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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Opinion: Vote by proxy, a solution?

October 6, 2010

By Tenzin Sampho
By Email
Phayul
October 5, 2010

Around the globe thousands of Tibetan exiles went
to the polling stations to cast their votes for
the Kalon Tripa post. Participation in this
election process was widely advertised by many
and encouraged particularly by the masses
themselves. Tibetans young and old saw this
election as a turning phase in the chapter of
Tibetan history, each endorsing their own
candidates, some even fiercely defending them
during friendly debates, on different forums and
on social networking sites. Hundreds flocked to
see the candidates debating at different venues,
thousands more tuned in to watch it online.

On Sunday October 3rd polling booths across the
world opened for the preliminary election.
Polling stations also opened in Nepal at the same
time, but an hour before closing, armed Nepalese
policemen came to the polling station and seized
all the ballot boxes. Thousands of ballots lay in
those boxes along with the hopes of those
Tibetans that wanted a say in their country’s
future. Hours after the incident took place, I
saw the video of the Nepalese policemen taking
our ballots away and the few Tibetans looking
helplessly, many of them confused as to what just
took place. I read somewhere that some of the
Amala’s were in tears after discovering what had
happened and I am certain many young people were
enraged. No matter the different emotions we felt
at the time, one thing was certain; we all felt helpless.

In my theory the timing of the seizure of ballots
was carefully planned by the Nepalese Home
Ministry. Perhaps, they were instructed to wait
until the last minute in order to collect
personal information from the ballots and use
that information to track all politically active
Tibetans living in Nepal. I say this because in
Afghanistan, a similar strategy was being used by
the insurgents that were against the coalition
led elections, during those elections they would
let villagers cast their ballots without any
interference and then around closing time they
would steal the ballot boxes. Voila! Now, they
had a hit list in their hands. This tactic
ensured that the next time when security was
stepped up and coalition soldiers were
supervising the elections no one would dare go to
the polls because threats had already been sent
to all who voted in the prior election and were
being watched closely. To the Afghan government
and the coalition forces it would seem that there
was not enough public interest in the elections which was far from the truth.

My own experience with the "vote by proxy" law
started about a month before the primary
elections when I put in a request to have my
father vote on my behalf at the local Tibetan
Association, I had some traveling to do which
prevented me from voting that day, but two weeks
prior to the election day I was told by the local
Tibetan association that my request to vote by
proxy was denied by the Office of Tibet in New
York. I made some inquiries and discovered that
it was true that a vote by proxy was not allowed
in the Tibetan election rule book. I got hold of
a copy of the rule book and started reading it,
wondering how the physically disabled Tibetans
voted. I was surprised to find that physically
disabled Tibetans who didn’t have anyone to take
them to the polls and exiles living in remote
parts of the world could not participate in our
election because there was no rule in place that enabled them to do so.

The idea of vote by proxy is not something new.
It dates back to the Roman Emperor Augustus, the
first to introduce and make use of this idea,
making it possible for senators in far away
colonies to cast votes for city offices in Rome
by sending messengers with the name of the
candidates in sealed letters. In the United
States, Wisconsin became the first of a number of
U.S states which enacted provisions to allow
absentee voting by soldiers fighting in the Union
army during the Civil War. Its neighbor Canada in
1915 agreed on letting active military personnel
to vote by post during World War I and in 1916,
the Canadian province of British Colombia
followed suit. Canada introduced proxy law in
1955 to allow relatives of the prisoners of war
to vote on behalf of the prisoners, later on this
right was extended to all citizens. Going across
the Atlantic, United Kingdom has the perfect
example of external voting where there are three
ways to vote; you can vote in person, you can
have someone vote on your behalf and you can vote
by post. It is a simple process that encourages
potential voters to participate in the elections,
it also allows voters that cannot go to a polling
station to vote or anyone living abroad to
participate in their home elections. There are
many other countries like Switzerland, Germany,
United States, France, Norway, New Zealand and
Australia that have some sort of a vote by proxy
rule in place and they each have different
reasons for adopting the vote by proxy law. I
cannot help but imagine that the incident in
Nepal is our call to introduce a vote by proxy law to the electoral process.

If a vote by proxy rule is adopted it will do three things:

First and foremost the Tibetans in Nepal will
have a chance to vote by post or by relatives
living in India. Future elections can be
conducted this way if Nepal continues to remain a
pawn of the Chinese government.

Secondly, similar incidents like the recent one
in Nepal could be avoided in the future,
providing a protective blanket to the entire
electoral process. I say this because looking
into the future there is also a possibility,
however small, that India after his holiness’s
passing away could succumb under Chinese pressure
to interfere with future elections within the
Tibetan exiled community. In such an event, vote
by post or proxy could save us a costly conflict
with India. We would all like to think that the
government of India would never resort to such
injustice, but the fact remains that political
decisions are blind to the disadvantaged. Just
tune in to any news station and recount the
misfortune, inequity and promises not kept, it
constitutes an epidemic inflicting us in the 21st
century. Keeping this in mind the inclusion of
such a rule would be pivotal in this case.

Lastly, there are hundreds of Tibetan’s who
cannot go to a polling station to vote because of
their physical disability and there are hundreds
more that cannot vote because they live in remote
parts of the world. Those Tibetan citizens who
cannot physically be present at a polling station
no matter the reason will be able to have a voice
in the electoral process if such a rule is
adopted. It will also increase voter turnout that everyone is hoping for.

In the end, all Tibetan citizens have the right
to a voice in choosing their Prime Minister, and
to take that away from them is a human rights
violation. We may not be able to sway Nepal’s
policy in our favor, but we can certainly take
the initiative and explore other ways to protect
and to keep our newly formed democracy
functioning. To understand the entire election
process or to propose a final solution is not
what I intended to do here, rather it is an
effort to create awareness within our community
of the possible issues facing us and possible
alternatives that best represent us.

The writer is a Tibetan resident of Boston, MA, United States.
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