By Tenzin Tsering
Dharamsala, July 3 - The Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Lodi Gyari has announced his refusal to contest in the election of the exile Tibetan Prime Minister. The Tibetan diplomat and a former minister who has led the Tibetan side to 9 rounds of talks between the exile government and Beijing has, in a message posted on a Tibetan language website, thanked his friends and supporters who have expressed their backing for his candidacy. “My colleagues, friends and those who take keen interest in the next Kalon Tripa election are aware that I had no intentions to stand in the elections”, he wrote.
Gyari lives in Washington D.C and heads the International Campaign for Tibet. Touted as one of the likely candidates for the next Kalon Tripa election, Gyari is one of the 19 candidates listed on a website called kalontripa.org, a private initiative to engage Tibetan exiles across the world to put forward their nominees and involve them in the election process. Former minister Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Harvard law graduate Lobsang Sangay are current favorites among the Tibetan Diaspora which will go to preliminary polls on October 3, 2010 and final polls on March 20, 2011.
The Tibetan Women’s Association will hold “Kalon Tripa Mock election” on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 with an ambitious drive to attract 75% voter turnout in the coming two rounds of election.
The election of the second Prime Minister of the Tibetan Exile Government, who will succeed Prof Samdong Rinpoche whose tenure ends in August 2011, is observed as a significant episode in the Tibetan democracy.
As part of further democratization of the exile government, in 2000, the Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced a landmark reform that called for a directly elected PM by the Tibetan people. In 2001, Prof Samdong Rinpoche was elected as the first Kalon Tripa of the exile government and was re-elected in 2006.
Like other democratic countries, the charter of the Tibetan exiles bars a candidate from serving more than two consecutive terms. Rinpoche had in an unsuccessful move offered to step down from the post 2 years before the completion of his second term.
The incumbent stood unopposed in 2001 but could not have become the first directly elected Kalon Tripa according to the Tibetan charter which then required another contender, if not for the opposition from Juchen Thupten, who stood in the election to avoid re-election. However, the Tibetan Parliament in March passed an amendment on the specific electoral rule, allowing an unopposed candidate to be declared winner if he/she attains minimum 51% majority in the preliminary election.
Registration of voters began June 18 and will close on August 18, 2010. Voter registration is mandatory to be eligible to cast vote in the elections.
Estimates show that some 120,000 of the approximately 150,000 Tibetan exiles worldwide are above the age of 18 and are eligible to vote. In the last Kalon Tripa election in 2006, 72,000 (60%) were registered to vote and, an estimated 26.8% (32,205 people) actually cast their ballot.
The 2011 Kalon Tripa election is consequential, suggestive of the exile government’s direction in the coming 5 years and of a future when the Tibetan struggle continues with the Dalai Lama turning 80.