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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China's Theft of Tibetan Ballots Threatens Democracy Everywhere

October 17, 2010

Tenzin Dorjee
Huffington Post
October 12, 2010

Last Sunday on October 3rd, thousands of Tibetans
went to the polls (preliminary round) to vote for
the Prime Minister and MPs of the Tibetan
Government-in-Exile. This relatively low-key
event proceeded smoothly in dozens of countries
-- except in Nepal, the Himalayan country
sandwiched between Chinese-occupied Tibet and
India, where armed police stormed the voting
stations and confiscated the ballot boxes.
Tibetan voters looked on in shock and fury,
helpless as their ballots, and their democratic
rights, were seized in front of their eyes.

It goes without saying that the Nepali government
was merely acting as Beijing's long and twisted
arm in this incident. The ballot theft, executed
by the Nepali police and masterminded by Beijing,
is further evidence that China is all but running
the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal by remote control.

So the real question is not who stole the Tibetan
election; everyone knows it is Beijing. The question at hand is: Why now?

Well, for one, in the post-2008 world Beijing
takes the Tibet movement more seriously than it ever did.

The October 3rd election was not the first
democratic election in Tibetan history; we have
participated in 14 parliamentary elections and
two prime ministerial elections so far. Ever
since the Dalai Lama democratized the Tibetan
Government-in-Exile in 1960, the year after his
escape to India following China's invasion of his
homeland, Tibetans have been voting every few
years to elect our parliamentary representatives.

But China never bothered to thwart those
elections -- because until recently the Chinese
government was comforted by the mistaken notion
that the Tibet issue would die away along with
the passing of the Dalai Lama. So the powers in
Beijing did not need to worry about several
thousand Tibetans performing a democratic song
and dance in a ballot box every few years. After
all, no democratically elected Tibetan leader
could ever match the charisma and influence of the Dalai Lama.

However, the Tibetan uprising that ripped across
the plateau in March 2008 changed the stakes
forever. The protests -- which started without
the Dalai Lama's involvement and continued
without his blessings -- drove home to Beijing
the point that the Tibetan resistance would
indeed live on for at least a few more
generations. While Beijing hoped that Tibetans in
exile would fall into disarray in the absence of
the Dalai Lama, it now rightly fears that
democracy may well provide the leadership,
structure and cohesion necessary to sustain and empower the Tibet movement.

This election, which has set many Tibetan
precedents, has certainly stoked these fears. For
the first time, a Prime Ministerial candidate
voluntarily and publicly declared her candidacy
(yes, it happens to be a woman). Tibetans have
long shunned the culture of self-promotion that
accompanies political campaigning for public
office in other democracies, but in this election
we have more than eight Prime Ministerial
candidates in the running! Almost all the
candidates have advertised their websites and
campaign slogans as they competed in debates
organized by grassroots groups such as "Youth for
a Better Democracy", which launched a Tibetan
equivalent of the "Rock the Vote" initiative.
These debates, conducted before
standing-room-only audiences in the exile capital
Dharamsala, were webcast live and watched by
Tibetans all over the world. As Tibetan democracy
finally comes of age, Beijing feels compelled to
undermine this exercise of freedom and civil
liberties that clashes with its own portrayal of Tibet as a feudal theocracy.

Moreover, the Tibetan election is a milestone in
the global movement for democracy. What began as
an unlikely democratic experiment in 1960 has
evolved into a full-blown democratic government
in exile, with the Parliament and Prime Minister
elected by the Tibetan people through universal
franchise. As the Chinese government continues to
drag its authoritarian system well into the
second millennium - leaving a fifth of the
world's population with no say over their own
political future - a handful of Tibetans living
in exile have overcome dispersion and
statelessness to adopt an enlightened system of
governance. This makes China look regressive and
primitive in spite of its economic progress. It
is, therefore, only natural that Beijing wants to undermine our democracy.

Ultimately, by seizing the Tibetan ballot boxes
in Nepal, the Chinese government is not only
sabotaging Tibetan elections but also attempting
to arrest the global movement for democracy. This
incident is an affront and a challenge to the
worldwide community of democracies, whose silence
and willful ignorance will only embolden China's export of oppression.

Democratic governments, election monitoring
groups, and the United Nations must investigate
this incident and ensure that the Tibetan
democratic experiment is protected. The survival
and flourishing of Tibetan exile democracy should
be ensured not just for the sake of Tibetans but
for the sake of democracy everywhere, including
that of Nepal, if it can still be called a
democratic country. With diplomatic pressures as
well as grassroots campaigning, the world must
urge the Nepali government to do the right thing
and give the Tibetans back their right to vote.
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