Electoral process reflects the Dalai Lama’s vision for Tibetan democracy

Image: RFA/Dhasa
Image: RFA/Dhasa
8th January 2021

Tibetans around the world marked 2021 by voting in their General Election.

 

Standing in the preliminary election are seven candidates for the role of Sikyong, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, and 140 candidates for the 45-seat Parliament.

Despite the global pandemic, tens of thousands of Tibetans dispersed across 26 countries took to exercising their right to vote. As of 30 October 2020, 79,697 Tibetans had registered. Given the exceptional circumstances of lockdown, the Tibetan electoral commission also allowed last-minute registrations from 23 to 28 December.

The result of the preliminary election will be announced on 8 February where two candidates for Sikyong and 90 candidates for the 45-seats parliament will be shortlisted. The final votes will be cast on 11 April.

The preliminary election saw increased social media networking and mobilisation of new initiatives across the Tibetan diaspora. In India, the election commission launched a website to bolster electoral literacy, whereas a group of young Tibetan professionals in Europe created a platform of significant questions, called SmartVote Tibet, which matches the voters to their president and members of the parliament. Likewise in North America, a group of Tibetans with an eclectic range of experiences organised an online structured Presidential debate in English. Tibetan language media services organised interviews with the Sikyong candidates as well as discussions with the general public. 

For the campaigns, two of the Presidential candidates even took the risk of traveling outside their country of residence to engage directly with the public. Facebook live sessions of supporter groups were also streamed, where candidates from their home engaged with and took questions from the Tibetans gathered in their community halls. Some supporters also made music videos for their Sikyong. However, in Nepal, given the growing political power of China, the local police authorities in Kathmandu confiscated the ballot box and detained at least five Tibetans. Even if they were released the next day, the matter remains a cautious concern as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Mr. Wangdu Tsering spoke of the issue to Voice of Tibet (Oslo) broadcast service.

Ten years ago, when the Dalai Lama retired from political authority, Tibetans all around the world were bestowed with their freedom to strengthen their democracy. Today, even as three percent of Tibetans in exile disperse across different geographical locations, their growing active political participation reflects their commitment to their homeland, their future, and the vision of the Dalai Lama. In the closing remarks of his retirement speech, the Dalai Lama said:

“To be true, this provides the leaders of the Tibetan autonomous areas in Tibet a reason to think. Those of us in exile, though remaining as refugees in alien countries, have carried out a genuine electoral process. If those leaders are really capable and confident, then let the Tibetans inside Tibet democratically elect their own leaders. Whatever the case may be in the rest of China, if we could emulate the exile system in Tibet itself then it would be very good.”

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