By Pasang Tsering
Earlier this summer, I was in Washington, DC, attending a weeklong Tibetan Youth Leadership Program organized by International Campaign for Tibet. One of the important political institutions we visited was the United States Department of State. In a closed-door meeting, we sat down with one of the top-most United States diplomats. Toward the end of the meeting, a fellow student expressed her concern about the plight of Tibetans in the absence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. To my great surprise, the high-ranking diplomat effused, “What is Lobsang Sangay? What about other elected Tibetan leaders? Don’t they represent the Tibetan people?”
This story above is a testimony of how significant the upcoming elections are for Tibet and Tibetan people. We are electing our leaders not only to run Dharamsala, but also to represent us and shoulder the solemn duty of realizing the aspirations of six million Tibetans. They are the standard bearers of our Tibetan freedom movement. Now if they were to be recognized as our representatives, it first begins with our votes. Every Tibetan in exile must exercise our voting right and thereby delegate our power to our leaders.
Nonetheless, the fundamental flaw of our democracy is votes are counted, but not weighed. Our leaders are chosen based on number of votes they earned, but not quality of leadership they bring to the table. The only way we can bring competent leaders at the top is by thoroughly examining each and every candidate and supporting only those with demonstrated track record of outstanding accomplishments, well thought-out present and future plans, and their ability to deliver what they promise. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand all the candidates who are running for the Sikyong (prime minister) and Chitue (parliamentarians) elections.
When it comes to the Sikyong election, we have five candidates, namely Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, Speaker Penpa Tsering, Tashi Wangdu, head of the Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives, Lukar Jam, a researcher and ex vice president of GuChuSum former political prisoners' movement, and Tashi Topgyal, a former member of Special Frontier Force. Among all the present candidates, Sikyong Lobsang is arguably the strongest candidate.
Why Dr. Lobsang Sangay Again?
Being an incumbent is a double-edged sword. The past record could either be in favor or against the incumbent. However, public is at the advantage because we could evaluate the overall performance of the incumbent on the job. In 2011, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay defeated veteran politicians Tenzin Tethong and Tashi Wangdi by winning 55% of the votes and rose to the highest office of the Tibetan diaspora. His signature election campaign slogan was ‘Unity, Innovation and Self-reliance’ and that was the mandate of the general public. So, nothing could better address the aforementioned question than by examining whether he has produced any concrete deliverables as mandated.
Democratic leaders earn public support by serving their constituents and thereby bring unity between the government and citizens. As such, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has placed tremendous significance on stabilizing Tibetan settlements in India, home to over 80,000 Tibetans in exile. Besides, he has also made unprecedented efforts to integrate newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet into the exile community. Compared to the past, the newly arrived young adult Tibetans are receiving better educational facility and political prisoners are provided with the best possible amenities. Moreover, he has made an earnest attempt to connect everywhere from the East to the West through Tibet Corps and Sister Shichak.
Ever since Sikyong Lobsang Sangay assumed the political leadership, there has been a series of positive changes in the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and its functionality in style and substance. Among many, one that a lot of us have not taken heed is a new reach of the Tibetan diplomacy round the globe. For India to the United States, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has established our presence in the eyes of both the leaders and people of those countries. He has won friends, influenced people, and accomplished our collective goals.
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has made a remarkable effort in bringing socio-economic growth and development in our exile community. The CTA’s budget has doubled under his administration compared to the previous administration and so is its investment in education, public health, small businesses and many other community development programs. Hence, the fiscal health of our exile government has gained a new momentum and many of his new policies and programs are taking shape in building a strong, stable and sustainable exile community.
Sino-Tibet Dialogue: An Achilles Heel of All
Among all the issues, the peaceful resolution of Tibet is the top most priority because this is the core reason for the very existence of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Ending the sufferings of our Tibetan brothers and sisters in Tibet is our ultimate cause.
When Sikyong Lobsang Sangay came to office, the Tibetan public placed their hopes in him. He came as a Harvard-trained legal expert with a demonstrated track record of leading dialogues between Chinese and Tibetan scholars on Tibet-China issue. However, odds were and still are stacked against him and there is little to no room for him to move in or move out at the moment.
If Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has one Achilles heel, it is undoubtedly the stalemate of Sino-Tibet dialogue. This is where a lot of constituents are unsatisfied, if not unhappy, including many of his staunch supporters. While his administration has formed a new task force team and met multiple times within their bubble, there has not been even a single meeting between his representatives and their Chinese counterparts till date.
Sikyong Lobsang Sangay alternatively used both tough rhetoric and conciliatory tones presumably in an attempt to bring China to a dialogue table, but we have not seen any tangible progress, except for garnering international sympathy and support and some Chinese friendship. Materializing Sino-Tibet dialogue in the resolving the Tibetan issue will be a challenge for all candidates and we need their solid answer.
Return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet
Born and raised in a modest family in the far-flung hill station of Darjeeling, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has come a long way. He is a believer and he is an achiever.
When Sikyong Lobsang Sangay said we would escort His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama back to a free Tibet, he meant it. As a leader, he raised hope in the hearts and minds of every Tibetan. His aspiration is our aspiration. It is an aspiration of all our Tibetan brothers and sisters in Tibet. Even His Holiness firmly believes the day of His return to Tibet will come soon within His lifetime. So, we shall continue to strive for our collective dream of a free Tibet and return of His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama to Potala Palace.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is and always will be our supreme leader. His Holiness is the symbol of our Tibet and Tibetan people and His Holiness is our guiding force. However, when it comes to leading the Tibetan freedom movement, His Holiness has completely transferred over 400 years old political authority to our democratically elected prime minister or Sikyong and it is therefore critical that we elect the strongest possible leader to lead our Tibetan freedom movement.
To that end, all the four other candidates pale in comparison to what Sikyong Lobsang Sangay has accomplished and will accomplish as our leader. It is for this reason, we must re-elect Sikyong Lobsang Sangay. Let us give him five more years to finish all the unfinished works and bolster the Tibetan freedom movement. We have come a long way together and let us now continue our journey towards unity, innovation and self-reliance.
Yes, let us vote for Dr. Lobsang Sangay again!
The author is a Juris Doctor candidate at CUNY School of Law, New York. He completed his Bachelor’s in Law from M.S. Ramaiah College of Law, India, and Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.