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Three Questions About Tibetans' 2021 General Election

01-12

In August 2020, the Central Election Office of the Tibetan Administration announced that the general election of the Chief Executive in 2021 officially kicked off and the fifth chief executive of the Central Tibetan Administration will be elected. This general election will directly face many influencing factors including the institutional changes brought about by the revision of the election regulations, the political differences caused by the relative diversification of the candidates, and the advanced age of the Dalai Lama when the new chief executive takes office. For the majority of Tibetans in exile, there are three questions that deserve attention and concern.

Question 1: In the context of institutional changes, are there loopholes and hidden dangers in the current election of Tibetans?

According to the Tibetan election regulations for Tibetans in exile which was previously amended by the Tibetan People's Assembly, if a person receives more than 60 percent of the total votes in the election, he or she will be considered as the chief executive and will be officially acknowledged without going through a formal election. This may seem legal, but in fact it lacks a “basis of political legitimacy”, which hardly can be a good thing for the chief executive and the Central Tibetan Administration in the entire Tibetan community in exile. Besides, the candidates for this election have their own characteristics. In addition to the inherent local awareness of the three regions of Tibet, malicious elections and negative elections are bound to affect this election because of overseas immigration and Internet access.

In the last political election, Dr. Losang Senge was elected with an overwhelming majority of votes, but many Tibetans have already seen that the election was full of gangsterism and factionalism. How many Tibetans have confidence in the election today? How many Tibetans still feel that the election will be fair and just?

Obviously, these issues are uncertain, which may lead to a sharp decline in the number of Tibetans who are really willing to vote. The total number of votes seen is nothing more than a “data bubble” under “deliberate manipulation”. The possibility of human interventions such as vote-fraud and vote-buying has also been infinitely amplified. The so-called “democracy” will only turn into a mess of groundless accusations and contradictions, as happened during the 2016 election.

Question 2: Will the final candidate truly represent the wishes and interests of the majority of Tibetans, genuinely speak for them and actively seek to change their living conditions?

The current candidates are those who have worked in government departments for half their lives without any significant achievements. From their perspective, the position of the chief executive is more for them to live in comfort in their old age, and running for office is nothing more than a way to gain more political capital for themselves. All this can be seen in their election manifestos and political opinions, which are hallowed and vague, with no real constructive policy agenda or effective measures to address the living conditions of the Tibetans.

Young Tibetans seem more motivated to stand for election than in the past, and they also realize that they should be more involved in the affairs of the government in exile. They believe that the previous government mainly served the overseas Tibetan community and did not pay enough attention to Tibetans in Tibetan areas, and never put forward relevant policies to support Tibetans in Tibet. However, the reality remains harsh, as Tashi Wangdi who withdrew from the election said, since the political campaign, there has not been a truly democratic news media to create a platform for the candidates to debate, so that many candidates have no clear political views and have never expressed their views on major issues that most of Tibetans actually care about (such as how to improve people’s livelihood, how to promote democratic institutions, and how to effectively solve the issue of Tibetan identity, etc.).

Question 3: After the new chief executive takes office, will it have any impact on the “Middle Road” pursued by Dalai?

Considering that the Dalai Lama is now in his 90s and that internal divergent political views among Tibetans in exile have long been made public, the answer to this question is in fact obvious. In short, the appointment of the new chief executive may speed up the “revision” of the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Road”.

Among the seven candidates, except for Zhongqiong Ouzhu, who was born in Tibet and a litter older than others, the other six are all second-generation Tibetans living in exile. During their exile, the majority of Tibetans lived in the harsh environment of northern India, facing the dual pressure of policy squeeze from the motherland and their own identity dilemma. Tibetans have been marginalized for a long time and live in poverty, while for Tibetans in mainland China, their living conditions keep improving. As a result, this sharp contrast has led to the "Middle Road" being increasingly questioned. Many Tibetans have repeatedly expressed their disapproval or challenged the “Middle Road”, and the radical forces within the Tibetans are on the rise. It is worth noting that Drolma Gyari and Losang Nandak have the background of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) for the purpose of promoting Tibet independence. The appearance of these candidates has actually revealed political disputes within the Tibetan community in exile.

And it is Laga Tenzin who has withdrawn from the election that brings this kind of political dispute to the forefront. He advocated “combining independence and the Middle road to restore Tibetan independence”. When announcing his withdrawal, he said that, “It is really intolerable and unbearable to work with people who are too old and only want to spend their days in the administration (of the Tibetan government in exile).” On the one hand, Laja Tenzin’s words reveal the different views on the political lines of Tibetans in exile between different generations. On the other hand, it also confirms that the so-called alternation of the new and old generations of administrative institutions by Tibetans in exile is probably inevitable.

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