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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa and the Problem With Proxy Websites

October 17, 2010

The editorial board
The Tibetan Political Review
October 13, 2010

The current election campaign for Kalon Tripa
(prime minister) of the Tibetan
government-in-exile has been historic in several
ways. In addition to marking the first democratic
transition of executive power in Tibetan history,
this election is the first one to see widespread
Tibetan campaigning through the internet. This is
generally a positive development, but the website
for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa perfectly illustrates some drawbacks as well.

There are now a host of proxy websites supporting
the candidates. Lobsang Sangay’s proxy site was
first out the gate, which seemed to set the tone.
It was followed in rough order by ones for
Lobsang Palden Tawo (withdrawn), Phurbu Dorjee,
Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, Lobsang Jinpa, Kalsang
Phuntsok Godrukpa, and Tashi Wangdi. However,
with the exception of the websites for Tawo and
Dorjee, all the websites are -- or claim to be --
run independently of the candidate
themselves.  They are run by “friends of the
candidate” or a “committee for the
candidate.”  Some, like the websites for Tethong
and Sangay, at least contain significant writings
by the candidates themselves. Others, however,
merely advocate for the candidate in question.

The most likely reason for these websites
distancing themselves from the candidates is the
Tibetan cultural norm against
self-promotion.  There is a certain tension
between the need to avoid “pushiness” (hampa) and
the need to promote one’s candidacy for electoral
success.  The tension is partly resolved by
candidates stating that they are not seeking
power, but are willing to serve if called upon by
the voters. (This is not necessarily rhetorical.
It may be a genuine position, since the tension
can be internal to a candidate.)

Another way for this tension between modesty and
campaigning to be resolved is through proxy
websites.  Thus, the campaign websites are not --
or claim not to be -- run by the candidate
himself or herself. The problem is, this makes is
difficult to hold the candidate accountable for statements on “their” website.

The clearest example of this problem is the
website for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa.Similar
issues are raised by other proxy websites, but we
focus on Godrukpa’s because we believe the
problems to be by far the most severe
there.  This website makes some grand claims,
including that the candidate has the “ability to
perceive the inner aspirations of all
Tibetans.”  To us, this ability sounds like that
of an omniscient Buddha rather than a mere
mortal.  If Godrukpa said that about himself, he
would likely be laughed off the stage.

However, such a statement on the candidate’s
proxy website is harder to criticize, since there
is no proof that the candidate said it himself.

The website also has other improbable claims. It
calls Godrukpa a “bold and visionary leader” with
the “courage, vision, and dedication to take our
movement to the nest [next?] level.”  As
evidence, it states that Godrukpa “created
history ... by organizing a first ever Tibetan
Mass Movement in New Delhi where almost thirty
thousand Tibetans gathered to revolt [protest?]
against the illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet.”

Much has been said of the poor organization --
and the disappointing termination -- of the Mass
Movement under Godrukpa’s leadership as Tibetan
Youth Congress (TYC) president. We only add here
that the Mass Movement’s demands were related to
the Panchen Lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the
Tibet railway, and the International Olympic
Committee.  Additionally, a TYC press release
issued in Godrukpa’s name claimed:

“If China fails to respond to the demands of the
petitions before 7 August, 2007, the massive
public gathering of hundreds of thousands of
Tibetans will demand the Chinese government to
allow Tibetans in exile to go into Tibet and
witness its current state. Until there is a
satisfactory response from the PRC, the movement will continue ...”

<http://www.tibetanyouthcongress.org/mass_movement.html>

In fact, although thousands of Tibetans made
great sacrifices and showed willingness to make
even more, Godrukpa’s leadership failed.  Many
dedicated Tibetans were frustrated and
disheartened by the lack of any plan once they
arrived in Delhi.  The Mass Movement did not
“continue,” but rather ended after a one day
rally was dispersed by Indian police. The
Movement's stated goals were not
achieved.  Godrukpa then disappeared from public
view. For Godrukpa’s campaign website to list the
Mass Movement as a sign of his leadership
qualities does not inspire confidence in those qualities.

The proxy website also claims that Godrukpa would
“dramatically change the priorities of our
nation” through a “new emphasis on the [sic]
education, healthcare, and employment.” This
hardly sounds like a radical new electoral
platform. To be charitable, we can also infer
from elsewhere on the website that Godrukpa would
oppose the Middle Way, because he states
that  the Sino-Tibetan dialogue “failed.” This is
a legitimate argument; however if Godrukpa wants
to change the government’s policy, perhaps he
should run for chitue. It is only the parliament
that has the power to set major government
policy.  The Kalon Tripa is primarily an administrator.

The website also makes several factual errors. It
claims that a TYC hunger strike led by Godrukpa
caused the appointment of a “UN Special
Rapporteur for Tibet.” This is simply
incorrect.  There is no such position. The
website also states that Godrukpa testified
before the “International Commission of Jurist[s]
in Spain.” This is also incorrect. He testified
before the Audiencia Nacional (National Court) in
Spain, at the invitation of a dedicated Tibet
Support Group in Madrid called the Comite de
Apoyo al Tibet (Committee to Support Tibet).

In summary, Godrukpa’s campaign website claims
that he has traits more appropriate for a Buddha
than a human.  It lists the disorganized and
poorly planned Mass Movement as an example of his
leadership. It claims Godrukpa will institute
“dramatic change” while listing only status quo
priorities.  And it shows a disregard for factual
accuracy. If Godrukpa disagrees with these
assertions, we call on him to publicly
disassociate himself from this website.
Otherwise, the public has a right to presume that
this website represents him, and has the right to
judge his candidacy accordingly.

We further believe the public should take the
same approach to all other proxy websites.

Candidates should certainly use new technologies
to campaign, but they must be held accountable
for statements and claims on their websites,
proxy or not. We commend Phurbu Dorjee for
putting his name behind his own website.
Ultimately, we hope that all candidates will take
responsibility for and ownership of their
websites -- and their campaign materials
generally -- rather than pulling strings behind a
curtain of deniability. This is the only way to
maintain accountability and transparency in the democratic process.
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