By Tenzin Menkyi
An elderly Tibetan makes his way out after casting his ballot for the Kalon Tripa election at a polling booth, McLeod Ganj, June 2006 Phayul Photo
DHARAMSHALA, August 4: As campaigning for election to the highest office in the Tibetan exile government gripped the Tibetan world, the first election-related public controversy highlighted the need for better clarity on campaign rules, particularly on the use of government media machinery to give those in power an edge over their opponents.
Earlier this month, the Central Tibetan Administration’s Department of Health issued a clarification
on the government’s official website against PM candidate Tashi Wangdu’s “allegation” over the state of health facilities in Tibetan settlements in his first public campaign, raising questions over the use of the CTA’s official media machinery by the incumbent PM, himself a candidate for the 2016 election.
“It may portray as such, or the publication of the clarification on the official website may be used as an evidence to prove a breach of the codes of conduct by a candidate. However, the rules and regulations are not clear to be able to comment whether one is right or the other is wrong at this point in time,” Chief Election Commissioner Sonam Choephel Shosur said.
The EC, in general, directs all candidates to follow the code of conduct, which is to create general awareness among the electorate and not create conflicts, Sonam added.
According to the clarification issued by the CTA on its official website, Wangdu, a former bureaucrat in the CTA and the chairman of the Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India, alleged that “…if there are hospitals in the settlement, there are no doctors. If the doctors are available, there are no nurses. And if the nurses are present, then they provide fake medicines.”
“Such baseless remarks profoundly dishearten the hard-working and dedicated staff of the health department. Therefore, we are compelled to issue this clarification to the general public,” the statement said.
Wangdu, however, said he had mentioned this situation was true “in some settlements”, a statement that was reported correctly in the Tibetan language version of the official website.
“There are around 50 Tibetan settlements and every settlement has a hospital. In some settlements, there are branches to the [main] hospitals. So there are around 70 hospitals in all. It is explicitly clear from the health department’s clarification that apart from those hospitals where the 16 doctors are, there are no doctors in the rest of the settlements, and that’s exactly what I said,” Wangdu said.
“For instance, Sonamling Settlement, Ladakh has a huge hospital and its branches are in camps 1, 4 and 7, but there is no doctor in those hospitals. Sonamling is one of the largest Tibetan settlements in terms of population. Private doctors are called in for an hour or so routinely,” he added.
Regarding his remarks about the use of “fake medicines”, Wangdu said, he was referring to the use of generic drugs as opposed to brand-names ones. “About the ‘fake medicine’, it is an order from the authorities at the top [that nurses follow] ... For example, elderly osteoarthritis patients complain that even the second [generic] drugs they take aren’t enough to kill the pain, unlike the brand-name drugs that kills it with one pill. I feel the health department should provide quality medicines,” he said.
Chief Election Commissioner Sonam, however, said he does not feel the need to comment on the appropriateness of Wangdu’s remarks or the health department’s response from the point of view of electoral codes of conduct.
“I guess this matter is related to Clause 5 of Article 24 of the Code of Conduct which talks about candidates resorting to negative publicity and campaigning, and not about allegations made outside the purview of the elections. There is no way we would be able to investigate each and every case of this nature with the limited manpower we have. We are also not aware of the objective of the Health Department to issue this clarification,” Sonam said.
“There would be many such incidents in the future and we may not be able to assess each and every case. No assessment has been made at present on this. However, we are looking at calling a press conference regarding such cases after the two Additional Election Commissioners and I return from our settlement visits,” he added.
The Election Commission on July 15 issued a Code of Conduct concerning cases of violation of provisions under Article 24 of the rules that relate to negative campaigning by candidates against each other. At present, the contesting candidates who have declared to run are incumbent speaker Penpa Tsering, Tashi Wangdu and Atsok Lugar Jam.