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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan Alternative: Three Tibetan MPs interviewed about democratic process in exile

December 5, 2007

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, multy 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Q: This resolution was withdrawn in September 2004 in a context of great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Assembly if the resolution was not withdrawn.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

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 a such 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


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.P: 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

P.P: 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.P: 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.P: 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)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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