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Minnesota Tibetans hold panel discussion on Kalon Tripa

July 27, 2010

By Tsering Namgyal
July 26, 2010

St. Paul, Minnesota - Tibetans in Minneapolis on
Saturday took part in a panel discussion on the
upcoming Kalon Tripa elections, showcasing a
lively spirit of democratic politics in practice in the exile community.

Panelists and audience -- from all age groups --
expressed their opinions on the significance of
the election scheduled for March next year. They
urged each and every Tibetan to cast their ballot
to vote for their favorite candidates.

The discussion held at the community hall of the
Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota (TAFM),
was organized by Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), Minnesota chapter.

The session kicked off with a speech by panel
chairperson Pema Dechen Gorap, a former member of
the Tibetan parliament-in-exile and currently a
journalist for Voice of America. Pema urged every
Tibetan to learn more about the election process
and the background and the agenda of the candidates.

Unlike in the past where such election processes
had failed to get much publicity, voters now can
easily access information about the candidates at
the click of the mouse on the Internet, she said.
The previous Kalon Tripa election managed to have
a voter turnout of approximately 25%. It was the
first time the Tibetan people directly elected
their prime minister, or Kalon Tripa.

"While it is a matter of great pride that we
unanimously elected Professor Samdhong Rinpoche
to the post during the last two elections, the
extremely low voter-turnout made it much less
worthy of a celebration," she said.

Indeed, all panelists agreed upon the necessity
of raising the voter participation rate this time
and ruminated on the ways to achieve that goal in
the context of the Tibetan community.

Panelists first started with a five-minute speech
in which they expressed their opinion on the
upcoming ballot and the qualities of an ideal candidate.

Tenzin Khando, a panelist and newly elected board
member of Tibetan Women's Association, said she
believed that it is important to elect a
well-rounded person who would best serve the
interest of the Tibetans in the world.

By the end of the next Kalon Tripa’s term, His
Holiness the Dalai Lama would already have
reached the age of 81, said Khando, an English
literature graduate of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Panelists and audience also debated on the
importance of having a younger candidate this time.

Thinley Woeser, formerly the president of TAFM,
suggested that perhaps it is time for the younger
generation to take up the baton this time. It
would symbolize a departure from the Tibetan
practice of deferring all political matters to
"high people, high lamas, and aristocrats (kudaks)," he said.

Not everyone agreed with Thinley though. Tenzin
Jigme, a panelist, believed that "experience" is
important at this point since the democratic
system is relatively new in the context of the
Tibetan community in exile, continuity is perhaps
more important than change. "We need to cherish what we already have," he said.

Pema Dechen Gorap opined that while His Holiness
the Dalai Lama has indicated the possibility of a
female or a young candidate, such a suggestion
might perhaps not be taken "so literally."

Some stressed the candidate’s ability to
transcend regional or religious divides. Wangyal
Ritzekura, a panelist, said that of the many
qualities that are needed in the next prime
minister, one that trumps all others his or her
ability to earn the respect of all the Tibetans,
regardless of religious, regional or socio-economic origins.

Others pointed out the importance of their
experience and knowledge of India, the host country.

Among the audience, Thubten Dadak, one of the
first Tibetan immigrant to Minneapolis, said
since the Tibetan community is based in India,
one of the many qualifications that people should
look for in that person is his ability to
navigate the Indian bureaucratic system.

"For all practical purposes, I would say it is
extremely important for him to have a good
knowledge of the workings of the Indian system
and its culture, its philosophy -- and earn their
respect," he said. "We live in India after all."

Current Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche, before
he entered politics, was the head of the Central
Tibetan University in Sarnath, India.

Amongst the many candidates in the running,
currently leading the straw poll are Lobsang
Sangay, a research fellow at the Harvard Law
School and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, a former
minister in the exile Tibetan government and
visiting lecturer at Stanford University.

Despite the lively exchange of views, the
discussion came laced with good dozes of Tibetan humor.

The preliminary election for Kalon Tripa will be
held across the Tibetan communities on October 3, 2010.

More information on the candidates can be obtained at

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