on to ask ‘Tibetan religious sects are represented in the Parliament. How relevant do you see this? What purpose do they serve?’ At this point Samdhong appears to use one of his favoured strategies, circumlocution, to avoid addressing the key part of this question, i.e. ‘What purpose do they serve?’ He gives a long history of how religious representation in parliament came about to establish unity but fails to explain how relevant it is in a modern democracy to have such a high proportion of religious representation in a political body.
- Continuing to give ordained Monks and Nuns two votes, when lay people only have one
When asked why ordained monks and nuns are given two votes, instead of one as the lay Tibetan are, Samdhong makes vague references to other democratic elections where people are given two votes. None of the examples he gives in any way justify the clear inequality between ordained and lay people. Samdhong says it is necessary so that the religious tradition and constituency of the Ordained are represented, the question needs to be asked why is it important only for ordained people that their religious tradition is represented, what about representation for all the devout lay practitioners? The two vote system is clearly undemocratic, resulting in unfair political advantage to the Buddhist Monasteries and the ordained practitioners. The interviewer explains that many Tibetans feel the two vote system should be scrapped as everyone pays equal tax. Some are calling for the ‘scrapping of the sectarian representatives’ or equal voting rights. Samdhong says he has no view on this but interestingly when giving possible options ‘scrapping sectarian representatives’ is not even mentioned by him. Very significantly when the interviewer reminds him that ‘scrapping sectarian representatives’ is also an option Samdhong, despite having said he has ‘no considered opinion about this,’ responds immediately and directly saying the exile community have adopted a religious and political Charter therefore there are legal reasons to keep religious representation.
The Democratic nations, such as USA and India, that financially support the exile Tibetan community as a so called ‘democracy’ should pay attention to the fraudulent election antics (See Part Seven of Gilded Cage Articles) the events following the election of the Sikyong, involving the Dalai Lama and Oracles, (See below) and this interview. It is not by chance that Samdhong agreed to this interview, he represents the Dalai Lama’s wishes and is clearly pushing to hold the community in the chains of theocratic control. In another recent article in Tibet Sun, ‘Buddhist Faith and the Death of Tibet,’ Mila Rangzen identifies that radical changes to the political system are still needed: (77)
Mila Rangzen is a US armed forces veteran serving the New York Community as an immigration translator.
‘If we introduce some healthy changes to our political system, it could give rise to a glimmer of hope. We must accept with open arms the following:
- The multi-party system. Kicking Lukar Jam out of the 2016 Sikyong race through official manipulation is to deny the Rangzen people the Rangzen voice. This governmental platform is not owned by Umaylam people. So it must be made accessible to all Tibetans regardless of their political stand and vision.
- Opposition party. This is indispensable to a true democracy. A bit of party politics is inevitable, but when it comes to defending the core interests of the people, the party in power will rise to the challenge. An everyday example would be India, UK, and the US — the three biggest democracies around the world that never let go of their core national interests in spite of party politics, especially during elections.
- Total eradication of the so-called 10 religious seats in the Parliament.Religion, or in our case Buddhist faith, is anathema to politics and its pragmatic vision. This is the lesson of our history and the experience of our people. Never again. ( )
Are Dalai lama and his cronies undermining the re-elected Sikyong?
Something is going on the exile administration and it appears that Sikyong Sangay has fallen out of favour with the Dalai Lama. This is potentially extremely damaging for Sangay as the Dalai Lama is still the real power holder in this community. The following are possible indications of a ‘no confidence’ strategy against Sangay
1.Just before the final election, on 28th February Kalon Dicki Chhoyang announced she was resigning from her position as Minister for the Department of Information and International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration. She then released a statement that suggested Sangay did not have some essential qualities and later that she would be voting for Tsering. (See below) It is unlikely that she ould have made such a dramatic move unless she was encouraged to do so by other, more powerful, members of the exile community.
2. During the election Samdhong Rinpoche, the former Kalon Tripa, stated that he would not be voting in the election as he believes ‘the exiled government is not heading in the right direction.’ (See below) Samdhong is still a respected member of the community, especially with the ‘old school’ Tibetans, so his statement would have negatively impacted on Sangay’s reputation.
3.An article by respected journalist Claud Arpi contains an interesting statement by the Dalai Lama aimed at the new Sikyong: ‘A few days after the final vote, the Dalai Lama spoke of the deplorable health conditions in some Tibetan settlements in India; he requested the new administration to provide better care and services to them. “Feel-good appearances will not help. That will be empty glory,” he added.’ (70) As Sangay was the previous Sikyong, and responsible for the care and services this is a clear criticism of his previous work.
4. A video has surfaced of a meeting between one of the Dalai Lama’s state oracles and the two candidates for Sikyong. To Westerners not used to Tibetan Buddhist culture the video may appear bizarre but it is obvious from the reaction from Tibetans in the community it has worked well to undermine Sangay’s position. Oracles are taken very seriously and many Tibetans will believe that the oracle is expressing the Dalai Lama’s dissatisfaction with the election process and the candidates.’Nechung Choegyal is regarded as one of the two prime protective deities of Tibet. The spirit of the diety is believed to take resort in a human medium known as Nechung Kuten (Nechung meduim) on occasions when he is called upon by the Dalai Lama or when he intends to pass on a message. Historically, the Nechung oracle is believed to have assisted the government in decision-making and providing divinities on pressing matters of the state.’ (73)
You see the oracle violently throwing barley in the face of the candidates. His speech was then ‘translated’ by others: ‘Leaders and ordinary people have ignored their promises taken in front of His Holiness. Number of guidance and initiatives of His Holiness in his political career were not properly understood by them. They are also not being grateful to what His Holiness did and not actually implicating what His Holiness advice us to do. This has sadden His Holiness… if we continue to have lack of unity and harmony in Tibetan community, I would not be able to bear the responsibility of His Holiness lifespan and security. Therefore, in the future If you are not able to give assurance to His Holiness about your rightful intention ahead, you Leader should take all the responsibility regarding life expectancy of His Holiness…Thus, you should personally approach to His Holiness to regretfully apologized for all the mistakes and promise not to repeat again.’ References to his Dalai Lama being ‘saddened’ and his life expectancy being shortened are common themes in scapegoat campaigns in the exile community. (see Part Four: Shugden Scapegoat)
‘Tibetan writer and a staunch Rangzen (pro independence) activist Jamyang Norbu writes on his Facebook page, “As if Tibetan democracy hadn’t been totally discredited in the last few months, the Nechung and the Tsering Chenga oracles stepped in to finish the job with their sycophantic rantings on the Sikyong elections. Too depressing for further comment. I dismissed these absurdities by name long time ago (1999) in a two part essay.’ (72) In these excellent articles by Jamyang Norbu he explains the reliance of Tibetans on these religious practices and how this reliance is holding the Tibetan people back: ‘Now more than ever, Tibetans absolutely need to move away from the world of superstition, oracles and magic into the real world of the twenty-ﬁrst century. There are overwhelming crises in the Tibetan world that not only require the full attention and energy of our leaders, but also an enlightened and up-to-the-minute appreciation of realities. In the matter of public health alone we are facing an emergency that borders on disaster, but to which His Holiness and the Tibetan government have paid scant attention.’ (71)
The appearance of the video is a worrying new development in the fact this video is clearly being used to undermine the man elected in a vaguely democratic process.It has already started to take effect on the exile administration as is shown by the resignation of Security Kalon Dongchung Ngodup.’ In what turns out to be yet another setback for the current Tibetan cabinet headed by the Tibetan PM Lobsang Sangay, the minister for security Dongchung Ngodup resigned from his post on Wednesday with immediate effect. ..Speaking to reporters, Dongchung Ngodup said, “I took the decision after what His Holiness said during the centenary celebration of Men-Tsee-Khang and the reprimand from the state oracles, which laid some doubts over my capability to carry on with my responsibilities.’ (72)
5. ‘DHARAMSHALA, March 23: The Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama today pointed towards a possible failure on the part of the Central Tibetan Administration’s department of health and the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in providing healthcare to the Tibetan public. “It appears that there has been a significant failure by Health Department and the Tibetan medicine section of the Men-Tse-Khang in tackling issues related to preventive measures in healthcare. While there are many Tibetans in the settlements that are afflicted with various ailments, we engage in pomposity here. It would be ‘grand on the outside but shallow inside’ if we put on grand proceedings here while there are lagging in our work on the ground. I may yet live for ten or fifteen years more, you all have the responsibilities now,” the Tibetan leader said at the centenary celebrations of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute here.’ (74)
It seems the Dalai Lama’s criticism and bizarre use of the Oracle has worked as the two Sikyong candidates made a humiliating public apology on 7 April 2016: DHARAMSHALA: Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and Speaker Penpa Tsering of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, the two final candidates for Sikyong election 2016, held a joint press conference today expressing apologies and reaffirming their commitment to ensure unity and harmony in the Tibetan community.Addressing the conference first, Speaker Penpa Tsering said: “During the centenary celebration of Mentseekhang on 23 March, His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed concern on the declining morality of Tibetans. Similarly, the state oracle Nechung and Tsering Chenga issued an advisory recently, admonishing the election-related activities of the two candidates and their supporters which had a tone of regionalism and groupism, thus causing deep sorrow to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”“Therefore, I offer my profound apology to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the same,” he said.He also appealed the public with folded hands to stop all election-related negative activities which are causing serious distress and disunity… Speaking in the same vein, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay also called for unity and urged everyone to cease all election-related negative activities to reaffirm harmony and fulfill the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama…When there is unity and bonding, our collective merit increases, which has a parallel impact on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s lifespan.’ The Sikyong emphasised again that he would be following the wishes of the Dalai Lama;’“Most important of all, I offer my deep apology for causing sorrow to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and pledge that the Kashag would move forward with resolute conviction and bearing His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice in our hearts, we will fulfill those noble ideals and aspirations,” Sikyong said.
Although the talk was of unity the only unity referred to was the ‘unity among the three traditional provinces of Tibet.’ No reference was made to Lukar Jam and the way he and the Rangzen supporters were pushed out of the election; nor was any reference made to the repetition of Shugden scapegoat rhetoric by Tsering; it seems that the division caused towards these two groups was not an issue for the Dalai Lama.What is also signifcant is Tsering calling for people to ‘shut down the various chat groups on social media and elsewhere.’ (75) Social Media is an important part of Tibetan culture now with Tibetans within China having limited communication and exile Tibetans spread all over the world. Asking them to close down their chats is in effect telling them to stop sharing their opinions and news, which feels dictatorial and undemocratic.
Really this has shown up the fact that the Dalai Lama has far from retired from politics and still has complete control. That he can bring two men, one the elected leader of the exile community, to take part in what is a humiliating act of apology, in front of the whole world, shows that the Tibetans are not much further forward in their struggle for democracy.
‘The ballots have spoken. Lobsang Sangay, the incumbent Tibetan prime minister, has been re-elected as “Sikyong” (political leader) to lead the Tibetan refugees during the next five years…The official results will only be declared by the exiled Tibetan Election Commission on April 27, but private websites give Lobsang Sangay 33,234 votes, while his opponent Penpa Tsering gets only 24,752 in his favour – out of some 90,000 registered voters.’ (70)
An article on the Phayul website said the observation team ‘lauded the proceedings of the ‘Election Day’ acknowledging it was “conducted peacefully and overall in an orderly and calm manner”.’ ‘The group of international Parliamentarians under the International Network of Parliamentarians on Tibet (INPAT) visiting the seat of exile Tibetan government to observe the 2016 elections spoke highly of the developments of the Tibetan general elections that concluded yesterday. The parliamentarians said, “We are pleased to see how Tibetans all over the free world have once again strongly embraced democracy as the best way to achieve the aspirations of a better future for the Tibetan people, which unfortunately continues to be denied to 6 million Tibetans in Tibet. We wish to praise the Tibetan people for their commitment and enthusiasm in participating both in the campaign and in the voting process.”’ It is important to note that whilst these comments seem to be very positive the article also says the team will be producing a report ‘pushing on areas related to campaign finance regulation with a particular focus on cap limits for electoral expenses, participation of women, regional voting system and the representation of religious sects in the Parliament and the need to ensure all Tibetans in the free world are able to vote.’ (68) Hopefully this report will address some of the many issues identified below.
Many Tibetans have chosen to show their lack of faith in the election process by boycotting the election, refusing to vote. One such person is one of the original candidates Lukar Jam who was scapegoated during the election process by the other candidates and their supporters and unfairly removed after coming third in the preliminary elections. Lukar is the only candidate that represented the Independence for Tibet and many felt without him standing in the actual elections there was no real choice. He chose to show his lack of respect for the election process by abstaining.
Similarly the previous head of the exile administration, Samdhong Rinpoche, abstained from voting in what he considered to be a less that democratic process: ‘There are signs of resentment against the way elections are being fought for the top democratic post of the Tibetan government in exile. On a day when nearly 90,000 exiled Tibetans voted to elect their new leader for sustaining the demand for a free Tibet, the first elected head of the exiled government, Samdhong Rinpoche, refused to cast his vote, giving the argument that the entire election process was moving away from the ideals of a party-less democracy .Samdhong Rinpoche, 77, who fled Tibet just four days after the Dalai Lama, said he was hurt by the practices being adopted by exiled Tibetan leaders to compete in the elections.“I didn’t cast my vote as the exiled government was based on the principles of Swaraj of [Mahatma] Gandhi Ji. It didn’t involve competition or opposition. But, nowadays, representatives are involved in opposing each other through their individual campaigns. Therefore, I think, the exiled government is not heading in the right direction,“ Rinpoche told TOI over the phone from Mysore.’ (69)
Samdhong still has a great deal of influence in the Tibetan community, as does Lukar Jam, that two such prominent politicans have chosen to abstain in these elections is extremely significant. The two men probably have different grievances with the election process; Samdhong is very ‘old school,’ Lukar Jam more progressive and pro-democracy, but their decisions clearly illustrate the deep divisions that have arisen in the exile Tibetan community, as a direct result of the undemocratic strategies used in the elections.
Background to Sikyong 2016 Elections
The term of office for the exile Tibetan’s 15th Parliament is coming to a close in early 2016. The preliminary election for Sikyong and members of the 16th Tibetan Parliament was held on 18 October 2015, the final election would be held on 20 March 2016. In a sense democratic elections in the exile community are relatively new, it was as recently as March 2011 that the first international election was held. On 27 April 2011, the Chief Election Commissioner of the Central Tibetan Administration, Mr. Jamphel Choesang announced new members of the 15th TPiE and Dr. Lobsang Sangay as the Chief of the Cabinet (Kalon Tripa) of CTA. (27) It would be fair to say democratic processes have come a long way in the exile community but equally fair to say that they have some way to go before this could be called a democratic society. As the American House of Representatives has called on: ‘the United States Government to recognize and increase global public awareness and monitoring of the upcoming electoral process through which the Tibetan people in exile will choose the next democratically elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Sikyong,’ in Resolution 337, it seems the world is watching. (45)
Some of these potential obstacles have been raised in an article by Lobsang Wangyal in the Tibet Sun Onlinenews, 29 July 2015. The article states that the reality of the exile Tibetan government is it has many undemocratic qualities: “The process of elections has always raised questions about Tibetan democracy. Of the two most fundamental and driving principles of democracy – freedom and equality – the second aspect of getting equal treatment for all citizens seems to be far removed in the Tibetan democracy. Likewise, once our representatives are elected to the House, they do not seem to have any obligations or be accountable to their electorate. Nobody votes for them on any issues, and the representatives hardly ever bother to consult their constituents about their stands on various issues.” (28) The concerns raised in the Tibet Sun article are echoed in the article, ‘Are we headed to “Democracy with Dharamasala characteristics”?’ on the Tibetan Political Review website. (65) ‘As Tibetans in exile prepare to elect a Sikyong and Chitues on March 20, this election season has been historic. But not in the way that was hoped. Never since before direct election of the prime minister has a Tibetan election fallen so short of the ideals of fairness and legitimacy. Never before has there been such uproar over arbitrary election rules. Never before have long-time Tibet supporters written to the CTA protesting “undemocratic practices.” And never before has a prominent U.S. Congressman warned that the CTA is acting “anti-democratically.”’
The warning issued by a Congressman refers to the letter sent by Congressman Rohrabacher to the U.S. Secretary of State and Director of USAID, ‘As the co-founder of the Congressional Tibet Caucus, Congressman Rohrabacher has a long history with the Tibet movement. So when he warns that U.S. funding for the CTA may be at risk, Tibetans should take note.’
The article goes on to list the problems with the election process, all of which are identified in the articles quoted below, it also suggests reasons for the problems. The writer sums up by saying: ‘The current Election Commission, far from being the independent protector of Tibetan democracy, has reduced itself to a laughingstock. The electoral process has become so tainted as to call into question the fundamental issue of legitimacy. And the incumbent leadership has been notable in their willingness to quietly benefit from (and perhaps quietly influence) this unfair system. This is shameful.’
Divide and Rule Strategy of Candidates
What should be of concern to the international supporters of Tibet and its struggle for freedom is the use of ‘divide and rule’ tactics by Sikyong candidates in the 2016 election. This is particularly true of the candidate Penpa Tsering, as can be seen from the examples given below, however it is also true that Lobsang Sangay does nothing to stop the use of these divisive tactics, by others, and benefits from them indirectly. Dividing the Tibetan community is extremely unhelpful at a time when Tibetans need to present a united front against the increasing violation of their human rights in China. Perhaps the reason for this overt and covert use of ‘divide and rule’ is that neither candidate seems to have anything of much substance to offer Tibetans: ‘What about the candidates’ future vision for Tibet? Sadly not much. Each time this important question is raised, Sangay talks about his achievements and regurgitates some tired words such as innovation, unity and people’s aspiration. Tsering’s bilingual election manifesto basically makes the same promises that Sangay has made or claims to have fulfilled.’ (66)
Causes of the Division
- ‘The Regionalism Game
The complicated nature of the regionalism in Tibet and the exile community may deter non-Tibetans from investigating the matter; the following article from Tibetan Political Review is very helpful to explain how the exploitation of the regionalism benefits the candidates but is destructive for the Tibetan community as a whole:
‘On 28 January 2016, Central Executive of Ngari Chithun Association announced Penpa Tsering, the current Speaker of the exile parliament, as its candidate for the final lap of 2016 election for Sikyong (Prime Minister). The news itself, of course, is nothing surprising as each association can put up its own candidates, both for members of parliament and the prime minister. However, it is a question how Ngari Association came to the decision and what went on behind the scenes, including involvement of local politicians and regionalism or maybe even electoral pacts. These were nearly absent in the 2011 election. In the preliminary round Ngari’s prime ministerial candidates were Tashi Wangdu and Lobsang Sangay. Wangdu hasn’t qualified for the final round. But Sangay did. Under normal functioning, Ngari’s candidate should have been Sangay. However, after receiving a letter from office of Utsang Cholkha, which supports Tsering, and a personal request from the Speaker himself requesting Ngari Association to support him, the executive members of Ngari decided to put Tsering’s name as their candidate for Sikyong. Ngari Chithun Association selected as its final candidate someone who wasn’t even a preliminary candidate, which sounds bizarre. Of the three provinces, Utsang has the largest population in exile. Interestingly, it is estimated that over 60% of Utsang’s population in exile is from Ngari. Hence this association becomes important as an electoral base. There are unconfirmed reports that in exchange for its support, should Penpa Tsering win, Ngari Association demanded two Kalons from Ngari. The Tibetan Election Commission (EC) created a new rule that ‘officially recognized’ groups can spend as much money as they want for campaign activities of their candidate, and this amount will not be considered as part of Rs.8 lakh allowed for each Sikyong candidate’s campaign expenditures. Since Utsang Province, Ngari Association and the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT) endorse Penpa Tsering, Tsering has unrestricted funds for his campaign activities giving him great advantage over his sole rival Lobsang Sangay. Sangay, the incumbent prime minister, is endorsed only by NDPT. Some may call this a shrewd political move by Tsering. It is, if one divorces it from principle and morality that Tsering often talks about during his campaign tours. He has capitalized on the EC’s lame and impractical rule that gives undue freedom to some ‘officially recognized’ associations. Much has already been written about it, including in our last editorial.
Office of U-tsang Province’s letter to Ngari Association requesting it to endorse Tsering seems unscrupulous. Ngari is a part of U-tsang Province, and Utsang endorses Tsering, therefore the argument goes so must Ngari. Many years ago Ngari demanded to be recognized as a separate province and did not want to remain under U-tsang. Today it has its own Head Office in Dharamsala and regional branches in exile Tibetan communities. Hence recent U-tsang Cholkha’s official letter to Ngari is a tacit formal recognition of Ngari Chithun Tsogpa on par with U-tsang. This opens old sores of regionalism that plagued exile politics decades earlier when Ngari wanted to be recognised as a separate province. Furthermore, the letter was sent not with approval or consensus from the people of U-tsang but under the direction of the current Head of U-tsang Cholkhas, who is a staunch supporter of Tsering.
Is Penpa Tsering’s willingness to exploit regionalism a sign of how he would act as Sikyong? If he governs the way he campaigns, this is not a good sign.'(66)
- The Dalai Lama Trump Card (See Gilded Cage Part 2 – ‘Religion and Politics’)
‘On the issue of unity within the Tibetan exile community, the more demagogic campaign has been run by Penpa Tsering. He has not hesitated to pander to the basest nature of ultra-conservatives in our society, for example by his shameful attacks on a rival candidate as being “anti-Dalai Lama”. Once this card is played, there is little hope for civil discourse. Tsering knew that, and regardless he was willing to go there for the sake of votes. Again, we are reminded of Donald Trump’s divisive and damaging tactics.’ (66)
The confusion caused in the exile community is expressed very clearly in an article published on Rangzen Alliance in September 2015. Songtsen, a pen name for a Tibetan monk, expresses his dismay at the comments made by Penpa Tsering during a pre-election speech. Penpa Tsering qualified to stand for the Sikyong elections in March, both he and the other candidate, the current Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, represent the Umaylam -Middle Way approach.
‘Yesterday, 26 August 2015, Penpa Tsering, honorable speaker of the Tibetan parliament, gave a speech to the monks of Sera monastery, Bylakuppe, South India. There was nothing new in his speech, as he reiterated the same old narratives. However he said something that struck great fear and anxiety in my heart. It shocked the audience, as the monks looked at the speaker in disbelief. The monks wondered if they heard the speaker correctly, when he said, “I am not debating someone who criticizes His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Gyuto monastery has announced that it is not going to allow people, who criticize His Holiness, to address its monks. This is absolutely right. I applaud it. Indeed I cannot live with such people.” The speaker has some good qualities. He is an experienced politician, and a brilliant orator. But what really sickens me is that someone who can plead our enemy, the Chinese, to have a dialogue with us is now saying that he cannot debate with a fellow Tibetan, who cherishes a different political view. This has robbed my sleep and appetite. The speaker does not have to speak in a roundabout way. We know that he is targeting Lukar Jam. I do not understand why the speaker, who is willing to negotiate with the Chinese, is unable to debate Lukar Jam. Is it because Lukar is more evil than the Chinese? No matter how much I think I cannot digest the fact that the speaker is not able to share the same platform with Lukar, who suffered years of brutal Chinese torture and imprisonment for seeking Tibetan independence. I cannot really ignore such a statement.
I really don’t understand the speaker’s hatred for Lukar Jam. It really scared me. Why cannot we have different political views? People can follow the Middle-Way. They can have absolute faith in His Holiness. But I do not think Middle Way followers are so narrow-minded that they cannot tolerate co-existing with followers of Tibetan independence.’ (57)
‘The so called criticism of the Dalai Lama by Lukar Jam is part of a scapegoat strategy used to discredit the candidate that advocates Tibetan independence. ‘These detractors deliberately equate Umay-lam (Middle-way Approach) with His Holiness, just as anyone disagrees with Umay-lam is labeled as anti-Dalai Lama.’ (58)
- Tibetan Independence versus Middle Way Division
Both Sikyong candidates advocate the Middle Way strategy, the candidate Lukar Jam, who stood for Tibetan Independence, was eliminated, some think unfairly, in the preliminary election. The way in which those advocating Tibetan Independence have been unfairly treated during the campaign is made clear in the Open Letter from Tibetan National Congress (TNC) to Election Commission (EC) in November 2015, posted by Jigme Ugen: ‘In August 2015, the TNC wrote to the EC requesting official recognition, which the EC now requires ‘for participation in the Tibetan election process without restrictions on free speech rights.’ Jigme explains that in reply to this request; ‘you stated that the EC has no jurisdiction on granting recognition, and that we should write to the Kashag (Cabinet) for recognition. You did not address our key question on how the EC will ensure that the effects of its rule are fair and depoliticized while requiring a political body like the Kashag to recognize TNC.’ As instructed the TNC wrote to the Kashag and to date has had NO REPLY. This has put the TNC in a position of great disadvantage: ‘Why do we care so much about “recognition”? Because lacking recognition, TNC has already been irreparably harmed in our ability to participate in the democratic process. It has been like wrestling with both hands tied behind our back, while groups supporting the incumbents are unbound. From the beginning of this election season, TNC had to negotiate candidates’ written permission before we could even issue a statement of support for them. Every rupee or dollar we spend — even for a single poster — has to be documented and counted toward the candidates’ strict spending cap. We have had to cancel planned travel for meetings and campaign events to avoid the candidate breaching their expense cap. Meanwhile, “recognized” groups like NDPT and Utsang Tsokpa have been freely supporting their candidates through endorsements, fliers, banners in settlements, etc. They do not have to account for any of their expenditures. They have been free to spend whatever they wish to promote the incumbent candidates… ‘(54)
- Shugden Scapegoat (See Gilded Cage Articles Part 4 ‘Shugden Scapegoat’)
In his article Songtsen also refers to the third cause of division being utilised in the election: ‘The speaker of the Tibetan parliament took an oath that he would never keep any contact with the worshippers of Dolgyal spirit. Does his ex-communication of the Dolgyal worshippers now extend to Tibetans who call for independence, including Lukar Jam?’
Penpa Tsering uses the hatred towards Shugden practitioners, whipped up by an orchestrated scapegoat campaign in the exile community, to further his political ambition to be Sikyong. In his election manifesto under the heading ‘Security’ he says the following: ‘The biggest problem to order and stability in the Tibetan society in exile today comes from followers of Dolgyal. Moreover the biggest threat to the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also posed by the foot soldiers of the Dolgyal group. This is a fact recognized by the intelligence agencies in both India and the USA. The foot soldiers of the Dolgyal group have carried out such violent campaigns as murders, arson and beating within the exiled Tibetan community. And they continue to conspire with the government of China to carry out both open and covert actions to harm the fundamental cause of the Tibetan people and the order and harmony in their society. In particular, wherever His Holiness the Dalai Lama travels, Dolgyal followers make it a point to hold demonstrations at which audaciously insane slogans are shouted. In order to pre-empt the effectiveness of their actions, countermeasures will be taken. The true historical origination of Dolgyal and its background and the dangers of worshipping it will be publicized in the places where the foot soldiers of the Dolgyal group live and shout their protests. The sordid actions and the hidden aims of the Dolgyal group foot soldiers will be exposed. And whenever Dolgyal group foot soldiers carry out illegal actions, recourse to judicial remedy and other actions under the laws of the concerned countries will be taken.’ (67)
This sort of rhetoric has clear similarities with the speeches of fascist dictators, it has all the elements used in the orchestrated scapegoat campaign and will only stir up more paranoia and hatred towards this religious group. Interestingly Tsering does not use such language towards the Chinese in his manifesto: ‘Today, China’s economic growth has slowed down. Many foreign investors are continuously withdrawing their funds. The country’s one-child policy has been changed. Campaigns for democratic change and respect for human rights from the general populace keep increasing. And the present government has been carrying out policies such as cracking down on corruption. Developments such as these indicate that China is headed towards a transformative new development.’ (67) The rhetoric against the Shugden practitioners seems like a cheap, political trick to create the illusion that Tsering is a strong leader, ready to stand up to the enemy. In Tsering’s case though it seems he is only ready to stand up to the smoke and mirrors scapegoat enemy, not the enemy that holds the real power.
Whether people agree with the Shugden practitioners religious beliefs, or the methods employed by some Shugden practitioners to overcome the Ban, the fact is division in the Tibetan community is not helpful. International organisations like International Campaign for Tibet and national and international media sources, such as Reuters and the Guardian, are simply not helping Tibetans when they promote the Shugden scapegoat. Not only is it against international laws to discriminate against a group on religious grounds, it is also going to break down Tibetan unity and significantly weaken their campaign to establish democratic freedom for Tibet. Similarly whilst people may feel the Middle Way is a more constructive method to negotiate with the Chinese it is not appropriate that those ‘Rangzen’ Tibetans, who wish for full Independence and are prepared to fight for this, are scapegoated and manipulated out of any opportunity to gain a political voice. These are the tactics of a fascist system, not a system of democracy. Why are the international community, particularly the USA who fund this exile government, doing nothing to protect the democratic rights of the exile Tibetans in these elections? It is extremely unfortunate that the only two candidates left in the Sikyong election are prepared to make use of, or allow, such divisive strategies for their own short term gain. It seems they are prepared to harm the longer term aim of freedom and democracy for Tibetans in Tibet in favour of gaining more power for themselves in the exile community.
Dicki Chhoyang Resignation
On 28th February Kalon Dicki Chhoyang announced she was resigning from her position as Minister for the Department of Information and International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration.
‘She wrote in her press statement at CTA headquarters in Dharamshala: “With a sad heart, I resigned today as Kalon for the Department of Information and International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration. My decision was made with careful deliberation, bearing in mind our collective interest and the significant challenges that lie ahead. It has been a tremendous honour to serve the Tibetan people as Kalon.” She refused to take any questions from the journalists, but said more details will come in due course of time. Her resignation fuelled much speculation at a time when the Tibetan election for Sikyong (Prime Minster) 2016, in three weeks on 20 March, is already rife with controversies.’ (59)
Sikyong Losang Sangay says that ‘the DIIR kalon has resigned to participate in public debates of the ongoing Tibetan general election since the rules of Election Commission(EC) of CTA does not allow incumbent Kalon to participate in election activities.’ (60)
Her resignation caused uproar on social media with Tibetans expressing a mixture of outrage at the timing of her resignation, suggestions as to her reasons and accusations against the political candidates.
Many Tibetans on Social Media expressed the opinion that the reason for the resignation would become clear in the debate between the candidates Sikyong Sangay and Penpa Tsering, 29 February 2016. However first reports on the debate describe it as ‘ cautious, politically correct,’ the Phayul article admits that many Tibetans were disappointed in the format of the debate: ‘The mood of the public on the social media and micro messaging sites has largely been of apprehension as the organizers citing operational reasons decided to curtail the guest list and has no open questioning platforms. Tenzin Minkyi, a Tibetan college student says, “It is disappointing to see that the public weren’t allowed despite the event being labeled a public event. It’s disconcerting that all the questions come from the organizers and not the public who has lots of questions”.’ Frustration was also expressed on Social Media that the debate was not broadcast live but instead there would be time for the footage to be edited before being presented to the public. Clearly the debate was superficial in nature and carefully stage-managed: ‘The organizers allocated a two part questioning sessions; the first part on the situation inside Tibet and the revival of dialogue between the exile government and Beijing. Gu-Chu-Sum Tibetan Political Movement’s former President Ngawang Woebar expressed dismay over the absence of any discussions over the 2081 known political prisoners languishing in Chinese prisons. He said, “Although with the time constraint and the questions modeled on specific issues restricted the debate to some extent, it is unfortunate that the issue of Tibetan political prisoners were raised in the whole debate.” The second part saw questions raised on the exile government comprising its administrative priorities and the welfare of the exile Tibetans. Tenzin Nyingjey, Senior Researcher at the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy says, “Personally I am not that amused as the debate touched upon the more petty obscurities of the campaign controversies and failed to grasp the more important issues of the freedom struggle. The debate has, I think, helped undo much of the campaign confusion in the Tibetan diasporas and the gesture to exchange handshakes and pleasantries after the event; it shows a bit of the Tibetan trait of mutual respect besides the squabble over the chair (PM’s post). He further added that the core issue of Middle Way Approach which is endorsed by both the candidates was not explored as it ought to have. “But honestly, since the Middle Way Approach is largely bridged between Beijing and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the two candidates are limited to opine or deliberate too much on the same topic. It is an administrative limitation,” says Nyingjey. (61)
Indeed some people are so frustrated with the lack of real choice in the Sikyong elections that they are choosing not to vote at all. ‘No matter who wins this election (Lobsang Sangay or Penpa Tsering), as far as I am concerned it will not make any positive impact on Tibetan freedom struggle. All they would do is find a few more scholarship schemes (I don’t deny their necessity), pretend how much devotion they have for His Holiness and declare to the world that they do not want Tibetan independence. This is the principle reason I have decided not to vote in the finals – not because Lobsang Sangay’s mortgage bills were allegedly “paid by the Chinese Communist Party” and Penpa Tsering “killed a man and drinks too much whisky.”’ In his article Woeser touches on many of the issues that he feel have affected the fairness of the elections including: the manipulation of the rules that led to Lukar Jam being removed the final election process; Tsering’s manipulative accusations against Lukar Jam and Sangay, questioning their loyalty to the Dalai Lama; Sikyong Sangay’s ability to allocate welfare schemes and scholarships perhaps influencing people’s votes in the preliminaries. Overall though Woeser’s disillusionment in the whole process lies in the fact exile Tibetans can only vote for candidates who support the Middle Way and there has not been adequate opportunity for Tibetan Independence supporters to express their views.(62)
On 7th March 2016 Tibet Sun released a statement from Dicki Choyyang that the journalist feels ‘is in clear criticism of Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, and elaborates on why he is not the right person to get elected to the post of Sikyong.’ (63) She begins the statement by explaining why she had to resign so close to the elections: ‘I resigned as Kalon of the Central Tibetan Administration so I could participate in the discussions leading up to the 20 March 2016 general election. I would not have been able to publicly express my personal opinions while serving as Kalon.’ She then goes on to list all the qualities she feels a Sikyong should have concluding with the following: ‘
- (someone) Who can rise above regionalism — Someone who will rise above traditional sources of community tension such as regionalism and not exploit it for personal gain such as electoral votes.
I wish to speak further about this last point. While we have improved significantly compared to the past, the current electoral campaign season has strong regional overtones. This is destructive. We must teach our children to think of themselves as Tibetan first and exercise their democratic right and duty to vote based on issues and not regional identity. Let’s hope we can demonstrate greater collective maturity in 2021. During this campaign season, the range of issues debated has been disappointing with their irrelevance to the current situation in Tibet and our political movement. We have a moral duty to prioritize issues touching the 98% of Tibetans living in Tibet. The self-immolations in Tibet and the recent death of 16-year-old student Dorjee Tsering in India and 18-year-old Kalsang Wangdu in Kanze are a heartbreaking reminder.’ She urges the Tibetan voters to take the responsibility of voting seriously and ‘make an informed choice on behalf of Tibetans inside Tibet.’
The statement is clearly inferring that Choyyang does not have confidence in Lobsang Sangay which is extremely damaging to his reputation when she has been working closely with him and would have clear insight into how he is operating behind the scenes.
On 9 March in an interview with Radio Free Asia ‘Dicki Chhoyang said that she will vote for Penpa Tsering ….”It’s very clear to me. On 20 March, I will be voting for Penpa Tsering. The reason is that for four and half years I have worked with the two Sikyong candidates in the same environment,” Chhoyang said. From that experience, I have seen their way of working and thinking. On the basis of that, I find Penpa Tsering is more eligible. Others have to decide who they will vote for.”Chhoyang said she based her decision to vote for Penpa Tsering on the nine points she mentioned in her statement.’ (64) This last comment referring to the nine points in her resignation statement is a clear indication that she does not feel Sangay is honest, respectful of others or humble. Her opinion as someone who has worked closely with Sangay for many years has to be taken seriously.
Allegations made against the two Sikyong 2016 Candidates
(Extracts from Gilded Cage Part Eight – Corruption and Cronyism)
On March 16th of this year the speaker of the Tibetan parliament, Penpa Tsering, threatened to resign due to allegations made by Tenpa Yangphel, a Member of Parliament, who alleged there were people in the parliament ‘who indulge in corruption, personalization of public property and murder.’ Penpa Tsering demanded that the allegations were withdrawn, instead Yangphel went on to give more details, saying his insinuations were ‘directed at Dawa Tsering, MP from U-Tsang and founder of Yongling Kindergarten in Mcleod Ganj for privatization of public property, Kirti Dolkar Lhamo, former MP from Domey, who resigned on corruption charges and Speaker Penpa Tsering for murder.’ (7)
The third allegation made by Yangphel was one of murder, directed towards the Speaker, Penpa Tsering: ‘Third one is people who indulge in murder. It happened in our Tibetan community recently in Majnukatilla, Delhi. It’s still fresh in our memory. Similarly, it can be said that such people are also in this Parliament.’ (7) ‘Penpa Tsering challenged him to accuse him outside the House, outside the legal protection of speech in Parliament. According to the House rules, proceedings within the House can not be used in legal action. Yarphel was referring to an incident in 2003 when Tsering was voted out from becoming a minister. Then Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche had proposed to make him a minister, and member Sonam Topgyal representing Kham province accused Tsering of being a murderer. (65) The certainty with which Yangphel speaks, in an official capacity, suggests that it is just a matter of time before more evidence about this matter comes into the public arena.
The alleged murder is also referred to in a recent Tibet Sun article, ‘Those who are against Penpa Tsering have accused him of killing a former lama, whose wife he later lived with for a few years. He has denied the charge and has challenged anyone to prove him guilty.’ (63)
Human Trafficking: Organised Crime in the Exile-Tibetan Community
‘The brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet has created countless hardships for the Tibetan people, with so many looking to the West for safety and a new life outside India and Nepal. Many Tibetans have obtained western passports legally, but many more have in desperation turned to human traffickers and smugglers who make large amounts of cash with human trafficking rings. Starting in 2012, investigative reporters unearthed a well known and well organized Tibetan trafficking ring based in the United States and India. The activities of this particular Tibetan organized crime ring are widely known to the general public, making it easier for reporters to make connections and gather further information as to how it functions, and who has been involved.
Speaker Penpa Tsering and Thinley Kalsang
In depth and conclusive reporting on human trafficking within Tibetan society is difficult, as the victims frequently fear retaliation or public shaming for having come forward in the media. Despite the risks, using confidential sources, reporters gained further insight into the machinations of the Tibetan political underworld and its connections to criminal activity.
In November of 2012, several sources testified that Thinley Kalsang, a wealthy Tibetan socialite and elected member of the NY/NJ Tibetan Community Association, was using his finances, social influence, and political connections via South India, to support Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament and present Sikyong candidate, Penpa Tsering. There are serious questions about Speaker Penpa Tsering’s influence on the internal politics of the New York based Tibetan community, and eventually the internal disintegration of Tibetan Youth Congress of NY/NJ…
The most important source reporters spoke with provided information about the connection with Penpa Tsering and Thinley Kalsang, and had detailed information about Penpa’s delegations arriving in the United States, using it as cover for the human trafficking ring. ‘Delegates’ posing as Ministers of the Tibetan Parliament were taken to the United States, dropped of at JFK or LaGuardia airport and then directed to Kalsang’s Outreach Center where they could later be provided false documents and ‘legal consultation. In the past 15 years Tibetans have had great difficulty obtaining visas from the US Embassy in India and Nepal. But Penpa Tsering is always able to obtain visas because he is in an official with the Tibetan Government in Exile, and therefore he can get US visitor visas ‘delegations’ to the US easily. Tsering has travelled at least twice with such groups to New York. U.S. Law Enforcement agencies were also informed (by several victims) of this in 2014 and began a slow but lengthy investigation. While the current criminal investigation is still ongoing, several victims of this trafficking ring have refused to come forward due to Kalsang’s recent diagnosis of cancer and potential heart surgery.’ (64)
Sikyong Sangay’s mortgage payment
In May 2014 Mila Rangzen, in his article ‘CTA on the Highway to Autocracy,’ (30) went into some detail about the allegation made in a parliamentary session against Sikyong Lobsang Sangay: That he had a quarter of million dollars mortgage payment made on his home loan by a mysterious benefactor, on the eve of his taking up his position in the exile Tibetan parliament.
‘Tibetan people shall lose faith in CTA if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny. Sikyong should be setting the example of transparency. The Dalai Lama rightly said that a lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity. On the matter of the Sikyong’s mortgage payment issue, the question is not how but who paid off 90% of his house loan just before his inauguration in August 2011. I salute parliamentarian Dawa Phunkyi for raising this issue in the last parliamentary session. Grilling the cabinet is one of your jobs when there is glaring discrepancy in their conduct, integrity, performance or lack of transparency. At this point, the CCP’s hand is hard to confirm but we will never know the truth until Sikyong comes clean on this. Being a public figure of the highest office, he must bare his financial secrets to the public. And the time is now! In all parliamentary systems, candidates must disclose all of their financial assets. So the Siykong should disclose how he was able to procure a quarter million dollars to pay his mortage just before he took office. The Tibetan public has the right to know who is twisting the arms of the Sikyong office behind the screen. There are at least 2000 Tibetans who have been living in US for more than 20 years and making more than $50,000 annually and yet majority of them don’t own a house or have not been able to clear the mortgage. Therefore, Sikyong’s claim in the parliament session that he spent 16 years in US and it was easy to payoff the mortgage does not hold much water. Fact is he spent the first part of his time in US as a student with no personal income. The Sikyong who was only a junior research assistant at Harvard University and was making less than $50,000 annually which is not at all a lot of money considering the daily expenses in dollars, not rupees. The fact that he got the inexpensive $227,000 house on mortgage in 2007 that is 12 years after he first stepped in to US speaks volume of the sheer difficulty of owning a house in a one-week time frame. The fact that his mortgage was cleared a week before he officially became Sikyong with the payment of just $1 raises more flags than one can imagine. I wish him prosperity but he cannot, as a responsible Sikyong, brush aside this genuine public concern.’
Since this article was published an article in Tibet Sun claims that Sangay has successfully explained away this accusation regarding his mortgage, ‘The uproar about the source of money to purchase his house in Boston with a lump sum payment has been discussed before. But it has since died down perhaps due to clear and proper explanation that his instalments for the purchase of the house from his Harvard salary ended after his decision to join the Kalon Tripa race, and that he had paid the remaining mortgage from the savings of himself and his wife.’ (63)
The assertion by Sangay that his mortgage was paid off by his savings leads to two further questions:
- Why did he take such a long time to try and refute allegations that have been circulating about him for many years?
- Was the necessary paperwork produced to substantiate his claim? It would be easy enough to produce bank statements to clarify the situation. The Tibetan exile community deserve to have this matter cleared up once and for all, without transparency they could be voting in a corrupt official for another 5 years.
Sangay and the Lobbying firm
The reference to being ‘in bed with Benjamin Wey’ refers to the fact ‘Sangay also found sufficient financial resources to sideline ICT and hire Sconset Strategies, a Washington lobbying firm whose biggest client is Benjamin Wey, the Chinese born multi-millionaire. When Sangay hired Sconset Strategies in 2011, some questioned that small lobbying firm’s ability to honestly and effectively represent the interests of the Tibetan people, when its top client of long standing is Benjamin Wey, an avowed Chinese nationalist who aggressively pushes the financial interests of the Chinese Communist Party. Sconset Strategies’ website lists its few other clients, which include Aristeia Capital, a hedge fund owned by the husband of one of Lobsang Sangay’s top supporters.’
Shortly after Moynihan’s article was published in the Washington Times her letter, ‘To the Editors of the Washington Times’ was published on http://www.rangzen.net (51) In response to my op-ed “Tibet and China at the same Washington Lobbyist” published July 10, 2015, Mr. Kaydor Aukatsang, Office of Tibet representative, has written to The Washington Times on August 3, 2015, claiming that I made “false allegations.” Mr. Aukatsang has not shown any facts in my op-ed to be false; he merely offers differing opinions or attempted explanations. As my father Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. Mr. Aukatsang writes that the lobbying firm Sconset Strategies’ scope of work for the Office of Tibet was “limited to facilitating a couple of meetings on Capitol Hill in July 2011 and this service was provided pro-bono.” Both of these claims are inaccurate, according to documents from the U.S. Senate and the Center for Responsive Politics. Far from being limited to “a couple of meetings”, Sconset’s work for the Office of Tibet spanned advocacy on “[f]oreign Aid, self immolations, immigration policy.” And rather than being pro bono, the Office of Tibet appears to have paid Sconset at least USD 20,000. Mr. Aukatsang’s easily disprovable statements on Sconset can only call into question his credibility on other matters as well.’
‘Young Tibetans are setting themselves on fire for Tibet’s freedom struggle as we have seen in the last few days. On 29 February 16-year-old Dorjee Tsering set himself on fire in northern India and on the same day 18-year-old Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated in occupied Tibet. Both demanded independence for Tibet. Under such circumstances we expect the two candidates to talk about their concrete plans and strategic actions displaying their leadership qualities. However, disappointingly their super-hectic campaign schedules are filled with public talks that revolve around a mortgage payment, a drinking problem, a supposed murder, the Kalachakra cancellation, Sung-dang-lay-mo etc. This is getting nauseating.’ (66)
Post Preliminary Election Concerns
Now the votes have been counted for the preliminary elections and people have had time to reflect on what took place, it seems there are many areas of serious concern around the ‘democratic’ Sikyong 2016 elections. Critics feel that the ElectionCommission has not taken the necessary steps to enforce the rules and some feel the rules have been deliberately manipulated to given chosen candidates a clear advantage. These concerns prompting Jamyang Norbu to observe: ‘the EC appears to have outdone itself in incompetence (or deviousness?) in the latest Tibetan Sikyong elections.’ (47)
Many of the concerns raised about the processes are addressed in a Tibet Express article in which members of the Election Commission (EC) are interviewed. (46)
The points addressed include:
- The concerns raised in the Open Letter from Tibet supporters (See below for further information)
- The fact only 2 candidate have been allowed through this time, rather than the 6 allowed through in the previous elections and clarification of the reasons for this.
- Why the central Election Commission directed the regional Election Commission to nullify a specific ballot paper because the voter had gone on to declare on social media, after he had voted, who he had voted for.
- Whether it was a violation of the rule stating that all campaigning should stop 48 hours prior to the election that “a day before the election, a very prominent and influential person in the Tibetan community while addressing a huge gathering of Tibetans has stated that ‘tomorrow is the voting day and if you vote for candidates who denigrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it’s a disgrace’.“
- Following on from this whether it is appropriate for people to tell people who to vote for according to the candidate’s views on the Dalai Lama?
- Whether it was within democratic election rules that the ‘Sikyong candidate has expressed publicly that he would not share the same platform with those who denigrate His Holiness. At Gyurmey monastery in South India, he lauded the monastery’s decision to not allow such persons to speak at the monastery. He has made similar statements at Sera, Drepung and Gadhen monasteries as well.’
- Whether the election rule regarding campaign expenses can be properly enforced when there is no directive enforced that the candidates need to disclose their campaign expenses.
- Whether the number of Sikyong candidates to be shortlisted for the final round of election should be standardized as the number ‘should not be less than two and more than six’, leaves room for different interpretations.
- How the Election Commission have responded to the report by the international observers on the preliminary elections. (see below for more detail)
- Concerns about recognition of NGOs whose campaign expenses will not be included in the campaign expenses of the candidates they support.
The replies by the Election Commission contain little promise to bring about any changes that may allay the concerns of critics, instead there are woolly replies and vague excuses. It seems that the Election Commission are ineffective at enforcing democratic rules but are extremely effective at doing nothing to rectify identified issues.
The ineffectiveness of the Election Commission was brought to the attention of the exile community. in January 2016. because of the tragic suicide of a Tibetan camp leader in Doeguling Tibetan settlement in Mungod. Yeshi Jungney, a former soldier in the Special Frontier Force and village leader of camp, committed suicide: ‘reportedly due to his dissatisfaction with the local Tibetan authority’s support in an election rigging case where he had been manhandled by a Tibetan monk on the Tibetan preliminary elections in October…during the preliminary voting day, the deceased, then a staff under the local election commission intervened when a monk approached the ballot box with fifteen ballot papers.’ ‘ A video of the scuffle widely circulated on social media sites.’ A representative of Tibetan Settlement, Phuntsok Tsering, ‘when asked if there was a lack of support from the local authority, he responded, “The deceased approached our office for an official intervention. After much deliberation, a public apology from the monk was prescribed as a punitive measure. The monk wrote an apology letter where the monastery supervisor (changzoe), the disciplinary master (gekoe), his house master (khangtsen gendak) and I signed. The monk was also made to work in the monastery kitchen.” ‘ (55) the rules set by the election commission state ‘If an individual resorts to physical intimidation or verbal coercion to vote in favour of a certain candidate, the democratic rights of voting of the individual will be withdrawn for 10 years.’ (56) Why do the rules set by the election commission not apply to the monk involved in this incident who was so flagrantly flouting the rules? The style of ‘punishment’ delivered to the monk is similar to the punishment given to the key perpetrator in a vicious attack on a woman in the ‘Tenzingang incident,’ (See Part 10 -Gender Roles.) It seems that,when it suits the governing bodies in the exile administration,they use outdated systems left over from the theocratic dictatorship that existed in Tibet; whilst claiming to uphold modern, democratic ideals.
Examples of the Election Commission’s ineffectiveness:
- The response to the Open Letter is woolly; it basically states that the Election Commission have no power other than that given to them by the CTA. The CTA that is controlled by the Sikyong who is standing for re-election, so the Election Commission is not, as claimed, an independent body that can ensure democratic rights are upheld.
- The EC say that letting through only 2 candidates means the successful candidate will win with a sizeable number of votes. Seemingly the EC have no understanding that it is the range of choice of candidates available that is essential in a democratic election, this choice should not be controlled by the State. The issue of the two candidates is extremely significant as it has led to Lukar Jam being removed from the final elections. Even though in the preliminary elections the gap between him and the other candidates is large ( which in now small way may be due to the scapegoat campaign against him, encouraged and even led by one of the candidates) he has many followers who wish to exert their right to vote for him.
- The EC said it was appropriate for them to have a ballot paper destroyed because of the rule, ‘if a voter writes his name or leaves any kind of mark indicating that he has cast that particular vote, it should be counted as an invalid vote’. The person who had their ballot paper destroyed had not marked his paper, he merely went on to announce on social media, after he had voted, who he had voted for. As this is common practice in all democratic societies and is an individual’s right, the EC have surely acted illegally by destroying a voter’s ballot paper without good reason? The EC make it clear they did this to more than one person and will continue to destroy ballot papers for this reason, so this will effect the fimal elections. ‘Several other such cases have been found in other locations and are being dealt with in the same manner. In future too, same action will be taken against such cases.’ Is this not state censorship and a denial of an individual’s right to free speech in India. This statement by the EC is extremely significant: ‘If describing such acts as violation in the electoral rules and regulations of the Tibetan charter is democratic, then the nullification of such votes is also in accordance with democracy.’ This is basically stating that if the EC decide something is a violation of the electoral rules then their decision is in keeping with the Tibetan charter, which is ‘democratic,’ therefore they are acting democratically. So even when critics can show they are not correctly upholding the electoral rules or democratic values the Election Commission can always throw back this statement. This is known as political spin. The EC differentiates between ‘guidelines’ of the Electoral Commission rather than ‘rules’ as a reason for not acting against individuals who are not keeping to the ‘guidelines.’
- The EC states that individuals are not allowed to influence voting by stating people should NOT vote for a candidate if they use that person’s name; however apparently they are allowed to do this by using propaganda style references to a particular candidate.
- The EC agree there is a rule stopping the circulation of false propaganda but seem to have the right to decide for themselves what constitutes false propaganda. ‘Since the candidate is exercising his right to freedom of expression, it is hard for us to recognize it as an outright violation of electoral rules. Therefore, we are unable to point it out as a violation of electoral rules.’
- In response to the fact the EC have no way of enforcing election rules on campaign expenses as the candidates do not have to declare their expenses the EC say, ‘Since it’s the first time that a campaign expenses’ limit has been laid down, we are not in a position to comment on its effectiveness and practicality or say with confidence that it will be at par with other functioning democracies.’ They do say, ‘ If we find flaws, it would help us make necessary improvements, which will in turn help the future functioning of the Election Commission.’ However when the flaws are pointed out the EC seemingly choose which they respond to and what improvements they make; again according the wishes of the CTA, led by the Sikyong, who is one of the candidates standing for election.
Articles written in response to the above concerns
i) Tashi Shitsetsang – 19 years old Tibetan in exile
It is clear that thoughtful Tibetans, who have access to all the information about the elections are growing tired of the excuses as can be seen in an article by Tashi Shitsetsang, a 19 years old Tibetan in exile, resident of Switzerland and member of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe (TYAE): ‘As a Tibetan, I have utmost pride in the establishment and existence of our government and democracy although our country is occupied by China. I am endlessly grateful to be able to vote and appreciate the Central Tibetan Administration and EC for providing us this right. I do realize that it takes time to develop our system of governance though I am skeptical about EC’s use of ‘we are an exiled community’ as an excuse to justify every dubious incidents. Tibetans living in exile circumstances is no reason to accept arbitrary decisions and live with the belief that we cannot amend our system. Precisely because we are an exiled community, we have to strive for the best democracy possible and send a strong message to China that, unlike them, we have a functional democracy in exile. All it takes for Tibetan green book holders is to make use of our rights and question unnecessary arbitrariness in our electoral system and governance in order to achieve a more liberal and transparent democracy. (48)
ii) Jamyang Norbu -Tibetan Political commentator
Jamyang Norbu has written a highly recommended article on this subject on his Blog ‘Shadow Tibet.’ (47) Also an article in Phayul highlights the inconsistency of this decision: ‘Tenzin Nyinjey, a researcher with the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said, “I can’t say it’s deliberate, but keeping Lukar Jam out, that’s what the amended rules have done, is a blow to democracy. Because, without him and his arguments for independence, there shall be no serious debate in the finals, since both likely candidates – Lobsang Sangay and Penpa Tsering- are middle pathists. Moreover, the fact that election commission in 2011 allowed the fourth candidate – Tashi Wangdi, a middle pathist in the previous Katri election, makes me wonder if the reason for keeping out Lukar was due to his political stand. (Gyari Dolma,the third in preliminary withdrew). After all, in 2011 the margin of votes between Tashi Wangdi and Tenzin Tethong was a lot more than 20 percent”.(48) The scapegoat campaign against Lukar Jam is explored below.
iii) Neil Steedman – Founder Chairman of Tibet Support Group -Ireland
An article for ‘Tibet und Buddhismus’ by Neil Steedman, one of the signatories of the Open Letter from Tibet supporters, addresses the issue of the ‘ little or no meaningful response’ from the CTA. (53) Steedman explains that, ‘substantial and thoughtful responses were hoped for from the wider Tibetan community,’ to the Open Letter. He is clearly extremely disappointed in the response to the Letter from the CTA themselves; ‘on 27th October an anonymous “staff writer” published an alleged “Clarification” response on Tibet.net. TiBu readers can judge for themselves whether this “clarified” anything or, indeed, adequately addressed the eight substantive issues that were set out in the Open Letter. In my view, it did neither.’ He, like other Tibetan political commentators, highlights the CTA’s statement that; ‘a refugee community…cannot be compared to…democratic independent countries.’ His reply to this is : ‘Oh really? So Tibetans in exile can’t expect or demand that their Government adopts the best democratic principles and procedures – perhaps ones even better than those adopted by “democratic independent countries”?’
He also suggests that the CTA’s closing statement; ‘In the future, if there are any opinions on the subject, do directly contact the concerned office instead of taking recourse to other channels.’ could also be read as; ‘“Please only raise serious issues in private and don’t keep the Tibetan people informed”?’ He goes on to say; ‘The current administration’s blatant attempts to silence opinions that they don’t like and the Election Commission’s publication of eligibility rules for final Sikyong candidates on 19th October, the day after the preliminary election had taken place, speak for themselves and are, to put it bluntly, shameful.’ Steedman is quite right when he says; ‘ “Our Open Letter is a small pebble into a large pond. The result may be small, short-lived ripples or, IF Tibetans so choose, they may become large, long-lived waves.”’
iv) Jigme Ugen – President, Tibetan National Congress
Jigme Ugen posted an Open Letter from Tibetan National Congress (TNC) to Election Commission (EC) in November 2015. In August 2015, the TNC wrote to the EC requesting official recognition, which the EC now requires ‘for participation in the Tibetan election process without restrictions on free speech rights.’ Jigme explains that in reply to this request; ‘you stated that the EC has no jurisdiction on granting recognition, and that we should write to the Kashag (Cabinet) for recognition. You did not address our key question on how the EC will ensure that the effects of its rule are fair and depoliticized while requiring a political body like the Kashag to recognize TNC.’ As instructed the TNC wrote to the Kashag and to date has had NO REPLY. This has put the TNC in a position of great disdvantage: ‘Why do we care so much about “recognition”? Because lacking recognition, TNC has already been irreparably harmed in our ability to participate in the democratic process. It has been like wrestling with both hands tied behind our back, while groups supporting the incumbents are unbound. From the beginning of this election season, TNC had to negotiate candidates’ written permission before we could even issue a statement of support for them. Every rupee or dollar we spend — even for a single poster — has to be documented and counted toward the candidates’ strict spending cap. We have had to cancel planned travel for meetings and campaign events to avoid the candidate breaching their expense cap. Meanwhile, “recognized” groups like NDPT and Utsang Tsokpa have been freely supporting their candidates through endorsements, fliers, banners in settlements, etc. They do not have to account for any of their expenditures. They have been free to spend whatever they wish to promote the incumbent candidates… ‘(54)
v) Songtsen, A pen name for a Tibetan monk, wrote for Rangzen Alliance
In September 2015 Songtsen wrote an article expressing his dismay at the comments made by Penpa Tsering during a pre-election speech. Penpa Tsering qualified to stand for the Sikyong elections in March, both he and the other candidate, the current Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, represent the Umaylam -Middle Way approach.
‘Yesterday, 26 August 2015, Penpa Tsering, honorable speaker of the Tibetan parliament, gave a speech to the monks of Sera monastery, Bylakuppe, South India. There was nothing new in his speech, as he reiterated the same old narratives. However he said something that struck great fear and anxiety in my heart. It shocked the audience, as the monks looked at the speaker in disbelief. The monks wondered if they heard the speaker correctly, when he said, “I am not debating someone who criticizes His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Gyuto monastery has announced that it is not going to allow people, who criticize His Holiness, to address its monks. This is absolutely right. I applaud it. Indeed I cannot live with such people.”
The speaker has some good qualities. He is an experienced politician, and a brilliant orator. But what really sickens me is that some one who can plead our enemy, the Chinese, to have a dialogue with us is now saying that he cannot debate with a fellow Tibetan, who cherishes a different political view. This has robbed my sleep and appetite. The speaker does not have to speak in a roundabout way. We know that he is targeting Lukar Jam. I do not understand why the speaker, who is willing to negotiate with the Chinese, is unable to debate Lukar Jam. Is it because Lukar is more evil than the Chinese? No matter how much I think I cannot digest the fact that the speaker is not able to share the same platform with Lukar, who suffered years of brutal Chinese torture and imprisonment for seeking Tibetan independence. I cannot really ignore such a statement.
The speaker of the Tibetan parliament took an oath that he would never keep any contact with the worshippers of Dolgyal spirit. Does his ex-communication of the Dolgyal worshippers now extend to Tibetans who call for independence, including Lukar Jam? I really don’t understand the speaker’s hatred for Lukar Jam. It really scared me. Why cannot we have different political views? People can follow the Middle-Way. They can have absolute faith in His Holiness. But I do not think Middle Way followers are so narrow-minded that they cannot tolerate co-existing with followers of Tibetan independence.’ (57)
The so called criticism of the Dalai Lama by Lukar Jam is part of a scapegoat strategy used to discredit the candidate that advocates Tibetan independence. ‘These detractors deliberately equate Umay-lam (Middle-way Approach) with His Holiness, just as anyone disagrees with Umay-lam is labeled as anti-Dalai Lama.’ (58)
Feedback on the Pre-Election Processes
These three network based organizations, ADN, FORUM-ASIA and ANFREL, were invited to observe the preliminary elections for Sikyong 2016. In their statement they said: ‘We believe that the preliminary Elections for Sikyong and Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the lessons learned from them will result in another important step towards consolidating democracy for the Tibetan Community.’ (anfrel) Compared to the same point in the 2011 election cycle, the 2015 Preliminary Election saw members of the Tibetan diaspora engage more actively and deeply in the Electoral process, as evident in the more vigorous debate, discussion, and campaigning evident during the pre-election period and the long queues of voters patiently waiting their turn to vote during the 18th October Elections. The people’s deeper engagement in the political process is a positive sign that should be embraced and encouraged before the 20 March 2016 Second Round of Elections. We also greatly appreciate the efforts of the Election Commission(EC) of the Central Tibetan Administration working in a difficult environment to manage the preliminary round of the election. Given the stateless Diaspora’s spread across the globe, the inclusive nature of the Election Commission’s organizing voting for communities of Tibetans in smaller qualifying numbers than before is admirable and worthy of imitation by much larger and more established Election Commissions in other countries.’ (40)
Observers on the Tibetan Political Review website agree that there are some positive moves towards democracy: ‘Given the surge in candidates vying to become members of the exile parliament and the amount of discussions taking place, both online and in social gatherings, the exile democracy has shown great progress. There are nearly one hundred self-declared candidates from U-tsang province competing for ten seats in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, and as many as ten candidates for one seat for Australia and Asia, excluding India, Nepal and Bhutan. Since the first members were elected for the then Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies in 1960, we have come a long way.’ (41)
However there are clearly many issues that are negatively affecting the democratic election process and these need to be addressed before the next stage of the elections, as explained by the three network observation team: ‘With the outcome still unknown and five months before the second round, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on the successes of the first round and take necessary steps to further strengthen the process in preparation for the 2nd round. By taking those necessary steps now to ensure the integrity of the primary’s post-election period and by reforming some procedures before the 2nd round, we believe that the momentum coming out of the first round can be used to ensure an even more free and fair second round.’
Negative Elements affecting the Sikyong 2016 Elections
- The Election Commission
The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) describes the Elections Commission in the following way on its website: ‘The EC functions in two tier system with the Central Election Commission and Regional Election Offices. Among its responsibilities, to conduct Tibetan General Election-TGE after every five years…Charter for Tibetans in Exile is one of the first important legal document passed by the Parliament and approved by His Holiness on May 16th 1991 The Charter among others, provides creation of three Autonomous bodies of CTA and Election Commission is one of them.‘ (42) Autonomous means: ‘not subject to control from outside, self-governing,’ this word would therefore suggest that the Election Commission is able to act as an independent body, to oversee the election processes, in order to protect the democratic rights of the Tibetans in exile. The three network observation group stressed the importance of the Election Commission, particularly that it is independent: ‘As is true for every election, the integrity, independence, and professionalism of the Election Commission is of paramount importance.’ Unfortunately though it seems that the Election Commission is far from independent or autonomous, instead relying completely on the approval of the Kashag for all its processes, as is stated in the Charter:
It is this lack of independence of the Election Commission that was of particular concern to the ‘long-time Tibet Supporters’ who published an open letter to the CTA, expressing their concerns about lack of democracy in the election process, in the run up to the preliminary election.
Names of the long-time Tibet supporters
Among their concerns they listed the following:
- The Election Commission has abrogated its obligation to decide – before the Preliminary vote – how many of the top vote-earning candidates in the Preliminary vote for the position of Sikyong will be allowed to stand in the Final vote, thus opening the structuring of the Final vote roster to the possibility of behind-the-scenes manipulation for political purposes.
- The Election Commission’s rules contain vague prohibitions that provide opportunity for arbitrary interpretation and retroactive enforcement. For example, these rules prohibit any person from making any “character assassination” or creating “conditions that would lead to conflicts within the society through sowing dissension”, without defining such terms or establishing any due process adjudication. Violations could result in all votes for a particular candidate benefitting from such activities (whether or not the candidate even instigated these actions) being declared null and void, at the sole discretion of the Election Commission. Moreover, the exceedingly vague and subjective wording of this rule risks creating a chilling effect on democratic discourse and dissent.
- So far, the Election Commission has received at least one complaint from a non-incumbent Sikyong candidate alleging that an incumbent candidate is violating the Election Commission’s prohibitions on using official platforms for campaign purposes. The Election Commission’s reply – that it does not have the resources to police all noncompliance – raises the troubling possibility of selective enforcement.
- Finally and most critically, officials of the Election Commission, Parliament, and Kashag, who are responsible for the above policies and procedures, are either officials whose seats of power are at stake in the upcoming election, or are appointed by those officials. There has been no public consultation or open rule-making process prior to the promulgation of these rules, nor is there an independent judicial check to ensure the rules’ compliance with international human rights norms or to ensure fair implementation.’ (36)
In total the Open Letter identifies 8 areas of significant concern in the way the CTA seem to be manipulating the elections rules to their own advantage, through the inconsistent response of the Election Commission, and sends the following strong warning: ‘The problems that may arise from such undemocratic practices are many and serious. By providing means for incumbents to silence opponents before the polls open and to arbitrarily and retroactively make decisions on key rules, the Central Tibetan Administration risks becoming regarded by its people, the host nation of India, its international support base, and the international community, as an undemocratic body unworthy of trust. Even more seriously, such practices leave open the possibility of CTA posts being taken by people who become unaccountable to a free and fair popular vote and therefore able to act without the approval – or even against the will – of the Tibetan people. The continuing support for the Tibetan cause by ourselves and many others worldwide is, partly but significantly, based on the Central Tibetan Administration honoring both the spirit and practice of His Holiness’s efforts to implement true democracy in the Tibetan polity, signified by an irreproachable public trust in free, fair, non-partisan election processes. We urge you to make early positive responses to all our concerns outlined above. The final words of the letter infer that the elections processes will need to be improved or the Dalai Lama and CTA will lose support from some of their most powerful allies; ‘His Holiness and the CTA have, on many occasions, requested all the world to help Tibet, and expressed their appreciation for the assistance given by Tibet Supporters and Tibet Support Groups around the world – we who answered the call. That continuing support should not be wholly taken for granted.’
The Election Committee did make a response to the Open Letter that it posted on the CTA website, the response appears to agree that it cannot be held responsible for many aspects of the election: ‘The Election Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration doesn’t have the authority to approve organisations in any of its statutes. The commission recognises the eleven organisations on the basis of their having been approved by the Kashag and the Tibetan Parliament before. Therefore, we hope that you will understand that we have not made any arbitrary and ad hoc decisions. The duty of the Election Commission is to issue directives on the electoral rules and regulations, and to adjudicate in case of its violation. However, it doesn’t take suo moto cognizance, as is the norm in any function of law. We would further seek your understanding that the rules and regulations of the Central Tibetan Administration are formulated on the basis of a refugee community, which cannot be compared to the laws of democratic independent countries.’ (response)
The three network observation group seem to be relying on the Election Commission to bring about the necessary changes to ensure a more democratic election in March; ; ‘To further consolidate the Election’s and its own integrity, we hope that the Election Commission can take steps to improve and more uniformly enforce its Code of Conduct.’ If the Commission does not have the power to act independently they cannot be the body to bring about the changes necessary for democracy, which leaves a vital question: Who is to be responsible for ensuring democracy, if not the Election Commission?
- Unfair allocation of seats
In her book, ‘The Tibetan Government in Exile,’ Stephanie Roemer makes the observation; “The present number of the exile Tibetan deputies does not represent the composition of the exile Tibetan community regarding regional heritage and religious affinities.” She bases this observation on the fact there are no Tibetan members of the parliament who represent “the exile Tibetans in Nepal, Bhutan or the Tibetan Muslim community, nor the Tibetans in the homeland.” (29) The 16th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile would be composed of 45 members with ten representatives each from the three traditional Tibetan provinces; two representatives each from the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religion, two representatives from North and South America, two representatives from Europe and Africa, and one representative from Australia and Asia (excluding India, Nepal and Bhutan). (30) Monks get to vote twice – one for their respective two religious MPs and the other for their 10 provincial MPs. Tibetans living in India, Nepal and Bhutan have to vote for 10 MPs each on the basis of their parents’ or grandparents’ provincial origin in Tibet. Those outside these countries can vote for MPs on the basis of their current country of residence for the total of five seats allotted for them.(31)
- Unequal treatment of Religious Traditions and Lay Voters
There will be 2 representatives in parliament for each of the 5 religious traditions chosen by the Dalai Lama, to be represented in parliament; this means only the four Tibetan Buddhist schools approved of by the Dalai Lama, and one seat for the Bon faith. This means there are 10 parliamentary representatives in total for the 5 religious schools, as opposed to only 5 representatives in total for all the Tibetans living outside India, Nepal and Bhutan, which includes all the Tibetans in North and South America, Europe and Africa. Not only do these numbers show the clear inequality in representation on religious grounds, it also shows up the blatant discrimination against religious groups in the exile community, who are not represented at all in Parliament; these groups includes Shugden practitioners, (See Gilded Cage Part Four Shugden Scapegoat ) the Jonangpas. (For more information on this particular discrimination see http://www.dorjeshugden.com/ ) and Muslims. The fact inequality between lay and religious members of the exile Tibetan community continues to be a source of great concern is illustrated in the Tibet Sun article with the following questions about this inequality being put to Chief Election Commissioner of the Central Tibetan Administration, Sonam Choephel Shosur, at his office in Dharamshala, India, on 1 July 2015;
“Why is it important to have representatives for the five religious groups? How did this arrangement come about?
As you know our system of administration was based on democratic system of administration. As per the rules and regulations stipulated by the Electoral Statutory, four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon faith have been given the right to elect their representatives for the Tibetan Parliament.
If this is important, there are groups like Jonang who are asking for their seats in the Parliament. Why is that not being considered? Why are the Tibetan Muslims not represented in the same way?
This will depend on whether amendments are made to the election rules and regulations.
Stephanie Roemer also raises the issue that monks and nuns have twice the number of votes of lay people; “While monks and nuns have two votes (one for their regional heritage and one for their sectarian affiliation) ordinary exile Tibetans are only entitled to vote for their regional deputy. Such unequal treatment in the election procedure divides the exile Tibetan community rather than unifying it. It also discourages lay Tibetans, who are still the majority of the exile Tibetan population, from voting because they feel their votes are only half as important as those of the monastic population. One exile Tibetan parliamentarian states that, while democracy means rule by the majority, the Tibetan community is ruled by the monastic minority, which hardly opposes any changes that would decrease its power.”
The question put to Mr Choepel in the Tibet Sun article indicates this is still of concern to many n the exile community:
An increasing number of people are raising the issue that monks and nuns have two votes each, while laypeople have one each. They feel that this is against the principle of “one man one vote” in a democratic system. What are your thoughts on this?
We do understand that there should be a one man one vote system, but according to our democratic system of administration, monks and nuns have an additional vote to elect the representatives of the religious schools for the Parliament.
None of Mr Choepel’s responses indicated that the inequality was going to be addressed in the forthcoming elections.
- Green Book and Chatrel system
The three network observation group specifically highlighted the use of the chatrel tax to restrict voting as being undemocratic: ‘To be even more consistent with the inclusive nature of these elections, the team also believes that voting rights should be uncoupled from the requirement for a person to have paid their voluntary contribution to the CTA. While we appreciate the necessity of raising revenue, voting is a foundational right that should not be linked to a person’s having paid their contributions. Hopefully, other incentives can be found to encourage the paying of the voluntary payment so that voters not making their payment are not discouraged from participating in the democratic process.’ (anfrel)
Currently voting in elections is limited to those in the exile community who have paid the ‘voluntary’ chatrel tax and hold a Green Book.The chatrel tax system is explained in detail in ‘The Tibetan Government-In-Exile’ by Stephanie Roemer: ‘Membership in the exile Tibetan community is not granted unconditionally by the CTA…in return for community services and identification, the CTA expects that all exile Tibetans contribute voluntarily a fixed amount of money, the so-called voluntary freedom tax. The name derives out of the idea that the ‘money is used to free Tibet….the contribution follows a graduated system whereby a minimum amount of money is fixed according to age and income…According to the amount of contributed money, the exile Tibetans receive different stamps, which need to be stuck into the ‘green book’ to give an exact account of the years and amount of payments.’ (6)
Only those who show that they are up-to date on their taxes are able to enjoy certain privileges such as:
1. The right to vote
2. Eligibility for jobs in the CTA
3. Being eligible for CTA stipends
4. Gaining admission to Tibetan schools
5. Accessing CTA run welfare systems
6. Eligibility for immigration programs (for example to the US in 1990). (Mountcastle 1997:123)
7. Eligibility for international help, for example, they are able to get a CTA scholarship to study at a university abroad
8. Ability to travel outside of the exile community. (6) (20)
Tibetan monks carrying green books line up to cast their votes at the main Tsuglag Khang temple in Dharamsala, India, on March 20, 2011.
Alongside these extremely significant material benefits, there is a powerful social and emotional pressure being exerted on the exile Tibetans to pay the ‘voluntary’ tax: ‘Crucially the green book and Chatrel are key signifiers of authenticity and legitimacy through which the TGiE and exile Tibetan community reaffirm each other’s status as a ‘legitimate government’ and ‘bona fide Tibetans’ respectively.’’ (20) The powers of the CTA are largely symbolic, ‘the CTA is not recognised as a sovereign government by any country.’ (21) The Green Book and Chatrel system creates the appearance of a legal structure and strengthens the exile Tibetans’ sense of belonging to the community. This structure can be beneficial in the campaign to regain Tibetan autonomy: ‘This establishment of a social contract between exile Tibetans and TGiE through the rights and obligations of citizenship in effect creates state-like political subjects and provides a degree of security for the exile community.’ The problem is that the Dalai Lama and CTA manipulate this system, in order to strengthen their own political position, by making the right to vote dependent on payment of the Chatrel, which forms a significant part of the CTA’s budget. If you are in opposition to a political party’s objectives and actions you are unlikely to want to support them financially; in the case of the CTA if you decide not to support the party financially, with the ‘voluntary’ Chatrel tax, you are stripped of your right to vote. “Such exclusion from active participation in elections, from work in the CTA structures and the CTA immigration programs, shows that the CTA is in a position to sanction those who are not holders of the ‘green book’. In this regard the small booklet becomes a powerful instrument for the CTA to foster it’s own position in terms of support of the exile community”(6) The Tibetans in exile, who are in opposition to the Dalai Lama and CTA’s policies, are forced to support them financially, or lose the right to take part in elections; such manipulation of elections is one of the 14 characteristics of a Fascist state, not a democracy.
Not only do exile Tibetans lose the right to vote in elections, if they do not pay the Chatrel, they are also exposed to the extreme social and moral pressure, of not being considered ‘bona fide’ Tibetans, without a Green Book. This potential loss of identity is extremely painful for people who have already lost their homeland, as a result of China’s military occupation of Tibet. ‘Anonymous interview partners in India, Nepal and some Western countries told me that the material benefits have minor importance compared with the aforementioned psychological effects.’ (6) The extent to which the payment of Chatrel is being inappropriately used by the CTA government, as a false measurement of loyalty to the Tibetan cause, can clearly be seen in the Green book sections of International Tibetan community websites: ‘Every Tibetan residing outside Tibet should be proudly holding a Green Book, as gesture of rendering legitimacy to the exile government headed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. China has been systematically and methodically destroying the traces of Tibetan race, culture, tradition, language and religion in Tibet. The Tibetan Government in Exile is trying to undo what China has done in Tibet. The unique Tibetan culture, tradition, language, and religion are now thriving in exile. To show stern defiance to the China’s illegal occupation of Tibet, everyone has to show their unreserved political support to our government.’ This statement clearly and falsely suggests that people can only show defiance to China’s illegal occupation of Tibet, if they also show ‘unreserved’ support to the CTA, this is clear propaganda and manipulation.
The CTA control distribution of the vast amount of money received from foreign aid, (3) without a Green Book exile Tibetans will not benefit from this money. ‘Margret McLagan considered aid as a CTA negotiation tool and control mechanism in India and Nepal as ‘… recipients or potential recipients [are obliged] to show political deference to their own government before their needs as refugees will be addressed’ (1996:224). Frechette put it as: ‘International organizations provide the exile administration with the resources it needs to entice fellow Tibetan exiles into compliance with its decisions’ (2004:157). According to the CTA, the majority of exile Tibetans pay the requested amount of money annually. But there are also those who are reluctant to pay. Unsurprisingly, data about the number of these renegades are not available, only that their number is higher among members of the Tibetan Diaspora abroad compared with the exile Tibetans in Asian countries (interview with Mr Ugyen Chaksam, Department of Finance, Dharamsala, May 2002). Those who are reluctant to contribute money to the CTA, who I have spoken to during my fieldwork, have doubts about the exile politics and therefore refuse to support the CTA with a donation.’ (6)
The moral, social, financial and political implications of non-payment of the Chatrel tax clearly make the use of the word ‘voluntary’ on the CTA website deliberately misleading. (22) The system of payment of the Chatrel, linked with the use of the Green Book, and a series of penalties inflicted on exile Tibetans who do not pay, is central to the CTA’s ability to manipulate and control exile Tibetans. It completely undermines any claims by the Dalai Lama or the CTA that the exile community has a democratic system of governance. Controlling who can or cannot vote in the elections, through the use of the Green Book system, makes the elections themselves meaningless.
- Shugden Practitioners and democracy
This manipulation of the voting system contributes to the complete lack of democratic rights for Shugden practitioners in the exile community. Shugden practitioners are faced with a choice – to pay the ‘voluntary’ tax to a political system that discriminates against them, to the point of banning them from working in public positions; or be unable to vote because of not having the Green Book. This is clearly undemocratic, forcing a group of people to financially support a political system, a system which they are not allowed to participate in, or have their voting rights withheld.
Even with the right to vote in the elections the Shugden practitioners will not be represented in parliament as Shugden practitioners, or anyone seen to be openly supporting Shugden practice and practitioners, are banned from holding any public office. This is made clear in the CTA’s 1996 and 2014 Resolutions; ‘In sum, the departments, their branches and subsidiaries, monasteries and their branches that are functioning under the administrative control of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile should be strictly instructed, in accordance with the rules and regulations, not to indulge in the propitiation of Shugden.’ (34)
Therefore even if Shugden practitioners do decide to pay the chatrel tax, there is no one standing for election who will represent their views and no way for them to express their feelings about this, as the Dalai Lama and CTA control the press through their allocation of funds donated by Westerners. This is clear discrimination against a group of religious practitioners and another obstacle to democracy in the forthcoming elections.
- The Speaker’s and Sikyong’s Use of His Holiness’s Image
Both Sikyong Sangay and Speaker Tsering appear to be violating the EC rule against campaigning with images of His Holiness, the Tibetan flag, or the CTA emblem. For example, the Sikyong’s and Speaker’s official Facebook pages and their campaign pages all show numerous photos and campaign fliers of the respective candidate with His Holiness. (We do not comment on either individual’s personal page. We also don’t refer to just informal photos that happen to have a Tibetan flag in the background.)
According to the new EC rules: None of the Sikyong and MP candidate is allowed to use any portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and emblem of CTA on their campaigning literature. Using Tibetan national flag and Tibet map is also prohibited. If there is any evidence that any candidate violates the guideline, 5% of the votes received by the respective candidate shall be declared null and void. The Speaker’s and Sikyong’s official Facebook pages seem to qualify as “campaigning literature”, and certainly their election fliers do. When an incumbent is running for re-election, much of what he or she does is at least partly campaigning. It is difficult to separate campaigning communication from “official” communication. The dividing line may be unclear, but there can undoubtedly be campaigning even if an incumbent doesn’t actually say “vote for me”, especially when “official” actions involve promoting their image and policies. Similarly, Sikyong Sangay has an “unofficial” Facebook campaign page. There is a disclaimer on the page that it is “followed by his support” (whatever that means). During the prior election, Lobsang Sangay also used an “unofficial” campaign website, which allowed him to disclaim responsibility for its more contentious content. So absent a statement that Sikyong Sangay has no control whatsoever with the “unofficial” page, it would be reasonable to view the page as affiliated with his campaign. Based on the EC’s new rule, it would appear that the campaigns of Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay may not have followed the rule against using His Holiness’s image, the Tibetan flag, or CTA emblem. According to the rule, any candidate who violates this prohibition will forfeit 5% of their final vote tally. Whether the EC follows its rule in this respect remains to be seen.’ (43)
- Campaign expense rules
There was much concern in the last election about the campaign expenses of the candidates and calls were made for greater transparency. In response to this new rules about campaign expenses have been brought in that do address the issue of transparency to some extent but more importantly limit the amount of money the candidate can spend in the election. This has raised concerns for some exile Tibetans who feel this will favour India-based candidates and the incumbents.“The new rules about campaign expenditures are a major development, with potentially far-reaching implications that are not entirely positive. A Sikyong candidate can spend no more than Rs. 800,000 (about US$12,500), and a Chitue candidate can spend no more than Rs. 300,000 (US$4,700). These amounts include any expense incurred by individuals or organizations supporting the potential candidates. The candidates and their supporters must submit their total campaign accounts to their respective regional election commissions before the announcement of the election results. At first glance, many will likely applaud this rule. Financial transparency should have been requirements from the first election, but at least the EC is making a strong effort to address this now. Like other democracies’ experiences with campaign finance control, however, there are some important details that will need to be addressed.
Rs. 800,000 may seem like a large sum at first glance, but actually the new expenditure caps are low compared to spending during the last election. During the 2010-2011 election, TPR documented the campaign finance information of the three Sikyong (at that time called Kalon Tripa) candidates. TPR documented that Tenzin Tethong campaigned fairly actively, and voluntarily disclosed his funding sources in raising $29,978. Tashi Wangdi, by contrast, was fairly limited in the scope of his campaigning, and he voluntarily disclosed his sources in raising $11,208. Lobsang Sangay was vague about his sources (referring to “friends”) and would not disclose his total fundraising. Given Mr. Sangay’s active campaigning and the absence of any other information, it might be reasonable to assume funding at least on par with Tethong if not higher. If we equate funding with campaigning, then the new limits mean that a 2016 Sikyong candidate cannot campaign even half as actively as Tethong or Sangay did in 2011. He or she will only be able to campaign similarly to Tashi Wangdi in 2011 (that is: not much). A candidate in 2016 will be especially constrained in their ability to travel extensively as Sangay and Tethong did, given that travel seemed to take up a major part of their expenditures. This constraint would be a special burden on a candidate from the West, who (like Sangay and Tethong in 2011) will have to fly multiple times to India, where the majority of voters reside. Conversely, this rule will give an advantage to an India-based candidate, who will not have to pay for such trips. As well as the new rule favoring an India-based candidate, such a cap also reinforces the advantage of incumbency. Sikyong Sangay has traveled extensively to basically every Tibetan community and settlement in exile, on official business. During these trips, he has not been reticent about promoting his administration. He is likely to travel more over the next year, and also use other official platforms like Tibet.net to communicate his message. The less frequent official travel by Speaker Tsering raises similar issues. This is the byproduct of being an incumbent, and a non-incumbent naturally does not enjoy this advantage. The Tibetan democracy (like any democracy) must simply recognize that the incumbent holds a significant advantage, and consider whether the playing field can or should be leveled. For example, now that election season has started, what is the permissible dividing line between official travel and a campaign visit? What about official media outlets being used to promote an incumbent and his election manifestos? Should any of that expense be borne by the candidate instead of the CTA? Should any of that expense count toward the Rs. 800,000? The EC’s new guideline does not have any provision on these questions.
We expect that the Rs. 300,000 cap on Chitue candidates will be less of an issue, given the smaller geographic area of a Chitue’s constituency. Unlike a Sikyong candidate, a Chitue candidate can focus on (for example) India, Europe, or North America, instead of needing to campaign everywhere. But this cap will still constrain a Chitue candidate’s ability to campaign and travel.” (33)
The three network observation group also expressed concerns about the campaign finances: ‘The EC’s creation of campaign spending limits and finance reporting requirements for candidates seems to be a sincere attempt at greater fairness and transparency in the campaign. The implementation and enforcement of such rules is key however. In this case, the exemption of certain recognized groups from these spending limits damaged the credibility of the campaign finance rules and unnecessarily tilted the campaign playing field towards those candidates with backing from the outside recognized groups. To strengthen the fairness of the campaign finance rules and avoid accusations of partisanship, the Election Commission should either remove the exemption for certain groups or allow all independent, outside groups to campaign.’
8. The Sikyong’s and Speaker’s Questionable Use of CTA Resources
The EC’s rules state that candidates “cannot seek services of any CTA officials nor can they use the finance and other materials of the CTA.” This rule is aimed at ensuring that incumbents do not misuse official resources and platforms for campaign purposes. This rule appears to have been violated in at least one instance already. Candidate Tashi Wangdu critiqued the performance of the Health Department under the Sangay administration. When running against an incumbent, it is to be expected that a candidate may criticize the incumbent’s current policies. The proper response is for the incumbent (as part of his or her campaign) to defend their policies.
Instead, the official CTA website (Tibet.net) was used to post a statement attributed to the Health Department, dismissing Wangdu’s charges as a “false allegation”. This seemed to violate the EC’s rule. The question is whether this action was improperly directed at the Kashag level, or whether civil servants in the Health Department independently issued it and then civil servants in the Department of Information and International Relations (which runs Tibet.net) independently published it. If it is the former, then rather than using official resources and an official platform to respond to his electoral rival about a campaign issue, the Sikyong should have responded directly as a candidate. Unfortunately, rather than enforce its rule, the EC declared, “There is no way we would be able to investigate each and every case of this nature with the limited manpower we have. We are also not aware of the objective of the Health Department to issue this clarification.” What is the point of making rules that are not enforced? Hopefully this does not suggest selective enforcement by the EC.
Similarly, the Sikyong and/or Speaker have recently made numerous official trips (for example to Tibetan communities in New York, Toronto, Washington DC, Germany, Delhi, Bangalore, and Ladakh). According to the EC’s rule, even while they [incumbents] are on official visits, they are not allowed to make any campaigning speeches; if any candidate is found doing such a thing in any place, the punishment shall be that votes received for the candidate in that place shall all be declared null and void. The EC should decide how it will differentiate between official speeches and campaign speeches (remembering that promoting an incumbent and his/her policies is campaigning, even if the incumbent doesn’t say “vote for me”). The EC must then apply this by looking at whether any activities of the Sikyong and the Speaker on CTA-funded travel were campaign activities. If so, then under the EC’s rules, the candidate’s votes received in that location are null and void. Or will the EC decide that it does not have the manpower to investigate this issue too?’ (43)
Mud-slinging is a large part of election campaigns, even in countries recognised as being democratic on the whole. This is a particularly significant obstacle to democracy in a society that uses scapegoat principles to divide and rule and destroy any opposition. It is also extremely significant that the media in the exile community in India are funded largely through donations from Western organisation and individuals, the allocation of these funds being made by the incumbents. This situation leads to lack of freedom of the press and means that individuals opposed to the Central Tibetan Administration or in disagreement with the Dalai Lama’s viewpoint will have very little ability to defend themselves against any mud slinging.
Information about the use of Shugden scapegoat techniques are given in Part Four ‘Shugden Scapegoat.’ Even if a Shugden practitioner were allowed to stand for public office, which they would not be, the successful scapegoat campaign against the practitioners guarantees they would be unsuccessful.
The other group of people significantly affected by scapegoat techniques are those that want independence for Tibet and are prepared to take action to achieve this, the Rangzen supporters. More information on scapegoat techniques used against Rangzen supporters in previous elections can be see below. Tenzing Sonam discusses the effect of the scapegoating techniques on the forthcoming elections in his article, ‘Why Lukar Jam Atsok is important for Tibetan democracy.’ (35) Tenzing explains how candidates who are Rangzen supporters, like Lukar Jam Atsok, will not only be in competition with the other candidates, but he will be also trying to overcome many years of political scapegoat techniques. ‘daring to articulate the banned word, (Rangzen) would be cast among the disbelievers, the unity-breakers, the anti-Dalai Lama clique?’ Like Shugden practitioners the propaganda from the Dalai Lama’s camp has associated Rangzen activity with being against the Dalai Lama, therefore against the wishes of the Tibetan Buddhists spiritual guide. The effect of this propaganda is that Rangzen supporters have been vilified in their own community, despite the fact what they want is surely what all Tibetans want, independence and freedom from Chinese rule? Tenzing goes on to say, ‘And what of all the others – the self-immolators, the demonstrators, the resistance fighters, the thousands over the decades who gave up their lives fighting for Tibet’s independence and for the safety of His Holiness – what of their sacrifice and the cause they fought for, and continue to fight for? Can we exile Tibetans look them in the eye and honestly tell them that today, as rangzen activists, they are no better than the enemy? How have we descended to this absurd, illogical and unthinkable situation? Do we really believe that unity can be enforced through intimidation and the threat of upsetting His Holiness? I have watched with increasing horror as the space for reasonable debate and discussion in our society has been systematically shut down in recent years. Rangzen supporters have been vilified and ostracised, tarred by the convenient brush of being anti-Dalai Lama. I need not recount here the many attempts to enforce this new regime, from targeting individuals to pressurizing groups like TYC and SFT to change their pro-rangzen stance to the recent shameful events at the 10 March commemoration in New York.’ Tenzing rightly points out that for true democracy to prevail the use of such tactics must stop: ‘As a candidate, he can bring to the open the debate around the Middle Way Approach and Rangzen that has been increasingly silenced in our community. And hopefully, his campaign will pave the way for a more forward-thinking generation of politicians who will stand on their own merits and ideas rather than forever hiding behind the smokescreen of what they believe are His Holiness’ wishes.
Some people would say that Lukar Jam would already be in a much stronger political position from which to campaign if it had not been for a previous manipulation of election rules that went against him: ‘On 14 October 2011 Sikyong Lobsang Sangay signed into law a new rule passed by the members of the Tibetan Parliament that required appointment of the unelected candidate with the highest number of votes in the last general election.’ (23) This Law would have meant that Lukar Jam would have been the legal replacement for the vacant seat of the Amdo representative, following the resignation of Kirti Dolkar Lhamo in late November, 2013. However Lukar Jam is a ‘fierce independence advocate’ and Mila Rangzen believes, ‘since the new bill failed to serve their political objective, that is to produce a new Middle Way parliamentarian, Tibetan Election Commission (TEC) with support from CTA unscrupulously strangled it under the pretext that the new election bill was meant to come into effect only after the current 15th Tibetan parliament concludes in 2016.’ (24) ‘This might sound absolutely absurd and arbitrary, but the EC didn’t stop there. It switched this same absurd rule a couple of years later when it suited Dharamshala’s convenience. When Chungdak Koren, the European MP, resigned in March 2014 for health reasons, her seat was automatically passed on to Wangpo Tethong who had secured the third highest votes in Europe. No elections had taken place in the interim.’ (47) Such transparent manipulation of the laws governing elections, by the CTA, is more clear evidence of the undemocratic nature of the election process in the Exile Community.
In the run up to the preliminary elections a series of accusations were levelled at Lukar Jam, some of which may seem quite ridiculous to the Western World but the seriousness of these accusations in terms of their impact on the results of the election should not be underestimated. An article on Tibetan Political Review refutes the many allegations made against Lukar Jam: ‘There are multiple unfounded allegations and accusations on the social networks like Facebook, Twitter, We Chat, Whats App etc. These rumor-mongers are the chief culprits that hinder the growth of our democracy. With the preliminary polls a few days away, it is necessary to explain and clarify these malicious allegations for a fair election: La-rgan: It is widely circulated on the net that Lukar has referred His Holiness as la-rgan in one of his earlier writings, and people are made-believe that this is disparaging of His Holiness. “la” is the abbreviation of “lama” meaning “teacher”, “rgan” literally means “old” or “senior” but may also mean “honorable” or “respected”, like in the case of “rgan lak” (teacher) even if the teacher is young, and in Amdo dialect, we call “pha-rgan” (father) and “ma-rgan” (mother). For sure, one wouldn’t call a teacher, father and mother in derogatory ways. Traitor remark: He has been accused for calling His Holiness traitor. I’ve been closely following Lukar’s speeches since declaration of his candidacy. He has never said anything like that. He talked about this on two occasions, on VOT and RFA interviews. On both of these occasions, he didn’t talk about it voluntarily, rather he was asked whether His Holiness was a patriot or a traitor, and in response he said “this is something I don’t need say, out of these two options, which category someone who gives up (or cedes) the sovereignty of a country to another country belongs, political science has it clearly defined.” He never called His Holiness traitor and it is a thought-control to say what he said actually meant it or equals what he is accused of. Related to this, tsen-me (disparagement) and sur-sa (sarcasm) are two catch-phrases constantly used by Lukar’s detractors to accuse him to be deploying against His Holiness. These detractors deliberately equate Umay-lam (Middle-way Approach) with His Holiness, just as anyone disagrees with Umay-lam is labeled as anti-Dalai Lama. This actually reveals their desperation after more than three decades of wrong policy and futile efforts. When they have lost everything (on our behalf), His Holiness is the last and only refuge, not even Umay-lam any more, making His Holiness their shield, and yet not willing to admit it. Till date, Lukar Jam has been the only one that visibly and sincerely attempts to fulfill His Holiness wishes and aspirations for the exile Tibetans to be self-reliant and independent of him. Yak/horse theft: Some unscrupulous rascals spread vicious rumors online that Lukar was imprisoned for stealing a yak, and their confederates mis-copied it as a horse, which alone shows how hollow their accusations are. Lukar’s reason for arrest and imprisonment is for “splittist activities” for establishing an underground Tibetan youth organization for Rangzen, which is well-documented by TCHRD. Such blatant and gross untruth is an insult to all the Tibetan martyrs who have sacrificed for the cause of our nation! Language problem: Some nitpickers have found language problems with Lukar Jam. One is that he doesn’t know English. While such trivial concerns don’t deserve a serious response, it may be worth reminding some the value of Tibetan language, in which he is so proficient that very few in exile can parallel. (44)
What is perhaps most shocking about these allegations is the way they were handled by Speaker Tsering as explained in the article ‘The Good and Bad of the Tibetan Election Process so Far:’ ‘Speaker Tsering recently gave a campaign speech to Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe (hopefully his travel expenses were paid by his campaign, not the CTA). At this event, he reportedly declared that he would not debate any Sikyong candidate who criticizes His Holiness. This appears to be a thinly-veiled reference to pro-independence candidate Lukar Jam. According to a monk who attended that speech, the Sera monks “looked at the speaker in disbelief,” and the Speaker’s attempt to invoke His Holiness’s name apparently backfired. It seems that the Sera monks understood that there is “space for followers of Tibetan independence in the hearts of people who worship the Dalai Lama.” The Speaker’s statement is problematic, even setting aside the inappropriateness of his attempt to drag His Holiness into the campaign, and setting aside that advocating independence is not “criticizing” His Holiness. The Speaker has the right to avoid debating with whomever he wishes, even if he thereby denies the public the chance to hear the candidates debate. But if the Speaker refuses to speak with a fellow Tibetan simply because they “criticize” His Holiness, will he also refuse to speak with the Chinese government that not only criticizes but also actually insults His Holiness? Some may view the Speaker’s statement as a misguided effort to appeal to the Sera monks’ religiosity. Others may suspect that Speaker Tsering is seeking an excuse to avoid having to debate Lukar Jam. Indeed, while the Speaker is an effective orator, his response to past criticism in Parliament has been to flee the floor and resign (and then un-resign), rather than face a contentious debate. Regardless of the reason, the Speaker has not cast his campaign in a favorable light. Our view is that debates should still be held, with or without the participation of the Speaker.’ (43)
Post preliminary elections Jamyang Norbu describes the worrying implications and severity of the scapegoat campaign: ‘What must be puzzling to many non-Tibetan observers of the Tibetan election is that Lukar Jam had not even come close to beating the front runner who was leading him by over ten times his (Lukar’s) votes. Even the second place Penpa Tsering (10137) had over five times Lukar’s vote. So why bother trying to run him out of the final stage of the election? There’s not an snowball’s chance in hell that he would make up the votes in the final elections. So what’s going on?
Anyone who’s been paying even cursory attention to the Sikyong elections will have noticed the virulence with which the establishment has sought to discredit Lukar Jam Atsok. It started with the speaker of the Parliament, Penpa Tsering, going around to the major monasteries in the South where the largest bloc vote communities are, and making the announcement that he would not debate anyone who criticized the Dalai Lama. As the Tibetan Political Review noted it “… appeared to be a thinly-veiled reference to pro-independence candidate Lukar Jam”. Other monasteries and establishments jumped on the loyalty bandwagon, Gyutoe monastery even issuing a written statement declaring it would not allow any critic of the Dalai Lama to speak at their monastery. When Lukar Jam went to South India he was banned from speaking at the TCV hostel at Bangalore and also at the Dalai Lama College, both controlled by the Dalai Lama’s sister, Jetsun Pema. Some students met privately with Lukar Jam. Although the major monasteries were off-limits to him he managed to speak to the monks of a non-establishment (non-Gelukpa) monastery in the South.
Inside Tibet 149 people have immolated themselves for Tibetan freedom. In China we have have had a series of stock market crashes and clear indications of a possible economic catastrophe overwhelming that country. In the Pacific the possibility of a major conflict between China and the US and its regional allies, is growing. None of these issues have in, any way, been discussed or even touched upon by establishment candidates in the Sikyong elections. Even the public discussions and comments have focused almost entirely on Lukar Jam not being respectful to the Dalai Lama, and on Lukar’s criticism of the Dalai Lama for giving up Tibetan independence. For the record it should be made clear that Lukar Jam did not say that the Dalai Lama is a “Traitor” (gyaltsongpa) as his critics are all insisting, and using to instigate the Tibetan public to oppose and possibly even attack him.
Just last month, on the day of the elections a video was posted on Youtube of Jetsun Pema, the Dalai Lama’s sister, and former director of the Tibetan Children’s village, denouncing, in the strongest of terms, all those Tibetans not showing gratitude to the Dalai Lama and daring to criticize him.
Another Youtube video was posted on November 3rd of His Holiness at a special religious ceremony at the main Temple in Dharamshala. He gave a brief political address where he said he was very happy with those who had declared their undying faith in the Middle Way Approach policy. He also said he was very happy with those Tibetan committed to implementing this policy through “direct involvement” (shar-kyoe), and he thanked all of them. He also said that his feelings were hurt (lo-pham) by those who instead of saying that he had done a good job, said that his policies had failed.
From what I have heard from Dharamshala, Middle Way devotees are interpreting His Holiness’ words as encouraging some kind of “direct action” against Tibetans who disagree with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy and call for Tibetan Independence. Lukar Jam Atsok and his supporters in McLeod Ganj are facing increasingly hostile opposition, possibly even a potential mob attack by yahoos of the religious-right, as has happened with depressing regularity too many times before.
I asked earlier “What’s going on? Why all this hysterical opposition to a candidate who hasn’t got “… a snowball’s chance in hell to win the elections?” I am convinced the reason is that even in a distant third place, Lukar Jam would, by the rules of the 2011 election, have to be recognized as a formal candidate for the final round of election. And the establishment does not want that. In the coming national debates, lectures, TV and radio discussions the establishment does not want a sincere, knowledgeable and articulate former political prisoner speaking convincingly about why Tibet must be independent and why the Middle Way Policy has failed. It would be too much like the child in the story calling out “… the Emperor has no clothes”.
So this 20% rule swindle and the endless vicious attacks on Lukar Jam are not mere incidents of election fraud of the kind that often happens, even in democratic countries. Dharamsala is now demanding that all opposition to its policies absolutely end, and that all Tibetans demonstrate eternal and undying faith in the Middle Way policy, or otherwise be prepared to face demonization, ostracizm and possibly even mob violence. (47)
Combination of Scapegoat campaigns
There has been a predictable attempt to combine these two scapegoat strategies in the election process, prompted perhaps by Lukar Jam’s commitment in his election manifesto; ‘to have a nuanced, comprehensive policy that will tackle this (Shugden) issue.’ (50)
Even this slightly vague, diplomatic statement has prompted attempts to tar Lukar Jam’s campaign with the Shugden scapegoat theme. An example of this can be seen in a post on Lukar Jam’s Facebook page where a comment was posted regarding a photograph allegedly showing Shugden practitioners as part of Lukar Jam’s team. (51)
The mixture of responses to the comment show the confusion caused in the exile community by such propaganda techniques:
To Western observers this may seem trivial but it is important to understand the context. The Shugden people who took part in the demonstrations have been placed on a ‘List of Dogyal followers who protested against his Holiness the Dalai Lama in US and Europe (updated)’, on the Central Tibetan Authority’s official website. (52)
This list can only be seen as a strategy to isolate and intimidate the protestors and some suggest even to incite action against the protestors, as it gives the protestors’ geographical locations. To link Lukar Jam with people openly vilified for their religious beliefs by; the Dalai Lama, the governing body of the exile community and International NGOs, such as the International Campaign for Tibet; is clearly going to impact on Lukar Jam’s election campaign.
Typically the response of Dalai Lama followers is not to allow Lukar Jam and his supporters the right to defend themselves against defamatory propaganda; instead the suggestion is that any attempt to do this is working against the Dalai Lama and helping the Chinese; thereby adding to the scapegoat propaganda.
In this case the person who posted the original piece of propaganda has apologised:
It seems that often the mud slinging and scapegoating is carried out indirectly by people the Tibetan Political Review editors refer to as ‘surrogates.’ This is an obstacle that needs to be addressed quickly and stamped out, if there is going to be a free and fair election. “Another development during the 2011 campaign that we fear will re-emerge is the use of unaccountable surrogates. These individuals were able to make sometimes-incendiary statements or charges (occasionally anonymously), and the candidate was able to disclaim any responsibility. We expect that, with the new expenditure caps, the use of such “unofficial” surrogates will only grow. To be clear, we are not referring to ordinary citizens expressing their views for or against a particular candidate (which should be encouraged), but to the more organized efforts carried out perhaps in unofficial collaboration with the candidate. The EC’s rule on publicity materials will clean much of this up. But an unscrupulous candidate may still try to disclaim knowledge of third parties attacking other candidates. We expect that such personal attacks will continue to be an issue in the upcoming election. This is especially because “unity” in the Tibetan community has suffered in the past few years. For example, if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being “against” His Holiness, or claims that there is no room for differing views on this issue in the Tibetan government-in-exile. (Unfortunately these fears proved to be justified as Lukar Jam was branded as being ‘against’ the Dalai Lama) It is up to all candidates to stand together to not only decline to join in such attacks, but to actively and forcefully refute them. That is the best way to restore “unity”.
Similarly, we expect to see more examples of the use of surrogates to attack candidates’ history or finances. For example, during the March 2015 Parliament session, a Chitue seemingly out-of-the-blue brought up charges against Speaker Penpa Tsering. The Chitue repeated a claim made by the late Kalon Juchen Thupten, who condemned Tsering’s alleged personal actions relating to the late Kathak Trulku and Tsering’s alleged role in gaining control of a Kollegal carpet factory. In response, Tsering walked out of Parliament and resigned as speaker (he subsequently withdrew his resignation). If Speaker Tsering runs for Sikyong, we expect that these issues may continue to follow him unless he addresses them openly. Possibly not coincidentally, the allegations against Speaker Tsering followed a similar incident that occurred in the March 2014 Parliament session. Then, Sikyong Sangay was forced to address several questions raised about allegations first printed in the Asian Age.One issue was whether Sangay signed (and avoided admitting) “Overseas Chinese National” papers for a trip to China in 2005. Another issue (apparently referring to Sangay’s public mortgage documents)<9> was how he was able to pay off a quarter-million dollar mortgage just four years after buying his house in Massachusetts, and just a week before he became Kalon Tripa. In response, Sangay sidestepped the questions, including by conflating the purchase of a house with paying off the mortgage. As with Speaker Tsering, these charges (especially the mortgage issue, which emerged only after the last election) are likely to follow Sikyong Sangay assuming he runs again.
We hope that both Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay address the relevant facts head-on. That way the voters can decide if there is anything to be concerned about, or whether the issues can be put to rest once and for all, and cease being used for distracting political attacks. We also hope that all candidates call on their supporters and surrogates to focus on the policy issues that this upcoming election should really be about.” (32)
For more information on the use of scapegoating in election processes see below and Gilded Cage Part Four – Shugden Scapegoat
11. Restricting Free Speech
A recent article posted on the Tibetan Political Review website describes how attempts have been made by the exile religious community to sabotage Lukar Jam’s current political campaign: ‘there are dangerous signs from a certain quarters of the exile communities that not only cast dark shadows on the democratization process, but also impinge upon freedom of speech and assembly. A case in point is an official notice issued on 23 September by the office of Gaden Monastery Buddhist Cultural Society, popularly known as Ganden Monastery in Mungod, South India. This notice denied the Ganden monks the ability to hear from a potential Sikyong candidate, and singled out one candidate by denying him the ability to speak there.
The notice states: “Gaden Monstery is pleased to announce cancellation of the scheduled public address by Lu Khar Jam. With taking religious and cultural sentiments public in consideration a special meeting of senior staffs and top leaders of the Monastery yesterday (22nd September, 2015) unanimously resolved to cancel the program. With this important decision Gaden Monastery is sending out a clear and message to the Tibetans worldwide.”
Ganden’s decision followed Gyumed Tantric Monastery’s decision to bar anyone ‘who disparages His Holiness’ from speaking at their campus, a veiled reference to Lukar Jam (who, as far as we know, has never disparaged His Holiness but simply holds a differing opinion on the issue of Tibetan independence). As an initial matter, it is undoubtedly the right of a monastery’s leadership to decide matters of monastic management. No one should dispute this. The issue is not whether Ganden or Gyumed has a right to bar any candidate from addressing the monks, but what results will come to fruition as a result of that action. What are the results of Ganden’s notice? What “clear message” does it send? Is the “clear message” a misguided attempt to rally around His Holiness? We are merely laypeople, but we do not believe that His Holiness would want intolerance to be the message coming out of an esteemed monastery whose heritage goes back to Je Tsongkhapa. As Samdhong Rinpoche clearly stated, it is “wrong to construe that those who don’t support the Middle-Way Policy are against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” He explained “the need and importance of divergent views and lively debates in a healthy democracy” and added that “whether it is independence or the Middle Way, the real aim of both of these ideologies is the welfare of the Tibetan people.” Some Tibetans may interpret the “clear message” as a call for exile Tibetans to bar, boycott and disengage themselves from anyone who holds differing political views. This would be very damaging to Tibetan unity. Frankly, this would be the sort of myopic orthodoxy that damages the fabric of an open and liberal society, and blocks public discussions that help democracy grow into full bloom. (40) Whilst the writer of this article does not feel the Dalai Lama would be in support of such an action by the monastery it is important to ask, why then did he not speak out against the stand taken by the monastery?
Schools as Politics-Free Zones
Similarly, the Tibetan Children’s Villages, Bangalore-based Dalai Lama Institute, Dharamsala-based Sarah College for Higher Studies (which operates under the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics) and Delhi-based Tibetan Youth Hostel have all decided, to henceforth not allow Sikyong or MP candidates to speak at their respective campuses. This is may also have unfortunate effects for Tibetan democracy.
We acknowledge that the decision applies to all candidates equally. And perhaps the intention was to avoid political issues by restricting educational institutions from hosting any political events. Although we have no intimate knowledge on why these reputable institutions have taken this decision, the possible impact is huge. These institutions accommodate thousands of Tibetan youths pursuing studies. Denying them the right to hear, question, interact and find out, at first-hand, about likely members of the exile parliament and a would-be Sikyong is tantamount to placing large boulders along the path of democracy. Conversely, providing an equal-opportunity venue for speeches, Q&A sessions, and debates from all candidates would have given the students valuable lessons in what it means to be engaged citizens. In the current struggle facing the Tibetan nation, every Tibetan has a duty to participate, including a duty to educate themselves about the serious political issues facing the nation. By declaring these educational institutions as “politics free zones,” how will this shape the next generation? Will this decision encourage them to be more engaged, or will it tell them that it is safer to be apolitical? Similarly, a possibly-unintended effect of this decision will be to give an advantage to incumbents. Any time the space for debate is narrowed, and any time challengers lose an ability to get their message out, the power of incumbency grows. Incumbents already enjoy many advantages, including the ability to use official platforms. At a time when the Tibetan Election Commission seems asleep at the switch by not policing its rules against using official resources to campaign, this is a special problem. This decision benefits the political status-quo, and it should not be pretended otherwise.’ (41)
The restriction of free speech is also referred to in the Open Letter:
- ‘The Tibetan Election Commission has recently issued rules that constrain the right to free speech and association of organizations and individuals during the upcoming exile Tibetan elections. These include a rule that, with one exception, no independent organization or individual is allowed to carry out any announcement or spend funds on campaign activities. These restrictions are inconsistent with recognized international human rights, which are incorporated into the Tibetan Charter (the Tibetan government-in-exile’s constitution).
- An arbitrary list of organizations that are exempted from the rules was created by the Kashag; this list includes at least one organization openly supporting the current incumbents, which gives a significant electoral advantage to such incumbents.
- Neither the Election Commission nor the Kashag has provided any criteria or procedures for approving additional organizations to be exempted from these rules and this is in spite of multiple requests by at least one organization supporting a non-incumbent candidate wishing to be thus recognized or exempted.
- Moreover, in setting up a system with a double standard, in which certain organizations enjoy full free speech rights and the rest do not, the Election Commission has politicized the process, since Kashag approval is required for exemption from these restrictions, yet the head of the Kashag is seeking re-election. Clearly, no legitimate democratic system can allow one candidate in an election to decide which groups get to speak or spend freely in that election. (41)
Is There a Better Way?
The educational institutions’ actions send out a message to other Tibetan associations, monasteries, community centres and schools to shun political debates and exchange of ideas. Tibetan democracy cannot move forward as envisioned by His Holiness without open discussions and public forums to do so.
Furthermore, barring individuals from speaking simply because of a difference in views and standpoints impacts the unity and collective strength of our struggle for freedom. Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Well before Lukar Jam had announced his candidacy, we predicted that “if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being ‘against’ His Holiness.” We are fairly confident that – setting aside Lukar Jam – any other pro-independence candidate would have similarly been unfairly tarred as “anti-Dalai Lama.” Hopefully the Tibetan people will rise above such manipulation, and live up to His Holiness’s vision of a well-functioning democracy.
Our belief that such manipulation is wrong matches the CTA’s official policy. In a 2010 White Paper, the CTA declared, “the Middle-Way policy has been put forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a mere suggestion… Hence, if any of those organisations and individuals who support the Middle-Way policy try to propagate this policy by saying that it is the expressed wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and so all should accept it, then they are simply spreading disinformation. We consider this as absolutely inappropriate and undesirable.” While the current CTA leadership has so far been very passive when it comes to promoting this official policy, there is still an opportunity for the administration to show some leadership on strengthening unity here.
We earnestly hope that religious institutions such as Ganden Monastery and Gyumed Tantric University will reconsider their decision and allow open exchange and debates, which is also an integral and central part of Buddhist studies. It is clear from social media that ordinary monks earnestly engage in social and political issues by taking active part in discussions and sharing information about Sikyong and MP candidates.
Any decision that does not reflect the aspiration of the majority, while respecting the ability of the minority to speak, becomes a gag order. The Tibetan struggle has enough challenges coming from China; our nascent democracy does not deserve such self-inflicted damage.
It is to be hoped that the international community will take very seriously the rights of the exile Tibetan community to engage in free and fair elections and that the current leaders of the exile community will be strongly encouraged to bring about the necessary changes to provide their community with a truly democratic election.
Relevant Historical Background
Structure of the Central Tibetan Administration
A detailed explanation of the development and structure of the Dalai Lama’s ‘democratic’ system of governance, in the exile Tibetan community, under the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is available on the Migration Policy Institute website. Their overview is: ‘With democratic intentions in mind, the Dalai Lama drafted the 1963 constitution, which was replaced in 1991 by the Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile. Both documents address short-term and long-term objectives that include providing a temporary solution for governing Tibetans as a diaspora in exile, and organizing the political life of Tibetans in anticipation of returning to Tibet under autonomous Tibetan leadership. Seven kalons, or ministers, make up the Kashag, CTA’s executive branch. The kalon tripa, or prime minister, was first nominated by the 14th Dalai Lama but has been directly elected by the Tibetan people since 2001.’ The article acknowledges that, ‘most scholars and observers would agree that the past 50 years have witnessed a gradual democratization of Tibetan society with respect to gender equity, social mobility, free elections, the separation of secular and religious authorities, and the tolerance of dissent.’ However it also points out that, ‘the Dalai Lama instituted these reforms from above rather than as a right claimed by the masses, which some view as a weak indication of democratization.’ (2)
Reasons behind introducing ‘Democracy’
Closer investigation of the Dalai Lama’s ‘democracy’ reveals that this is simply a thin veil that disguises the dictatorial nature of a system of governance, which has all 14 characteristics of a Fascist state. In order to fully understand this it is necessary to first understand why the Dalai Lama was motivated, or forced, to introduce this ‘veil’ of democracy:
1. The exile Tibetan community is dependent on aid and grants from the West, as explained in more detail in The Gilded Cage, Part 3-Corporate Power (3), it is unlikely that they would receive this financial support unless they present as a ‘democratic’ state. Their NED funding is completely dependent on there being some semblance of democracy; the NED is ‘a private, non-profit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.’ (4) The more democratic the CTA appears to be, the more money they are likely to receive; ‘The main problem preventing the U.S. from fully supporting the Tibetan exiles is their lack of democracy. The U.S. is not fond of theocratic governments and especially of people who unquestioningly support any leader, even if it is the Dalai Lama…..It gives aid when countries takes steps towards that goal (democracy) and withdraws it when countries takes steps away from that goal’ (5) Millions of dollars of American aid is excellent incentive for appearing to strive for democracy. The exile community also receive money from other sources that require a semblance of democracy; ‘International NGOs are especially favourable to the democratic idea, such as the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which supports the exile Tibetan community with considerable monetary and material resources.’ (6)
2. The Tibetan exile community are guests of the Indian government, and all political decisions by the CTA need to be approved by the Government of India. As India is the largest democracy in the world, it is unlikely that they would tolerate an openly autocratic structure.
3. It was necessary to introduce democracy in the exile community in a bid to unite all Tibetans in their struggle against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, regardless of their religious, regional and social differences.
4. Introducing democracy works against the PRC, who justify their military occupation of Tibet by saying they have helped Tibetans by ending the feudal, autocratic system of the Dalai Lama’s rule. Instead the exile community can now portray itself as a democratic society opposing the authoritarian, communist rule of the PRC.
With the understanding that the Dalai Lama was really forced, by these external pressures, to develop a more democratic form of governance, it is possible to understand why this system is really only paying lip service to democracy. In actuality, as Jamyang Norbu has stated, ‘“This is not a fully constituted democratic government-in-exile at all, not by a long shot.”(7) To understand why he might think this it is necessary to lift the veil, to see what lies beneath.
Robert Dahl’s Definition of Democracy
‘In his discussion of the “American hybrid” system of government, Robert Dahl argues that elections combined with continuous political competition between individuals or parties or both are the two critical methods of social control distinguishing polyarchal democracy from dictatorship.’ (8) We can use this definition of democracy to analyze the Dalai Lama and CTA’s system of governance, including their introduction of so-called democratic elections.
Lack of political competition
One Party Dictatorship
There is little or no ‘continuous political competition between individuals and parties’ in the exile community. Currently there are no opposing political parties standing against the CTA in elections and any criticism or competition against the CTA is met with firm resistance, if not intimidation. Tenpa Geshi, a member of the Tibetan National Congress, an organisation whose primary aim is to gain independence for Tibet and therefore not in agreement with the Dalai Lama and CTA’s Middle Way approach, states: ‘There can be no democracy without political parties…. I have said it before and I will say it again; it is due to the lack of an opposition party in the parliament. We are said to be enjoying a full functioning democracy but we have no opposition party representing the voice of an important section of the people, and it is considerable, that supports Independence. If there is no opposition party, then it is a one party system and not a democracy by definition. There is no getting around that.’ (9) It is also true that individuals are not able to stand for election unless they are in complete agreement with the Dalai Lama and CTA’s policies; for example, as Jamyang Norbu explains, individuals opposed to the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach will clearly not be elected into a position of responsibility; ‘The present speaker of the parliament, Penpa Tsering, stated very clearly at the public discussion in Dharamshala on June 21 (where he was also a panel member with Samdong Rimpoche) that only someone supporting the Middle Way was eligible for the position of Kalon-Tripa. Penpa Tsering did acknowledge that a Rangzen supporter could try and get nominated, but (he added with a smirk) that the potential nominee would be wasting his time.’ (10)
When individuals or groups seem to be in opposition to the Dalai Lama’s policies then intimidation tactics are used to silence them. (More details of these tactics are given in The Gilded Cage, Part 4-The Shugden Scapegoat (11) and Part 5-Disdain for the recognition of Human Rights (12)). A description of the use of one of these tactics is given by Choenyi Woser; ‘during the Parliamentary session, Tibetan MPs condemned Karma Chophel and some independence advocates for “making His Holiness the Dalai Lama sad.” The MPs further complained that “[because of his sadness], His Holiness the Dalai Lama has now decided to live until the age of 108, rather than 113 as the Tibetan leader promised initially.” Following this statement MPs were encouraged to speak freely about the people named; ‘Contrary to the Parliamentary norms, as well as the normal understanding of the human mind, MP Thupten Lungrik then proposed that “today MPs should be allowed to speak as much as they wish to, without any time limit.” Speaker Penpa Tsering accepted this proposal, and asked the MPs to conduct a thorough discussion. A situation was created in which MPs faced the danger of appearing as criminals in the eyes of the Tibetan Dharamshala public if they refused to condemn Karma Chophel. As a result the MPs kept talking, even though they may not have had anything to talk about — they went out of their way to condemn Karma Chophel and independence advocates. Such a spectacle reminds us of the days of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.’ (13) Mila Rangzen is in no doubt about who was behind this; ‘The Dalai Lama’s constant recitation of Middle Way mantra during his travels in the Tibetan diaspora is turning the cabinet and the parliament into his puppets on core political issues. As soon as the Dalai Lama expressed disappointment with those six Tibetan intellectuals and independence activists, the last September parliament session degenerated into emotional blackmailing, blacklisting, and witch-hunting. Samdhong Lama’s “follow the Dalai Lama” speech simply reinforced blind loyalties. (26) Such tactics are clearly those that would be used by a fascist rather than a democratic state.
The behaviour of the CTA during this session was seen as being a clear illustration or intimidation and lack of democracy by the Social Action Movement, whose aims include to, ‘Raise awareness about peoples’ rights and responsibilities’ in the Tibetan community: ‘The TPiE lashed out against MP Karma Chophel for his remarks about His Holiness and the issue of Tibetan independence. In other words, Karma Chophel was publicly lambasted for his views without any credible basis, evidence, or investigation. This kind of behavior is reminiscent of anti-democratic systems where public attack, shaming, and self-criticism are used to ensure ideological orthodoxy. Such behavior does not speak well of the development of Tibetan democracy in exile. In addition, the TPiE’s actions have caused a chilling effect on free speech in the Tibetan exile community. On September 30, 2013, Gu Chu Sum, an organization of former Tibetan political prisoners, named for the months that saw massive pro-independence demonstrations in Lhasa in the 1980s, suddenly changed its formal position from independence to the Middle Way. This change by Gu Chu Sum appears to be an attempt to deflect attacks against them for their prior support for Tibetan independence. This appears to be fallout from the growing free speech problems culminating in the TPiE’s September 20 session verbally attacking Karma Chophel. It was improper for the TPiE to attack an MP for his personal opinions in the manner that they did. It is unacceptable that the TPiE used His Holiness’ name to attack Karma Chophel, particularly without a thorough investigation into the facts. The TPiE’s actions are a step backwards for Tibetan democracy in exile and free speech. They have caused some Tibetans in the exile community to be extremely reticent in expressing any criticism of the CTA’s policies for fear that others will paint them as anti-Dalai Lama.’ (14)
This is obviously a worrying state of affairs for those Tibetans who want real democracy, as shown by this comment left below Choenyi Woser’s online article; ‘Very disappointed with our (elected) parliamentarians mocking the democratic process all the while mouthing, “We serve the people!”, but in reality, only serving the dictates of Gaden Phodrang thereby advancing their own self interests along with it. What kind of democracy do we have when our leaders are not accountable to its people? What kind of leaders do we have who make up stuff to scare the people into a (false) sense of Unity. I ask all thoughtful Tibetans not to forget controversies like this, how our leaders act in these instances. In this instance, there are no Chinese condemning Karma Chophel in the exile parliament, there are no Chinese protesting against Karma Chophel in Dharamshala, the Chinese Regime is not colluding with the Dalai Lama to shame Karma Chophel. This is all our doing. This is Tibetans oppressing Tibetans, eating some of our own purely for Kundun’s sake. Yes, the same Kundun, who the Tibetan Media and Tibetan leaders keep insisting ad nauseam that he retired completely from all political responsibilities few years ago now.’ (13)
Divide and Rule of opposition
The Divide and Rule strategy, gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy, (14) is often used by the CTA. (15) Causing divisions amongst those in opposition to their policies, ‘Tibetans oppressing Tibetans,’ strengthens the CTA and Dalai Lama’s political position. This strategy of Divide and Rule is used to silence potential opposition to the CTA’s policies, towards those Tibetans seeking independence and Shugden practitioners.
1. We have already seen how the accusation of shortening the Dalai Lama’s life has been used against people in favour of independence for Tibet, such as Karma Chophel. Here it is used on the CTA website against Shugden practitioners when the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying; “You should not think that dangers to my life come only from someone armed with a knife, a gun, or a bomb. Such an event is extremely unlikely. But dangers to my life may arise if my advice is constantly spurned, causing me to feel discouraged and to see no further purpose in living.’ (16)
2. The CTA also read out a list of people’s names opposed to the Middle Way, in parliament, to encourage others to speak out against them. This is a similar tactic to the list posted on the CTA’s official website, giving names, photographs and locations of people who took part in protests against the Dalai Lama. (17)
3. Both Shugden practitioners and those in favour of Tibetan independence are branded unpatriotic to encourage other Tibetans to shun them: ‘At a meeting in New York City on 23 May 2010, Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche described Tibetans advocating independence or genuine democracy in exile were more dangerous than Shugden followers or the Chinese Communists. In September 2013 when Chitue Karma Choephel was criticized for his comments about His Holiness, the members of the Parliament launched a denunciation of Tibetans who spoke up for independence as malefactors who should not only be exposed but also banished from Tibetan society.’ (18)
Unfortunately, to date, the scapegoat techniques used by the Dalai Lama and CTA have meant that many still wrongly believe the false allegations made against the Shugden practitioners. Even people who have had similar intimidation and propaganda techniques used against themselves, such as those supporting full Tibetan Independence, continue to allow the manipulative tactics used by the CTA and Dalai Lama, to cause disunity in their community. It is this disunity that empowers the CTA’s current, undemocratic system of governance.
With such aggressive tactics of intimidation and manipulation, still being used by the Dalai Lama and the CTA, it is unlikely that people will be standing in opposition in any forthcoming elections. ‘Hardly any Members are unequivocally condemning the corruption that exists in our society ….And some of our exile leaders, rather than reflecting upon their own souls, seem to always shift the blame onto other people,’ (13) the scapegoats. It is clear that there is little or no ‘continuous political competition between individuals and parties’ in the exile Tibetan community. Any opposition to the Dalai Lama and CTA’s policies is either ignored, or the people expressing critical views are actively intimidated into submission.
Jamyang Norbu’s excellent article, ‘The Great Middle Way Referendum Swindle’ (25) gives details of the various manipulative strategies, lies and spin used by the CTA to enforce their Middle Way Approach, against the wishes of many Tibetans seeking complete independence for Tibet. Norbu wrote the article (the main points of which are given below but it is recommended that the original article is read in full) as a response to the many statements made by the Dalai Lama and CTA that the Middle Way Approach was adopted democratically.
‘Every one of these statements are bald-faced lies. There is no other way to express it. If I tried to put it any more diplomatically I am afraid I might end up telling a lie myself.’
First Referendum Swindle
In 1988 the Dalai Lama promised that there would be a nationwide referendum to decide which approach would be taken going forward, the Middle Way Approach or Rangzen, complete Independence for Tibet. ‘But vested interests within the administration and certain outside organization that funded the CTA (one being the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Germany) were determined to ensure that the Dalai Lama never raised the issue of independence again.’
First Referendum Swindle
- Confusing the choices: There were really only two choices, Rangzen and MWA. ‘But two other absolutely irrelevant options were added, almost certainly to downplay the stark and disquieting contrast between the two main choices, and muddy the waters of what now was evolving into a disquieting swindle. Samdong Rimpoche offered his own recondite pseudo-Gandhian doctrine of “Truth Insistence” (denpae utsu) as one further choice. If that weren’t bizarre enough someone else proposed “Self-determination” as a choice for the referendum. “If you are holding a referendum, you do not include ‘do we have the right to hold a referendum’ as one of the choices” as someone on TSG-List observed.’
- Influencing the vote: In referendum meetings ‘the MPs had dropped not very subtle hints that failure to vote for MWA would be tantamount to disloyalty to the Dalai Lama. The public became confused but also very angry.’ People felt unable to give up the wish to fight for Tibetan Independence but equally unable to be seen to be disloyal to the Dalai Lama. ‘In Rajpur nearly everyone declared that they would not participate in the referendum. Words of the Rajpur meeting spread quickly throughout the exile world and in communities like the one in New York angry words were exchanged with CTA officials. Nearly everywhere people refused to participate in the referendum.’
- Misrepresentation and Spin: ‘Back in Dharamshala this whole debacle was misrepresented and reinvented by the exile Parliament under Samdong Rinpoche, in a breathtakingly deceitful manner. An initial statement was issued claiming that the earlier public meetings organized by the MPs had not been to hold referendums but only conduct polls to collect “…suggestions and public opinions on whether the referendum was to be held.” Altogether 64.60 percent of the opinions received demanded that the referendum be not held and favoured for His Holiness and the Central Tibetan Administration to decide. The “preliminary poll” referred to was the failed effort in August 1996 to conduct the referendum in Tibetan settlements and communities. The 64.60% is a complete invention. The Tibetan public had refused to take part in the referendum and had not said they were “… leaving it to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to take decisions from time to time.” The phrase “from time to time” in both the statements is a complete invention to ensure that whatever changes developed in the future, they would have enough cover through the phraseology “from time to time” to make the necessary adjustments to perpetuate the status quo. It was low cunning but also prescient.’
Jamyang Norbu’s description of the ‘whole debacle’ is backed up by Stephanie Römer’s analysis of the referendum and the confusion caused by the results (6): “The total number of participants was not available for an outside researcher, but it has to be noted that the largest exile Tibetan NGO, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), had called upon the exile people to boycott the voting. This was because in the TYC’s opinion, the exile community is not in a position to represent the opinion of the compatriots who still live in Tibet. In this regard the TYC undermined the representative claims of the CTA. Consequently it can only be assumed that only part of the exile Tibetan community went to the polls. Additionally a few votes and opinions came from within the PRC …Despite the selectiveness, these votes were given great importance among the CTA officials and were interpreted as the will of the whole Tibetan community in the Homeland…According to Frechette’s research, the reinterpretation of the result was necessary because ‘the Tibetan exile officials concluded that most Tibetan exiles are still not educated enough to decide how the exile Tibetan administration should proceed.’-a decision that made the whole referendum questionable. The instrument of democratic elections was used solely to ‘maintain the myth of return’ (Frechette) but not to empower people.”
Römer continues: “While the result of the referendum was clear for the exile Tibetan leading elite, it caused considerable confusion among the humble exile Tibetans. For the majority, the official change of goals of the exile Tibetan struggle from an independent to an autonomous Tibet was not in line with the wish to free the home country as soon as possible…Consequently the CTA’s claim to enjoy the support of all Tibetan people to implement the Dalai Lama’s compromise of autonomy has not as yet reached many Tibetans…Thus talking about independence in the exile community is a taboo subject, while the conversation about autonomy causes conflicts and fears. Many exile Tibetans are confused about the way ahead…the Dalai Lama’s compromise to negotiate with the Chinese leadership about autonomy rather than genuine independence further divides the exile community.”
The Second Referendum Swindle:
‘On October 25th 2008, following the brutal crackdown on the massive anti-Chinese protests in Tibet, the Dalai Lama announced, “I have now asked the Tibetan government-in-exile, as a true democracy-in-exile, to decide in consultation with the Tibetan people how to take the dialogue forward”, the Dalai Lama said. An “Emergency Meeting” was called for that November. Tibetans everywhere became tremendously excited and galvanized, far more than in ’95. In 2008 large-scale revolutionary protests had not only erupted throughout the Tibetan plateau, but the exile public and supporters had conducted what seemed like a never ending series of well-publicized demonstrations, actions and peace marches everywhere around the globe. Dharamshala became full to bursting with international TV crews and journalists for the Emergency Meeting.’
- Only inviting MWA delegates: ‘Then Samdong Rimpoche in an interview on Voice of Tibet said “We are committed to our Middle Way Approach and we will continue our efforts for a genuine autonomy within China’s framework, and that will not change.” He made sure ‘only MWA Movement leaders, officials, settlement heads and MPs, serving and retired, were invited and paid full travel expenses, including full airfare from USA, Europe and elsewhere. No one else received expenses or even invitations. The largest political organization in the exile world, The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), was only allocated two seats. All other Rangzen based organizations and individuals did not receive invitations. A number of us went anyway – on our own dime. We were a very small minority at the Meeting.’
- Use of propaganda in the community: ‘Members of Rinpoche’s MWA Movement – essentially the same mahjong playing, religious-right, yahoo politicians responsible for mob-attacking Tibetan journalists and scholars who disagreed with the establishment – had in previous months held public meetings in Tibetan settlements where they set about poisoning the minds of the older generation against the TYC and Students For Free Tibet (SFT) whom they claimed had gone against the Dalai Lama’s wishes with their mass protests and peace marches earlier that year. They also exploited the ignorance and fears of the common people with scare stories, one being that the Government of India would deport all Tibetan refugees to China if they gave up MWA and adopted Rangzen.’
- Manipulating the minutes of the meeting: ‘MWA Movement members and representatives of Tibetan settlements and centers in India and Nepal insisted that the written proceedings and resolutions of the public meetings they had earlier organized back in their communities, be included in the records and resolutions of the Emergency Meeting. These documents (completely unverified or unattested) overwhelmed whatever discussions had taken place in the Emergency Meeting itself. Practically no mention was made in the final resolution of alternative policy ideas and strategies that had been raised at the meeting by the few Rangzen advocates.
The concluding session of the Emergency Meeting created the distinct impression of near unanimous support for MWA. In his concluding speech Samdong Rinpoche’s declared victory claiming that over 90 percent of Tibetans clearly supported MWA.’
‘Getting back to his Holiness’s original Strasburg Proposal of 1988, it is clear that he had not consulted the Tibetan people or even the exile-parliament before making his proposal. In the original Proposal the Dalai Lama mentions that he and his cabinet had only solicited the advice of friends and concerned persons, and just the name of former US president Jimmy Carter is mentioned in the document. Even CTA brochures and publications made no claims that the Strasburg Proposal itself was adopted democratically. But recently I came across a statement in an official website where on Section D: Middle Way Approach was Adopted Democratically, this claim was made:
Before His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a statement in the European parliament in Strasbourg on 15 June 1988-a four-day special conference was organised in Dharamsala from 6 June 1988. This conference was attended by the members of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies and the Kashag, public servants, all the Tibetan settlement officers and the members of the local Tibetan Assemblies, representatives from the Tibetan NGOs, newly-arrived Tibetans and special invitees. They held extensive discussions on the text of the proposal and finally endorsed it unanimously.
I was rather taken aback by this Stalinist style rewriting of political history and telephoned former MPs, and officials and asked about this meeting. One former MP who had actually attended the meeting did not remember any four-day confab. He claimed that a day or two before the Dalai Lama’s announcement, officials in Dharamshala including directors of TCV, TIPA, the Medical Center and MP’s were told to gather at the Kashag auditorium. They were told in strictest confidence that the Dalai Lama would be making the Strasburg proposal, and that Tibet’s independence was being given up for “genuine autonomy”. All the officials gathered were not asked for their opinions, but were told that after the Dalai Lama’s announcement there would most likely be anger and confusion within the community and they were to make sure that criticisms and negative talk did not spread. They were briefed on how to answer questions from the public. This was not a conference for democratic dialogue but a damage control briefing. The meeting was held in great secrecy and for just one afternoon. No representative of the Dalai Lama from Europe, USA, Japan or Nepal, nor the heads of the settlements, schools, monasteries and organizations outside of Dharamshala attended the meeting.’
‘The Middle Way was not adopted democratically. Far from it. Instead the lies and swindles of officials and MPs led by Samdong Rinpoche, to foist a phony referendum on the exile public have undoubtedly undermined Tibetan democracy.’
It is time for the International community to insist that the deceptive veil of false democracy is discarded. Economic sanctions should be imposed on the CTA, until such time as proper moves are made towards establishing a fair and democratic system for all exile Tibetans, surely they deserve at least that in the face of all they have suffered and continue to suffer?
5. Tibetans in Nepal: The Dynamics of International Assistance By Ann Frechett
6. Roemer, Stephanie (2008). The Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Routledge Advances in South Asian Studies. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 9780415586122.