By Tenzin Dharpo
Penpa Tsering, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile
DHARAMSHALA, September 7: With the preliminary elections for the highest office of the Tibetan government in exile just over a month away, it is a contest among five candidates who have announced their candidacy so far.
The Tibetans in exile will cast their votes to the mandate of choice. Those choices whether construed by reason or by lack of it, the results will be declared come April next year.
Meanwhile, with the positive developments in form of more public participation and enthusiasm for the elections, it has its share of controversy with numerous allegations being leveled against the candidates by their supporters. Though the Tibetan Election Commission has announced penalties for breach of electoral guidelines including campaign materials and wordings, it has little control on the barrage of unsolicited allegations in form of images and texts being circulated on the social networking sites including Facebook, WeChat, Whatsapp etc.
Apart from the war or words among the supporters there is one issue that is doing the rounds in the Tibetan community, and that is the statement made by Penpa Tsering, the incumbent speaker of the Tibetan Parliament and one of the five candidates for the Tibetan PM, that he will not share any platform with individuals who have made derogatory remarks against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Phayul spoke with both Lukar Jam Atsok and Penpa Tsering, the two candidates for Sikyong 2016 who are hinged on the two opposite ends of this statement.
Penpa Tsering, a seasoned veteran of the exile political arena and a staunch supporter of the ‘Middle way Approach’, says he finds no cause to be alarmed in making such a statement and further established the act as exercising his right. “It is my right to not associate with a person who has made derogatory remarks towards the Dalai Lama, I am exercising my right which does not restrict the other person’s right to speak or do anything,” he told Phayul.
He elaborated that his decision to dissociate himself is stood on very primal reasons. “I do not find it my prerogative whether personally or in the capacity of the Speaker of TPiE to give any form of notification or associate with anyone who is defamatory towards the Dalai Lama, especially if he is a Tibetan.”
Tserings says he draws a distinction between people supporting independence as a goal for Tibet and who make derogatory remarks towards the Dalai Lama, and added that he recently turned down an invitation from Radio Free Asia to participate in a talk show that had Lukar Jam among the panelists.
Yet contrary to what he has heard, he says he is not against speaking alongside anyone with pro-independence stand. “Last May, there was a meeting of independence supporters in Delhi and the organizers came to me, I told them that, under a democratic set up it is commendable to strive for one’s own belief and approach provided the effort is directed towards the Chinese government. Same applies to people who believe in middle way approach,” he added.
Lukar Jam Atsok is the president of Gu-Chu-Sum movement, former political prisoners’ organization, and the first ever pro-independence candidate running for the highest office of the exile government.
His views of the exile leadership’s handling of the Dholgyal followers and the literatures authored by him on His Holiness the Dalai Lama may have contributed to the cluster of views that led to the former political prisoner being branded, whether rightly or otherwise, as an ‘anti-Dalai Lama.’
When asked if he was indeed anti-Dalai lama as he is infamously known to be, he said, “I do not consider myself anti-Dalai Lama. I do not blame the people for calling me one because they are deliberately fed with such information by a few senior people in the CTA. Running for Sikyong this time has given me an opportunity to tell people about my true stand and my views on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I am happy for that”.
He pointed that the ‘statement in question’ can be interpreted as a means to restrict people from voting for him, he remarked, “Lukar Jam and Penpa Tsering arguing is one thing but there is a much graver matter at stake, the secular democratic system that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has envisioned. Even if Speaker Penpa Tsering manages to gather some sort of support and win by using the name of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our democracy in the long run will not be an ideal one”.
While corroborating the view that he might not go further than the preliminary Sikyong elections, he raised fear that unless he came first or the second in the preliminary elections, he might find himself out of the race altogether since the exact number of candidates to be qualified to the next round of voting is unregulated by the charter. He claims that this fear is shared by many analysts and experienced people in the Tibetan community.
The Chief Election Commissioner, Sonam Choephel Shoshur told Phayul, “The Election Commission has to announce a minimum of two but not more than six candidates. That decision will be announced after a meeting within the EC. We may announce it before the preliminary rounds or after that. It is undecided as of now.”
Despite some odds, Lukar Jam Atsok believes he can win the elections to the highest office of the exile Tibetan government referring to an analogy. “I am the only one selling salt, and four of them are selling garlic. While people have to choose where they buy their garlic from, they don’t have to in case of salt. I believe that there are many who are rooting for rangzen (independence) and also people who have lost faith in the middle way approach”.
The preliminary elections for Sikyong will take place on October 18, 2015 and final elections on March 20, 2016.