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Election 2011: Tibetan Democracy in Action: Phase One

October 4, 2010

Bhuchung K. Tsering
ICT Blog
International Campaign for Tibet
October 1, 2010

On October 3, 2010 two days from now, Tibetans in
the free world will be undertaking a major
political action through a preliminary election
("primary") to identify candidates for the post
of the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan
Cabinet, as well as for the 44 parliamentary seats.

This election year is different from the past for quite a few reasons.

Introduction of non-traditional campaigning:
Since the introduction of the democratic process
of voting in the Tibetan Diaspora in the 1960s
the small Tibetan community has evolved a unique
campaigning style of its own. In the initial few
years individuals were elected through word of
mouth campaigning to an extent based on regional
or related allegiances. During this period the
individuals themselves did not campaign for votes
and mostly held the position that they did not
see themselves as capable but were willing to
serve the community in whatever way they could.
Subsequently, there have been some "voluntary
candidates" for the Tibetan Parliament. But at
the same time we had a case where a candidate
opted to stand for elections in the Kalon Tripa
elections, not because he wanted to win but
because he did not want the system to collapse.
He was the only other "candidate" for the
election then and if he had withdrawn his name
the process would have to be re-started as the
rules did not allow for a lone candidate to be
declared the winner without having to undergo voting.

In recent elections the attitude of both the
candidates and voters changed to a more robust
campaigning by organizations, both social welfare
types as well as political, in support of some of
the candidates. The candidates themselves began
canvassing for votes in a not-too-obvious manner.

However, in this election we are seeing a visible
application of modern-day electioneering. In
addition to the organizations coming to the
forefront in declaring the names of individuals
they would like to see as candidates and winners,
individuals have shown their desire for positions
in obvious manners. Doing away with the
conventional Tibetan attitude of underemphasizing
one's capability, many individuals have projected
themselves as worthy of the different positions.
Some have even issued statements to outline their
plan and to explain their vision.

Full Use of Information Technology: Another very
obvious change from the past is the full use of
the information technology in the election
process. In the past an occasional advertisement
in Tibetan language newspapers and leaflets were
the main medium of campaigning in a general way
(I am told that currently many of the walls in
public places in areas where Tibetans reside in
India have been plastered with political
posters). Now, for the first time the Tibetan
voting public has seen several proxy websites
dedicated to different individuals wishing to be
the next Kalon Tripa. Similarly, the Tibetan
media have given prominent space to the election
process and there is a robust online discussion.
Some individuals have also got together to
provide some form of objective introduction and
analyses of the different individuals.

Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has joined in
the election awareness in a different way. During
a public meeting in Bylakuppe in South India, he
told the people that he favored no one among the
names of people who were being named as possible
Kalon Tripa candidates. His Holiness said he will
respect the people's wishes and will repose trust
in any candidate that is selected. His Holiness
said he was mentioning this because he heard that
some people were implying that they were being preferred by him.

In gist, political awareness is at its highest
for this election. I have even received enquiries
from my relatives about certain individuals. Even
though they did not mention that this was in
connection with the forthcoming elections I have no doubt that this is so.

Yet, the challenge will be in actual action. On
October 3 we will know whether how much this hype
has actually been translated into people going to
vote. We will also know whether the digital
divide has any impact on the way people have
voted. A majority of Tibetans in the Indian
subcontinent may not have access to the internet
and the very many online sources of information about the elections.

During the October 3 elections voters can choose
any "Tibetan subject" for the positions. The
votes will be tallied and will result in a set of
names that the Tibetan Election Commission will
announce as formal candidates for the post of the
Kalon Tripa and the Tibetan Parliament. Then
during the main elections in March next year the
Tibetan voting public will have to choose from
among these names. Therefore, I am looking
forward to how this Tibetan exercise in the
democratic process will move in the coming
months. Who says only the American people are
concerned about elections this year?
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