Tenzing Chonden is new to the political landscape of Tibetans in exile. He is currently a member of the 13th Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies representing Tibetans in North America. He believes it is important to maintain a happy balance between the traditional value and modern approach to the political system.
The young Chitue was here in Dharamsala to attend to 5th session of the Assembly which concluded on 31st March. He spoke to Tibet.net on a wide range of topics. Excerpts…
Q. After more than four decades of democracy, what is your assessment?
A: Beginning from 1960 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama first established the Assembly and allowed the representatives from each of the three Cholkas and four Cholugs, then later on in 1990 with new reforms and further democratization allowing representatives also from Europe and North America. I do feel we have made great strides in terms of realizing democracy for the Tibetans in exile.
However there are still many areas that need to be improved. For instance we still have to look for ways to keep people better informed about their rights and responsibilities. I say this by considering the level of voter turnout in the last elections for the US and Canada. Out of 3000 registered voters, only 1000 exercised their franchise. That makes about 30% turnout. It really sends a strong message on the need of educating our people of the importance of exercising their rights as well as duties. Not only that there are lots of other circumstance we need to overcome to achieve a meaningful and successful democracy.
Q. What other issues were discussed beside the Budget?
A: Well, the other issue which was discussed extensively was on the ‘June deadline’ issued by the present kashag in creating a conducive atmosphere between Tibet and China for future negotiations. Various representatives expressed concern on the approach of Kalon Tripa in dealing with China. Consequently, a resolution was passed by a majority vote which provides to give full support to any course of action the Kashag decides if there was no concrete response from the Chinese side.
Few even suggested on having an emergency meeting if no significant development occurs. But that was ruled out.
Q. One of your campaign issues was on increasing the number of Chitue from North America. Could you please share what has been done so far on that?
A: I am still working on that. In a short research I did, I found that a bill was introduced earlier by the last representative on this issue. However the proposition did not even reach the consideration stage as it was refused at the first reading with 18 against and 9 favor..
However I know people will soon start asking for more representatives. The reason being that there is a provision in the Charter on issue of increasing representatives. Since this provision was not considered last time, I remain hopeful that I will have a strong argument on that basis.
When the Charter was first made, there were 1000 Tibetans in North America and thus only one representative was allowed, while Europe with double the population has two representatives. The situation has changed dramatically in the last few years. The number of Tibetans in North America has now risen to around 8500. Tibetans are spread across 1000 miles in over 30 different communities. Under such a situation I feel we have to increase the number of representatives from North America. I will try to convince the Assembly on that ground. Actually I am even thinking of proposing one representative from Canada and two from the US (one from each coast).
It’s true that there are logistic problems involved with such a change, especially with respect to travel and other expenses. For that I am going to push for increasing registered voters which in turn would bring more voluntary contributors. To do that we need to create a more equitable system of the voluntary contribution. It should be country based and income based. As of now we have a measly 15% from Canada and 49% from the US paying for the Administrations coffers. If we can increase that number then hopefully much of the problems will be solved.
Q. Did the Assembly ever touch on the pressing issue of growing unemployment among educated youth?
A: Lots of questions were raised in this respect. We have learnt that the Administration has started a number programs to reduce this problem. Few measures included providing vocational training to unemployed youth in various fields. In the past, steps were taken to provide micro enterprise loans and financial aids to those who have interest in starting business.
I personally feel Tibetans need to start at early age in school to consider various field of employment that are now available. If adequate career counseling is done, we should be able to compete with the other communities in the job market.
Relating to this issue, Kashag has also apprised the Assembly of its plan to put a new education policy. I think it is a good step taken.
Q. What is the best way to keep the Tibetans aware of the Tibetan issue and especially about the working of Chitue?
A: I think the best way to keep the Tibetans informed is by listening to the different radio programs. They can also use the different web sites on Tibet and receive daily information, news and views.
As a matter of fact, in an effort to achieve this end I have even started my own web site called www.tibet.org/nachi. It contains regular news and even quarterly report on issues relating to the latest happenings. Besides that I am starting a continental e-mail list serv for all Tibetan associations. The next phase for that would be getting list manager from each association and training them. My aim is to allow instant information dissemination from Kashag, Chitue and other important associations.
I think Tibetans should also make the best use of the different publications from the Central Tibetan Administration.