Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Personal Reflections on Katri's Primary Election

After a great deal of hype, publicity, and discussion, the final curtain on the Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) primary election came down, leaving many of us with the question “what next?” But many of us fail to look back and analyze what worked well and what did not. In other words, we tend to miss the final evaluation stage of our learning process. This piece is an attempt to share my personal reflections, with the hope of generating discussion among the Tibetan people through an exchange of ideas, thoughts, perceptions, and experiences.

I tried to gather indicators, both promising and disturbing, to help my analysis of the Kalon Tripa primary election. I summarised these indicators under the following four sub-heads: Democracy, Campaign, Election Commission, and What next?

Without a doubt, this election helped to further Tibetans’ nascent democracy, which unlike others in the world, was not earned but bestowed upon us by our great leader. This is the first time in the history of Tibet where Tibetans, young and old, rich and poor, monk and nun, businessmen and peasant, employee and student, men and women, immigrant and non-immigrant, individual and organization, took such a great interest and responsibility in the entire election process.

Based on what I heard so far, if correct, voter turnouts were quite impressive. This is truly an encouraging sign of democracy on the move. It also provides a clear indication of how the Tibetan electorate is now seeing the value of the individual vote to help their candidate achieve the top position of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Tibetans must applaud each other on how far and quick we have reached this threshold of democracy, where others have taken several decades to do the same.

However, the Kalon Tripa election is not a panacea for all social and political problems. Many voters appeared to weigh the post of Kalon Tripa on the same scale as US President. Voters must be clear that the Kalon Tripa is just an executive head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Although the Kalon Tripa post can propose a new policy or change in an existing one, it does not hold the power to change policy on its own. Proposals from the Kalon Tripa for any change in socioeconomic and political policies require a majority support from the House of Parliament. In simple words: Chitues (members of Parliament) shape policies, and not the Kalon Tripa nor the Kashag.

Moreover, looking at the primary election, Tibetans allocated a lot of resources on the Kalon Tripa primary election, and not enough on Chitues. I could not find any single election video on Chitues, while there are several on Kalon Tripa. To sum up, Tibetans must be active in all aspects of our new and blossoming democracy, and confer importance to all electoral processes including Kalon Tripa, Chitues, Settlement Officers, and other local leaders.

The Kalon Tripa primary election produced never-before-seen campaign activity from the candidates. For the first time, Tibetans learned about the Kalon Tripa candidates not only from NGOs, the media, writers, friends, and the general public, but also from the candidates themselves. Without any argument, these numerous campaigns assisted many voters to choose their candidate in the primary election. However, they also helped to create uncertainty among lay Tibetans who have little skills to analyze “what is truth and realistic” from “what is effective and smart campaigning.” In other words, campaigns have both positive and negative impacts if not understood from the right perspective.

Throughout the campaign thus far, I was never satisfied with the debates of the candidates, or the discussions about them. Candidates discussed, talked, and presented themselves only on the philosophical level. They talked and talked about policies, but said hardly anything on the implementation of their visions. It is comfortable to talk on the philosophical level. However, candidates must talk on a realistic level to reach the majority of the voters. Our candidates must be more open and less diplomatic, and also should evaluate the present Kashag’s policies.

Lets hope our Kalon Tripa campaign doesn’t end up like campaigns in other countries where the majority fail to live up to their campaign promises once they are voted in. This will definitely have multi-layered implications for our next Kalon Tripa election in 2015.

Election Commission
The role of the Election Commission in this much-hyped Kalon Tripa electoral process is difficult to ignore. I agree with the decision of the EC to hold the election of both Kalon Tripa and Chitues on the same day. However, from my perspective, the EC failed to see and react where it was needed most.

Few non-governmental organizations nominated or invited their Kalon Tripa candidates for debate or discussion, even before EC announced the election date. These organisations considered some as Kalon Tripa candidates even when the participants themselves were denying it. This might look simple and appropriate, but it is not if tested from the standpoint of EC. I felt these organizations, whether intentionally or unintentionally, helped to promote their own preferred candidate among the general Tibetan populace.

I believe the EC should have issued notice to these organizations to hold off on nomination, endorsement, and debate of their candidate until the election date is officially announced. This untimely nomination of a candidate is ethically wrong. Due to this practice, the chances of later candidates were lessened.

I bet we will see the effects of these unethical practices when the primary election results come out in November 2010.

Finally, I am waiting to hear from the EC on alternatives they will provide to the Tibetan electorate in Kathmandu, Nepal, whose ballot boxes were seized by the Nepalese government. I hope EC will come up with a viable solution.

What next?
I voted—and so, what next? Let me provide my take in three simple points.

First, Tibetans should be more critical on what a Kalon Tripa candidate proposes or advocates. They should not merely watch and hear from TV and radio, but also read from the Web, which provides more dimensions, depth, and discussion on Kalon Tripa candidates. For instance, there are now several Tibetan news sites, as well as blogs, tweets, and social networking sites. Through these, Tibetans should critically analyze each candidate and their visions, approaches, ideologies, policies, attitudes, and strengths and weaknesses. Tibetans should be more informed before they go on to vote on 20 March 2011.

Second: A strong call for investigative journalism. What we have been hearing from Tibetan media and press is what the Kalon Tripa candidates say or advocate. There are some analysis, such as the recent one from Jamyang Norbu la and several from Tibetan Political Review editors. However, I am looking more to the media and press who have sizeable followers in the larger Tibetan population. Tibetan journalists should analyse candidates’ past and present social role-plays, political standpoints, leadership abilities, and most importantly, conflicting speeches if any.

Third, from now on, I sincerely hope that Tibetan non-governmental organisations will promote their candidates fairly and in a timely manner, without denying Tibetan people their right to hear from all Kalon Tripa candidates.

To conclude, you may or may not agree with my personal reflections, but it is my sincere hope that they provide you an opportunity to think further, to go beyond the borders. And TO DISCUSS.

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