News and Views on Tibet

Three Tibetan MPs interviewed about democratic process in exile

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Following interviews have been realised and published by Alternative Tibetaine (Tibetan Alternative, n°2, 2007), a French-language review completely devoted to the Tibetan issue. These interviews deal with democratic process in exile, its progression and its limits: electoral system, political representation, multi party system, etc. In one word: the mode of parliamentary representation and the process of decision. Three Tibetan deputies of the present Tibetan Parliament in Exile have been interviewed: Karma Yeshi, Karma Choephel (co-chairman) and Penpa Tsering (co-chairman).



Interview of Karma Yeshi

Karma Yeshi: Tibetan deputy (U-Tsang), former vice-President of Tibetan Youth Congress (1995-2001), co-founder of the National Democratic Party of Tibet (1994)

Q: In March 2004, the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) passed a resolution to review the exile administration’s policy of Middle Way Approach if no positive response from China came by March 2005. Would it not be opportune now to reformulate and to implement a such resolution?

K.Y: The main content of that very resolution is to empower parliamentarians to review ongoing process of dialogue. That resolution is not anti middle way policy. It is rather a sign of urgency in resolving our issue. Time is running out for us. We are already minority in our own country -Tibet. Our culture, language, identity and the very existence of Tibet is in great threat. That resolution could be used as a pressure from TPiE to the People’s Republic of China. Our dialogue team could make best use out of it.

Whether there are more young parliamentarians in TPiE or not, resolution to Tibet issue is our main target. We need to resolve our problem as soon as we could. We have no time. As stated above, tabling such resolution is need of the time. Looking at the attitude and sincerity of Chinese leadership, we can no longer trust them any more.

Q: This resolution was withdrawn in September 2004 in a context of great tension. Two regional associations threatened to resign from the Assembly if the resolution was not withdrawn. Aren’t the regional corporatism and the traditional rifts an obstacle in the democratic process, especially to the detriment of ideas, discussion and capacity of decision?

K.Y: A group of parliamentarians tabled a resolution in September, 2004. The content of this resolution is just to withdraw a middle way approach review resolution passed in previous session in March 2004. In fact this is a sign of democracy. You can lobby your parliamentarian colleagues and bring amendments to the policy now and then.

The second resolution of September 2004 was tabled by our colleagues in bit hurry without giving proper respect to the previous resolution. Those who are against first resolution could have waited till March, 2005 and let TPiE have open debate or discussion on the process of review. It would have at least given a platform for more discussions on middle way policy.
You cannot just generalize and say that second resolution was a sign of regional politics within TPiE. Apart from three overseas TPiE members, rest is elected through this door of provincial/regional and religious sects. If you smell any regional politics, we must change the very system of our election. Whether there are any regional politics or not; if this very system of election is not changed, others will just look at it with same eyes.

This TPiE represents both Tibetans in and outside Tibet. We are seeking freedom for Tibet consisting of all three provinces. From this angle, it has some meaning in present election system.

Q: During the last elections, you were elected with the support of the list ‘Youth for better MPs’. This initiative, which came from a group of young electors, proposed a list of nominees and a political draft over the traditional rifts. Shouldn’t such an initiative come from the nominees themselves and become the beginning of a real political party, indeed an opening on multiparty system?

K.Y: I won the last election not only because of this initiative by ‘Youth for better MPs’ alone. There are so many other groups who took active participation in every election. Initiatives of proposing nomination lists have been there in our society long time back. It is not just a new or first one.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his future political vision of Tibet, he clearly stated that future Tibet will be ruled by political party system. Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) gave birth to first ever political party called National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT) in 1994. This is a big initiative undertaken by TYC.

If we are looking for future democratic Tibet, every TPiE members must support this lone party to grow up to its fullest capacity. Those who do not agree with the political manifesto of NDPT must take initiative to give birth to another party and let Tibetan democracy grow for ever.

The present system of our parliament is party less. All members have to take both roles of ruling as well as opposition. Can a member effectively take both roles? I think it’s a big question mark.

I am always in support of political party system. But, not more than three parties. Through this political party system, we can keep constant check and balance on our parliamentarians too.

Q: Are you ready to form a political party or a parliamentary group to make Rangzen represented at TPiE?

K.Y: I have my share of contribution in the formation of NDPT. I strongly support its manifesto and political stand. NDPT stands for Rangzen. I do not necessarily have to form a party. Those who do not agree with the political ideology of NDPT can form another party. In fact it is important to bring support to political party system and bring changes in our election system too.

Q: So are you yourself a deputy of the NDPT and are there other deputies from this party in the new elected Assembly? Can we imagine that, in next elections, the NDPT will present a common list of nominees?

K.Y: I have been nominated by many groups – like NDPT, Youth for Better MPs, and some others too. When these different groups nominate somebody for parliamentarian candidates, it is just a group of lists for the public to think over it. You can not generalize that he or she is a deputy of that group or this group just because he or she is nominated by group A or B.
There are many elected deputies, who are nominated by NDPT as well as others too – like me. In which category you would like to put them in? Putting them in this category or that category is difficult.

NDPT will definitely present a common list of nominee for next election as before. Others will also present their nomination lists too. All these nominations are just lists of nominees by different NGOs or groups for people to think over it.

The main issue is formation of one or two more political parties and getting them endorsed by the parliament as well as Tibetan election commission.



Interview of Karma Choephel

Karma Choephel: Tibetan deputy (U-Tsang), co-chairman of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, former President and vice-President of the Tibetan Youth Congress (1985-1989), former President and co-founder of the National Democratic Party of Tibet (1994, 2004-2006)

Q: When you were elected as the Chairman of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE), you resigned from the Presidential post of the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT). But are you still member of the NDPT?

K.C: Yes, I am still an ordinary member of the NDPT.

Q: As a deputy at the TPiE, are you or do you consider yourself as a deputy of the NDPT?

K.C: No, mainly because the present Tibetan election system is not based on political party lines. Those members of the NDPT who belong to the U-Tsang or Central Tibetan province might have voted for me. Basically therefore, I am a deputy of this province.

Q: Till now, the TPiE has no political party system. However the NDPT exists and presents itself as a political party. Consequently why isn’t it represented at the TPiE, and, if it is not represented within this Assembly, in what consists its role as a political party?

K.C: NDPT was started by Tibetan Youth Congress initially on the expressed advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama mainly to act as a forum and an initiator of further democratic exercises as a preparation for the future Tibetan polity. I believe that in the vision of His Holiness, he also envisages a dual or multiparty parliamentary system of democracy for future Tibet and he felt that the beginning must be made in exile. So I do not hope for any full fledged role for the party while in exile as long as the present election system is in place. NDPT is supposed to be a preparation for the future.

Q: NTPD stands for Rangzen. Yourself, how do you conceive the parliamentary action for Rangzen within the TPiE?

K.C: At present it can be said that within the Tibetan parliament there is a majority support for the Middle Way policy. But I have a sense that the longer the present stalemate of getting no concrete response from the Chinese side remains more members tend to waver in their position. So I have seen that from the 11th House till now more and more members have changed their position. Therefore, my proposed resolution to review the Middle Way policy got the majority support. That it got changed in the next session is another story which had more to do with the political exigency rather than individual support. So I feel that in future also if the stalemate remains support for Rangzen will grow in the house.



Interview of Penpa Tsering

Penpa Tsering: Tibetan deputy (U-Tsang), co-chairman of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Director of the Tibetan Parliamentary and Political Reaserch Center (TPPRC).

Q: Till now the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has no political party system. Why?

P.T: The Tibetan Charter (Constitution) does not deal on the issue of Political Party. Presently we function as a party-less democracy, for some it has remained a theoretical intellectual concept but in our case it is a reality, partly because of the nature of our existence as an exiled government and partly because of the political expediency to retain the identity of traditional Tibet.

People’s Republic of China persists that only Tibet Autonomous Region is Tibet. But for the Tibetans, the whole of Tibet including Kham and Amdo is Tibet. The equal representation of Provinces in the Parliament in Exile irrespective of the number of Tibetans from each province in exile is based on this political imperative than unequal rights. Given the fact that about 75% (appox.) of the Tibetans are from Central Tibet (U-Tsang) and the rest from Kham and Amdo, naturally gives rise to belief that equal suffrage or one man one vote would tilt the representation to one province, which in turn would be a powerful tool in the hands of China to divide the Tibetans inside Tibet.

Of course this must be one of the most debated issues in the exiled community over the last 35 years but no one has been able to come up with a solution that could satisfy all. And there are proponents of different theories on this concept. It seems very unlikely for the situation to change in Exile but once we get back to Tibet, the reasons I have mentioned above holds no water and the polity then would be guided by the “Guidelines for Future Tibet” by His Holiness.

But then again one cannot rule out possibilities of political parties within the present structure of representation. So far no other party has emerged other than the Democratic Party of Tibet. May be the time has not come or people do not see the need for one to make it more complex.

Q: However would it not be useful to harmonize the Tibetan system of election and then to let or encourage the suffrage be expressed according to the political objectives and programs carried by political parties?

P.T: One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the government in Exile has no hand in forming or closing political parties. The democratic party of Tibet was formed and it still exists. Why it is not successful is a different story. Sometimes I wonder as to why people who feel very strongly about political parties do not form one on their own or collectively with other people. On the other hand political parties need definite political ideology and programs and leadership. Either we are lacking in one or all, or we are satisfied with the way it is and focus on the (presumed) common goals.

There have been lots of discussions on universal suffrage and constituencies. Presently, the idea is that once we are elected from any province or religious tradition or constituencies such as Europe and North America, we represent all the six million Tibetans. When we talk about geographical constituencies, the chapter that deals with the structure of parliament has to be amended, which seems to be an impossible task at the moment. On the other hand, even if we manage to create geographical constituencies, the political implication on the overall movement of Tibet has to be considered, which in my view is more important than the uniqueness of our electoral system.

With regard to Universal Suffrage of one man one vote. Presently, monks, nuns and Ngag-pas get to vote 12 people, lay people in India, Bhutan and Nepal get to vote 10 people and Europe two and North America one. Except for murmurs within the community, there have not been persistent efforts to harmonize the system.

Like I said, it may be possible for political parties to function within the present structure, but I did not see any move from any quarters to effect such change.

Q: So do you confirm that NDPT or any new party can be represented through the TPiE and have its proper deputies?

P.T: I am sure it is possible. If a strong political party comes into being and campaigns vigorously based on their political ideology, within the religious, provincial and geographical constituencies, they certainly can. Same goes for the post of Kalon Tripa (equivalent to Prime Minister).

Q: When you succeed Mr. Karma Choephel to the post of Chairman of the TPiE, what arrangements will you make to encourage and establish a real political party system?

P.T: My mandate is to run the parliament in the best possible way without bias, to improve the image of the parliament and make the parliament more effective in its functioning. On political party system, I personally do not advocate for one at the moment and when I take over, I do not think the ground realities will change to initiate such moves.

Interviews conducted by Mathieu Vernerey (Alternative Tibetaine Editor)

Also read “Reflections on a political solution”, by Jamyang Norbu and “The Challenge of Rangzen” by Mathieu Vernerey (Alternative Tibetaine Editor) from the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine (Tibetan Alternative), 2007, coming up on

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