Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do Tibetans Need a Democracy in Exile?

In the midway results of ongoing "Online Opinion Poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa Primary Election", 23 percent of participants responded "Yes" and 19 percent responded "Don't Know" to a concluding question, "As a result of the entire Kalon Tripa electoral process, do you believe we, as a Tibetan, are more divided now than before?” Even though the poll lacks a good sampling technique to generalize the findings, from my personal experiences so far, I see indicators of what the 23 percent of respondents may be trying to communicate through their responses.

Throughout the process of Kalon Tripa (Tibetan Prime Minister) election, three groups of interested Tibetan electorates emerged: first, the supporters and campaigners; second, the writers; and third, the observers. The supporters and campaigners have been very vocal and clear about their choice of candidates. I see this category not a problem. They help the general public to learn about their choice of candidate via video footage, fliers, fund raising events, and so on. Most importantly, people in this group generally have faces.

However, the biggest concern I see is the second group of people i.e., the writers. When I say writer, I mean to include every individual who writes (and comments on) articles, opinions, blogs, notes, pieces, and Facebook statuses.

I agree with the role the writers play in the development of our nascent democracy in exile. However, on a flip side, these writers may also play a covert role in misdirecting our nascent democracy to a degree where the will and interest of general Tibetan in democracy will be lost in the transition. We can see an example of such democracy in and around our own country of residence.

The definition of writers expanded several folds in recent decades with the enormous growth of social networking sites. Scott Galloway in his presentation on "Trends and Impacts on Digital Competence" highlights Facebook and Youtube are the two major sites that shares the highest global online time spent by web users. Therefore, in this social network age, anyone with an Internet connection and a Facebook account can write, post, and comment; and similarly, anyone with a smart phone can capture a video for Facebook or Youtube. The most recent and remarkable inspiration of this digital competence is the uprising in Egypt where protesters connect and organize via Facebook and shares their video to the world via their smart phones. Even though Kalon Tripa election is in no way comparable to Egyptian revolution, one can see the connection on the popular use of social networking site such as Facebook and Youtube i.e., to share views and opinions on Kalon Tripa election and candidates among the exile Tibetan Diaspora.

One of the most popular groups in Facebook on Kalon Tripa election is, "The youths responsibility for Kalon Tripa 2011". On this group wall, a member can see several categories of wall posts, notes, video footage, links, and comments related to Kalon Tripa election and candidates. Unlike the supporters and campaigners, some of the group members, who writes and comments frequently, have "NO FACES". They come with an anonymous profile name and picture which not only makes it easier to be "No One" but also share their opinions with less or no hesitation. These anonymous members are a concern because they share their views and opinions with no accountability and obligation, yet leaving behind a footprint of hatred, disrespect, and division. Tibetan democracy should not embrace faceless Tibetans who do not share a sense of responsibility towards the larger cause i.e., to establish a vibrant society wherein every Tibetan shares responsibility for his or her role in the growth of Tibetan democracy in exile. Remember, democracy is for the people and by the people. It is not for the faceless and by the faceless web users.

Let me share three of the postings in this Facebook group in the last 24 hours. These writings are self-explanatory. One member said, "don;t embarrass urself by abusing me again and again, and please, no half truths..if u got an answer..reply..if u don;t know much about it..reasearch well and answer"; the next one said, "don't try to be slimy and twist the workds, do us a favor ..... if you can't do that then damn you"; and another said, "you brought up the drama so the question should be directed towards you". These three postings are directed towards each members of the group. I chose not to quote postings directed towards individual Kalon Tripa candidates. When I read postings and comments in this Facebook group, I reflect on what President Obama said at a press conference on Feb 9, 2009:

"The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose".

On this Facebook group page, I don't see a debate. But, regretfully, I see frequent and lively arguments where a majority of the group members engage in accusing or belittling each other’s views/opinions while keeping their biases firm. It seems every member is trying to prove his or her views, generally based on assumptions, as the absolute truth. I don't see learning by debate or discussion among the group members, setting aside their differences in service of a greater purpose. Rather, they dislike each other by using Facebook as a medium to press their opinions. Is this the reason why a quarter of the poll respondent thinks Tibetan are more divided now? Or are there some other reasons? I will leave other reasons for you to think and analyze.

Also, please remember it is not only President Obama but also the "Basic Education Policy for Tibetans in Exile" that embraces the importance of setting aside small differences and to focus on working for the greater purpose. The meaning of education is not to be recognized as merely grasping what is heard from others. Instead, it is to be recognized as realization of what is heard through the power of self-confirmation and actualization of what is realized through persistent contemplation (Article 2.2 of Basic Education Policy for Tibetans in Exile). I hope Tibetans recognize and embrace this meaning of education to help flourish our democracy in exile in the right direction, bringing Tibetans closer to each other. Tibetans need to grow with the popular saying, "Unity in Diversity".

The final group is the observers. Literally, they are the people with no harm. They confine themselves from writing, commenting, or speaking for anyone or on anything. However, the group is a concern for a democratic society. Democracy works best when it hears the peoples' voices. In other words, in democracy, there should not be a space for “Voice of the Voiceless”.

On a side note, the entire problem with Tibetan democracy in exile may be its origin. Democracy for Tibetans in exile was not earned. Instead, the Dalai Lama, regardless of resistance from the general Tibetan public, bestowed democracy upon the exile Tibetan populace. The problem, associated with the blessed democracy, is the lack of shared responsibility by Tibetans to study the democratic principles, ideals, values, and citizen’s responsibilities among others. The problem seems true among Tibetans as a large number do not share the responsibilities as well as embrace and respect the differences. It needs to be seen how Tibetans will accept the will of the majority when a candidate wins the Kalon Tripa position.

Looking at the problems of blessed democracy as well as the divisions created by the Kalon Tripa election, the questions that lingers - Do Tibetans need a democracy in exile? How Tibetan democracy in exile should develop or flourish? Will the future exile Tibetan Diaspora strengthens with the democracy in exile?

*Published in The Tibetan Political Review on Feb 23, 2011. Here is the link

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